I was recently approached by a friend who had a bunch of questions for me about what are commonly referred to as “empaths”. Rather than just replying to him one-to-one, I felt it would be best to post the questions and answers here so that they might benefits any others who are keen to know a little more about these topics. It is, after all, such a common topic in the “spiritual community” these days. From now on, the rest of this post is in question and answer format.
Q. What are your views on empaths?
A. An “empath” responds to certain stimuli in a different way to others. It’s not so much of a special power or gift as much as it is a result of the environmental factors. Everybody receives the signals that an “empath” receives (with natural variables of course – some receive slightly more, some receive slightly less, the variables are nothing noteworthy really though) it’s just that what we might want to call “non-empaths” just hang around at sympathy or early empathy whereas “empaths” hang around in empathy. transcendence is to move from sympathy into empathy and empathy to compassion.
Let me explain that a little more: Sympathy is the recognition of pain. It looks and sounds like “I’m sorry to hear that. It’ll be okay. You’ll be fine.” Empathy is the understanding and in some way adoption of that pain. Sounds like “I feel your pain. That’s terrible.” Compassion is a more mature knowing of “my pain” and “your pain” being really just “pain” and belonging to nobody. Also, that there is no “you” and “me” really. It’s us, it’s all the self. As such, compassion inspires action. “How can I help?”
People who are prone to inhabiting the realm of empathy more so are called “empaths” sometimes. It’s not so much a special gift as it is simply an observation that the circumstances of the lives of these “empaths” have brought them to a place where empathy is the more a natural response to pain rather than the sympathy which is more common in the general society. That said, empathy is preferable to sympathy. Compassion is preferable to empathy.
Q. Do empaths automatically care about everyone and their feelings and well-being or is it more that they can be highly intuitive/affected by the emotions of others?
A. To be an “empath” is not to be compassionate, necessarily. Compassion is natural for humans but it tends to get covered up by conditioning. Compassion requires empathy. Empathy does not require compassion. In a manner of speaking, empathy is within compassion. It is one element of compassion, you could say. That’s not strictly true, but it can be said like this.
An “empath” tends to interpret and treat emotional energetic stimuli in such a way which causes them to develop empathy – to feel the emotions of another human as if they were ones own. This is likely where the name came from. It is this treatment of emotional energetic stimuli which would earn one the definition of “empath” but it doesn’t mean that they are always empathic necessary, nor does it mean that these “empaths” are in any way guaranteed to be compassionate individuals. This is, however, all only behavioural patterning.
To ‘sense’ the emotional disharmony in a social setting does not necessarily lead to a kind and considerate response. This requires compassion. Being clear about the difference between empathy and compassionate shows us this. This doesn’t mean “empaths” are not compassionate at all. It is just to say that being empathic does not mean that you will be a nice person, not does it mean you will have cultivated compassion.
Q. Do empaths always take on emotions of every person they cross paths with or can they become focused on certain people and tune out others?
A. All humans the capacity for recognising and ‘absorbing’ emotions in some way. It must be discerned though that the emotions, once felt by another person, are within the emotional conditions of that person. As such, the ‘original’ emotion is not the one felt by the “empath” but is simply an adopted adapted version of it. Treated on a “what is” basis, it does not matter where the emotion seems to have come from, if it is felt it must be treated in the same way as all other emotion which is felt – to be observed and accepted. Mind likes to overcomplicate though. Those we call “sensitive” – or here what we are calling an “empath” – simply keep those emotions around longer in themselves. I discussed this with my wife and she said put forward the analogy of the light-stain on the eyes after looking at a light for too long.
Applying the “Special Case Syndrome” here, “empaths” tend to want to be ‘somebody feeling something’ rather than being totally surrendered in service to those in need. This is the difference here between empathy (I feel your pain) and compassion (This is our pain). Being clear, sensitive people don’t have a vault of emotion which gets filled up with the emotions of everybody they pass on the street every time they leave the house. It is more of an intuitive recognition and understanding of emotions. Whether or not those emotions are taken inward and propagated is the prerogative of the individual. It tends to happen from time to time for those who are more interested in the emotional stimulation than freedom from suffering.
Q. Do empaths sometimes appear disinterested, lazy, unmotivated, inconsiderate etc?
A. Humans do.
Q. Which closer describes being an empath: being unknowingly drawn to people’s emotions or being affected by exposure to them?
