A Brief History of Empathy: What is an Empath?

 

"Being empathic means: "To be with another in this way means that for the time being you lay aside the views and values you hold for yourself in order to enter another's world without prejudice. In some sense it means that you lay aside your self and this can only be done by a person who is secure enough in himself that he knows he will not get lost in what may turn out to be the strange or bizarre world of the other, and can comfortably return to his own world when he wishes. Perhaps this description makes clear that being empathic is a complex, demanding, strong yet subtle and gentle way of being.” - Dr. Carl Rogers

Over the past few days the term “Empath” has been coming up in casual conversation, on my social media accounts and i’ve even heard the term used in one of those “Deep Net Horror Stories” videos which has absolutely nothing to do with this kind of material in a direct sense. I figured that perhaps this is some form of synchronicity and I should write a piece about it.

So for starters, what exactly is an Empath? An Empath is described as someone that has the ability to feel more deeply or profoundly than others. This “feeling” can be in the form of absorbing the energy of those around them or, possessing a much more powerful sense of intuition (often creeping into the realm of hypersensitivity, clairsentience and just plain weird) than the average person. You know that one friend that you have that is always “getting a bad feeling” or “picking up bad vibes”? There is a pretty good chance that he or she is an empath if they are usually correct about these feelings. Paranoia and empathy could be viewed through a very similar lens if the observer isn’t able to accurately distinguish between the two. Someone who is paranoid could simply have a “better safe than sorry mentality” but it rarely, if ever pans out. An empath on the other hand just seems to “know” that something is amiss. Twins and mothers often report knowing when something is wrong with their loved ones. In the famous case of the Jim Twins, they lived eerily similar lives despite being separated at birth.

The term has been mentioned for millennia in some form or another. From the Biblical “do unto others” trope to the more modern “walk in someone else’s shoes” analogy, we see that this is something that has been hinted at and touched on by African and Native tribesmen, philosophers, and spiritualists for quite some time now. It seems however, that late nineteenth and early twentieth century psychologists may have played the largest role in popularizing the phenomena. Dr. Carl Rogers was a huge influence in the advancement of understanding empathy by recognizing that this could be some sort of genuine psycho or parapsychological phenomenon. Or in more pragmatic terms, that the best way to truly understand someone, is to try and see things from their perspective. Merely listening to them when they require help is not enough for some people.

There are several sites that list the traits of these individuals and you can read here to see if you are one of these individuals. These types usually end up becoming some sort of healer, teacher or spiritualist. What’s so interesting about this phenomena is that it’s very hard to refute it, even on a more metaphysical level. Sure it is a necessary component of human survival and evolution to have instinctual fight or flight responses but why is it that some people are much more in tune with their abilities? If we couldn’t use our triune (related to the reptilian brain) abilities to sense danger, we wouldn’t have made it as far as we have as a species. Almost everyone has had a gut feeling about something and it turned out they were spot on. Similarly to how someone is just naturally gifted in mathematics, the empath is naturally gifted (or cursed depending on how you look at it) with enhanced intuition.

We are supposedly experiencing another age of spiritual and emotional enlightenment, if this truly is the case, it is imperative that we understand these individuals on a deeper level for they may hold the secret to understanding the universal law of human connectedness.