Do you feel it? The emotions of those around you. Wikipedia defines empathy as “the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within the other person’s frame of reference, i.e., the capacity to place oneself in another’s position. There are many definitions for empathy that encompass a broad range of emotional states. Types of empathy include cognitive empathy, emotional empathy, and somatic empathy.”
The word “empath” originates from the Quechua Indian word “Qawaq” which translates to “one who sees” and from “Qaway” which translates as “to see living energy”.
But being an empath extends far beyond that. Imagine fear, anger, sadness, happiness, joy, shame, disgust… the full range of human emotions hitting you in one horrific spitball of raw, untenable energy. It’s nearly impossible to explain this in a cogent manner to those who have never had the fortune (or misfortune) of experiencing it.
Still unsure if you might be an empath? Here are five traits of empaths (provided by our friends at Restore Emotional Balance):
- You absorb negative energies from the environment you are in, either from objects, electronics or people. You may also be sensitive to ghosts, discarnate entities and low energies.
- You carry a heavy load and it is not yours. You are affected by negative behavior of others and often chose to engage in negative behavior yourself in order to fit in.
- You always seem to know what people are thinking and feeling and are affected because you care so much and want to help. This causes you to be in codependent relationships with narcissists and selfish people, who don’t really care about you.
- You have a very hard time sticking up for yourself and feel taken advantage of by family members, friends and even strangers.
- Somehow you feel responsible for what happens to others in your life and end up participating in their sorrow. You also feel resentful of not being appreciated.
When you’re gifted with empathic abilities, you don’t just feel sympathy, compassion, and joy for others; you experience these feelings as if they were your very own. Empathy, by definition, extends beyond compassion… which means that you vicariously experience the thoughts and feelings of others. It can be maddening at times not knowing when, why, or how it will manifest.
Scientists believe that empathy can generally be divided into two major components:
- Affective empathy, also called emotional empathy: the capacity to respond with an appropriate emotion to another’s mental states. Our ability to empathize emotionally is based on emotional contagion: being affected by another’s emotional or arousal state.
- Cognitive empathy: the capacity to understand another’s perspective or mental state. The terms cognitive empathy and theory of mind or mentalizing are often used synonymously, but due to a lack of studies comparing theory of mind with types of empathy, it is unclear whether these are equivalent.
I would argue that a third type should be included: somatic empathy. For those who have ever felt the crippling effects of being in a room filled with people (and emotions)… you know there is a discrete physical component that can’t be dismissed.
In a sense, being empathic is like being helpless in the Sahara Desert with no protective clothing or sunscreen. It’s raw, tiring, and without a means to protect oneself will quickly lead to overexposure.
Unfortunately, one of the trademarks of being an empath is feeling helpless – unable to solve everyone’s problems. Empaths throw themselves into various causes then quickly tire and retreat from them all because they quickly discover that they are unable to do everything for everyone.
So… is being empathic a curse or a blessing? Well… I suppose it’s all about perspective.
Being empathic certainly can be a blessing when you can use it to understand others, especially in situations when without empathy you may not be able to. For instance, if people are completely different from you and you share no similar experiences etc. then I believe it can be a blessing as it allows you to have a deeper connection with those important to you. Acting as an almost silent teleprompter – allowing you to feel them when they might not be able to express that something is wrong.
On the other hand, being empathic can absolutely be a curse when you are forced to feel the pain, sorrow, and sadness of others – especially ones that you love. Knowing that you are helpless to do anything to relieve that pain makes it not only incredibly painful and frustrating… but also potentially debilitating to your own existence. When your current life and relationships suffer because of your empathy for people and situations beyond your own life then it’s obviously a curse.
“A human being is part of the whole called by us ‘universe’ – a part limited in time and space. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” – Albert Einstein