A. Those of us who are heavily invest in being “someone” (those of us who have not discovered our essential nature and so continue to think that we are identity, personal history, roles in life ) tend to find ourselves drawn to strong emotional extremes like moths to a flame. What we typically call an “empath” might find themselves more strongly affected by exposure to intense emotions rather than drawn to strong emotion – of the two. Really, the variables are as numerous as the breeds of domestic cats. Being prone to empathy usually just means being prone to empathy… Which is then sometimes (but not always) processed in a way which generates additional emotion within the “empath”.
This understanding and recognition of emotions is normal for humans. It is part of our communication. Only some of our human-to-human communication is our verbal language. The other elements are things like body language, tone of voice, pitch of voice and so on. Those of us we might want to call “empaths” are those of us who take those signals inwards and then sometimes thereafter treat the emotions in such a way which feeds suffering. Any suffering is the result of the clinging of mind. This is no exception.
Q. Is it common for an empath to isolate themselves or do they tend seek other people?
A. It’s common for humans to isolate themselves. It’s common for humans to seek other humans too. Ones natural disposition towards empathy largely has very little to do with it. Empathy is simply determines how communicative signals are interpreted. Disposition towards empathy simply plays a role in ones interpretation of the emotional energetic stimuli in their environment.
Q. Can empaths appear as having social anxiety/depression?
A. When one [human] is identified with their personality construct, identity, personal history, personal roles, ideas and so on, this disposition towards empathy may be a contributing factor of social anxiety and/or depression Empathy will not cause these things though.
Q. Are empaths more emotional and needy in their relationships?
A. Being predisposed towards empathy does not necessarily cause one to be more or less anything – other than empathy of course. However, it’s clear that being more in tune with emotional signals will likely inspire one to be more in touch with personal preference to some degree. One might want to be around kind, considerate, loving and compassionate people rather than inconsiderate, moody and cold people for example. It can also potentially have an effect on the way that certain behaviours in other are interpreted but this is never the defining factor of the behaviour of the “empath” who interpreted it. There must be some level of maturity and logicality present with anything emotional, otherwise things get rather out of hand rather quickly.
A significant point to make here too is that, in relationships, empathy does not necessary mean one will be ‘clingy’ as much as – if one doesn’t learn to manage this sensitivity to emotional signals then one may become withdrawn or cold themselves.
Q. Which is more accurate: ’empaths feel strongly connected/drawn to people that are suffering and a desire to help them’ or ’empaths can easily be effected and mirror the emotions of those people.’?
A. Empathy itself does not tend to require any sort of action. As such, empathy likely will not lead one to relieve the suffering of another. However, empathy tends to inspire compassion among those of us who are less attached to our personal hang-ups or what Eckhart Tolle calls our “mental positions”. And compassion in turn leads to action. So, in a way, yes. But, in a way, no also. Under certain circumstances, yes. With a deliberate honesty, compassion will arise.
Q. Do you think it’s actually a thing or another ‘slap a label on something different’ sort of situation?
A. It seems that it’s a little of both. The labelling is largely unnecessary. Yet, we cannot ignore that there is something there, that there is something going on.The difference lies solely in how the mind has been trained to interface with things. There are pros and cons to being anything and being predisposed towards empathy is no exception. To live life through the proxy of being an “empath”, however, is unnecessary. Labels like this tend to – more often than not – feed some egoic need for significance. This significance is not needed when we have truly taken to self-realisation. Also, “empath” as part of identity can generate problems in life too. It can lead to isolation and alienation – as is true of any tightly held labels or ideal. Yet, it can also encourage one to be more compassionate with oneself. As such, if it is gripped loosely then it may do no harm. It is not, however, the be-all-and-end-all of a spiritual journey. It’s not like, “Right, okay. I’m an empath. Now I know the truth of my existence.” No. It’s another stop-gap. Another pretty flower to smell along the way. Smell it, maybe, but don’t be a house around it. And don’t assume it will be sweet smelling just because it’s pretty.
Taking to self-discovery, self-realisation, through self-enquiry and discover your true nature – beyond all these conditions and ideas like this one of being an “empath” – will achieve a balancing much more easily and sustainably. The sort of balance that we don’t have to micromanage – a natural balance. This is just one of infinite reasons to really look deeply at what our true nature is. This is a much more worthwhile endeavour than to mill the grain of the mind about who we are personally. This has no end. There is not unchanging truth with this. Personally, we keep changing. Beyond that, what is there? This is where we must look if we seek freedom, joy and peace beyond conditions.
Live, love and play.