Friday, January 7, 2011

Empaths & Empathy: The Human Factor

In a perfect world an Empath would fit the ideal of what it's supposed to be.  It would be someone completely altruistic who, because they feel the emotions of others and are sensitive to the emotional states of others, offers whatever help is needed with complete understanding and without reserve (concern to the self).

They would have unflagging patience, even when others make mistakes, get angry, get frustrated or just have a bad day.  There would be no sorrow or upset if someone else lashes out at them.  There would be no arguing or fighting because they would be peace makers, mediators, and the best of confidants.

And all of this would happen without any detriment to the Empath, because they would be well balanced between personal life and working with others.  Their emotional states would be well balanced and their lives in great harmony to allow this to occur.

But.....we don't live in a perfect world where any of these things are truly possible.  Instead we face the daily grind of life full of repetitive and mundane tasks that are necessary to see us survive.  Work, bills, social interactions, and other stressers permeate our lives.  We are inundated, through the media, with violence and abuses the world over.  And often times, we are not in harmony with those around us that we socialize with.  We fight, we argue, we bicker, we get angry, we cry, and yes, we even love.

That is the daily life of most people, in whatever variation it comes in.  And that is the daily life of most Empaths, as well.  Rarely do you find a lifetime that differs and/or deviates from that path in to many ways.

The Empathic Person

Before we continue along this tract, we must ask ourselves a question.  Who is the Empathic Person?  Certainly all people possess the ability to feel and offer empathy toward others.  But who, specifically, is the Empathic person?

You can scour the internet and find definitions, trait lists, character profiles, and even case studies of Empaths.  But alot of those are so generalized that they could speak to just about anyone who has one or two of the traits.  And by looking at those alone, it could also seem to exclude others who do not possess those particular traits, as well.  But what we really need to understand is that a trait list or a definition does not definitively define what an Empath truly is, what gifts/traits they possess, and the types of people, specifically, which can/can't be this.  Because just like the broader idea of diversity in people, so to is there wide diversity in who may and may not be an Empath.  And it does not begin or end with the stereotypical person you might imagine as one.

So who is the Empathic Person?  To start out with, the Empathic person is you.  It is me.  But in broader terms, let me introduce you to some examples of Empathic people that blossom beyond the stereotype of what an Empathic person is.

Let's first look at someone we will call Emily.  She is someone who was born hypersensitive and, while growing up, was often told she was 'to sensitive' and she needed to put her big girl panties on and suck it up.  On top of that, she was very caring toward others, particularly those who were suffering.  She was the type who would always lend a willing ear if someone needed to talk.

You see, Emily, for the most part, is the stereotype of what an Empathic person is supposed to be.  But she is, by far, not the only type.  So let's look at another example, which differs far more from the trait lists than someone like Emily.

Robert was a young man who had been abused as a child.  His mother was both physically and emotionally abusive, often leaving him in a state of confused guilt because of her manipulation.  As he grew, he began to exhibit a tendency to express anger in unhealthy ways like bullying other kids.  But that didn't mean that Robert didn't understand the pain of those other people.  He was all to aware of it.

On the surface he had a very rough exterior which seemed extremely unforgiving toward people's mistakes.  But on the inside was a vulnerable person who needed support and validation, but rarely got it because of how those needs got expressed (like through bullying).

The point here is to understand that when we attempt to talk about the types of people who tend to be Empaths, one should not leave it to assumptions.  Just because a person doesn't appear to fit the profile doesn't mean, that in actuality, they aren't Empaths.  This is because each of us has a very unique personality and, at the same time, we all have different experiences which help us develop into the people we are.

The Emotional Vampire

What is an emotional vampire?  An emotional vampire is defined as one who feeds upon the emotions of others to bolster their self-esteem and to gain attention.  Another way of putting it is a person who possesses the ability to suck all of the positive energy out of someone. They do this through negative comments, or by mere presence alone. And they are often drama queens who love to play the victim in their own life.

What does this type of person have to do with Empaths?  While there are people who claim to be emotional vampires as a way of life, often the person who becomes an example of an emotional vampire is one who is hypersensitive to the emotional states of others and knows how to manipulate those to garner attention for themselves.  In other words, alot of the time what we are talking about is Empaths.

The reason for this is because of how the Empath's own personal needs become expressed.  They have low self esteem and need attention to bolster and sustain it for any length of time.

What I'm really saying here is that hypersensitivity exists in people like this, as well.  What differs from those who are hypersensitive and seemingly altruistic, by focusing solely on the concerns they have for the welfare of others, is perception and expression.  The differing perception of these empathic types focuses more on themselves than others.  And it gets expressed in a self centered way instead of one of altruism and humility where others come before the Empath in worth.  But beyond perception and expression, there really isn't much difference between the personality types that encompass the Empathic personality.

The hard part comes in our own perceptions of what people are supposed to be more empathic than others, because some are more recognizable than others.  And most people have a hard time seeing beneath the surface of another person, particularly when they are confronted with arrogant, aggressive and/or negative behavior.  It makes one much less inclined to even attempt to look beneath the surface.

But on some level, empathy demands we see beneath the surface so that we can develop understanding toward others, even those who differ from us; even those who hurt us.  But the empathy I'm talking about here is not simply hypersensitivity or the cognitive ability to place oneself into the shoes of another to see from their point of view.


Empathy has numerous definitions based on what point of view you see it through.  One is psychic in nature and pertains to a hypersensitivity to energies and emotions. This can be done for other people, pets, inanimate objects, and possibly even incorporeal entities.

Another definition, which is more from a psychological standpoint, speaks of the ability to imaginatively place oneself into the shoes of another at both the cognitive and emotional levels.  One does this to better understand where another person is coming from when they are speaking.

But there is also another kind of Empathy.  It is the type that makes demands of a person to alter the way they think and behave with regards to other people.  It demands patience and humility of a person, despite personal prejudices and frustrations.  It asks a person to think and consciously shift perspectives in order to understand other people, even those who offend us, hurt us, or abuse us.

This kind of Empathy is like a very broad spectrum perception shift.  It asks one to be open minded instead of assuming or rushing to rash judgments/opinions.  It calls for the patience to listen to others in earnest.  And the humility to set personal feeling aside, even when we are faced with aggressive behaviors.

It teaches, not just tolerance, but full scale acceptance through understanding, because this kind of understanding is rooted much deeper within the human psyche than mere tolerance will allow.  (Note acceptance doesn't mean we stay in unhealthy situations where we leave ourselves open to abuse.  It just means understanding.)

This is because it does not just look at people's behavior patterns.  It also looks at some of the root causes for those behaviors.  It goes beyond simply viewing the symptoms to finding deeper ingrained causes for them.

This is one of the hardest and truest types of Empathy there is, and it doesn't come as an ability.  Just because a person is capable of doing this, doesn't mean they will.  And almost everyone, Empath or not, is capable of utilizing this type of Empathy, whether they actually do or not.

The Human Factor

The human factor of Empaths and Empathy has been showcased throughout this discussion. What has been shown to you is that things are not always as they seem when it comes to people.  Empaths, like people in general, come in all shapes and sizes.  And so does Empathy.

Names, titles, labels; all of these are of less importance than the ability to offer empathy to others.  So think about it. ^_^

1 comment:

  1. Dear Misu

    Here's a further resources to learn more about empathy and compassion.

    The Center for Building a Culture of Empathy
    The Culture of Empathy website is the largest internet portal for resources and information about the values of empathy and compassion. It contains articles, conferences, definitions, experts, history, interviews,  videos, science and much more about empathy and compassion.