A discussion about empathy on reddit really got under my skin this morning and I thought I would jot some notes down here. Unfortunately, the word “empath” has been targeted by some as toxic and people are linking narcissistic behaviors with those that call themselves an empath.
I used to call myself an empath before the word started getting some hate in some communities. Before I go further, let’s first define what empathy is.
What is empathy
Empathy is the ability to feel what others are feeling, as opposed to feeling sorry or having sympathy for them. Being empathetic, means you literally absorb other people’s feelings and often mistake them as your own.
It is the ability to recognize emotions in others and understand what they are going through, or have gone through based on similar experiences or traumas. Sympathy, on the other hand, is the ability to feel sorry for someone else, or to show compassion during challenging times, or simply acknowledging their pain.
Types of empathy
The ability to respond to other people’s emotions appropriately.
The ability to feel what another person is feeling – this is a natural gift that not everyone has.
The ability to understand someone’s response to a situation – either based on similar experiences or emotions or learned behavior.
Examples of Empathy
When my partner is having a bad day, I often feel it impacts my mood as well. I absorb energy like a sponge, even from long distances. I find when he is moody or distant, this impacts my mood overall and I feel drained. When he is sad, I feel sad too and just want to be there to support him. The same goes for friends and family members.
Empathy helped me in the workplace. Some people will argue that my trauma from past neglect or abuse has made me hypervigilant, or that it’s my anxiety that makes me more sensitive to energy. But this has always been part of me.
For instance, when I worked in student registration at a local college, I could feel the excitement in the air when the rush of new students were buzzing through the halls. I’d be hyper all day and high off that energy. It would keep me fueled for days on end.
Other times, that inner gut reaction – a feeling of tightness in the stomach or general uneasy feeling when things were tense in the office. Observing the moods of other coworkers, seeing their mannerisms and expressions as they spoke in hushed tones, noticing the closed door meetings – this always made me hyper-aware of when something big was about to go down.
Weather related – I can tell when it’s going to rain or the weather is going to shift. Of course, that could be an arthritis thing. I feel it in my bones. But maybe I’m at times, so strongly connected to nature that it’s like connected to me in a way I can’t explain.
The downside to being empathetic
The arguments I’m seeing are that people are using mental health issues like anxiety or trauma related illnesses (PTSD, c-PTSD, etc) to completely dismiss empathic abilities. While people are not outright calling empathy a mental illness, they are blaming some of the symptoms or signs on mental illness.
This I have a real problem with. For me, I know what symptoms come with my anxiety. It’s different from day to day, but usually it’s social anxiety or being easily stressed out, or more recently, sensory overload. But I also know the difference between a real “gut feeling” compared to just anxiety.
There have been times when I’ve met people that just set me off for some reason, though I can’t put my finger on it. Only months later, or years later, the truth of that person is eventually revealed to others.
People sometimes tell me I’m being paranoid when I’m observing patterns and behaviors of others, and yet, again and again – eventually, in time, these patterns are noticed by others and most of the time – my gut feelings about those people are proven to be right.
While I acknowledge the need for treatment for some illnesses like depression, anxiety, etc – I think it’s really shitty to paint empathy in a negative light.
If there’s anything this world could use MORE of – it’s empathy and compassion towards each other. We all have the ability to feel empathy or even show/learn empathy. But many simply choose not to.
Anyway. If this is scrambled, my ADD brain is not being kind today. I have like three draft posts that all say the same thing, and I’m having troubles staying focused.
What are your experiences with empathy? Do you consider yourself a naturally empathic person? What are some stories you can share of how using empathy saved you from a potentially dangerous or toxic situation?
Please let’s generate a healthy discussion here. Seeing comments like “If someone calls themselves an empath, that’s sus.” — I’m starting to really dislike online “communities” sometimes. As someone who is spiritually open minded, I’m tired of seeing these discussions pop up in spiritual groups.
It’s like those that kink shame each other on a kink related site. Makes no sense to me.