Social Question

Demosthenes's avatar

Do you consider yourself an "empath"?

Asked by Demosthenes (13011points) 1 month ago

“Empath” seems to be the new thing everyone online claims to be, and as with most of these labels that go around and seem to be signaling virtue, I’m skeptical. In the same way I see many people labeling others “narcissists”, I see them labeling themselves “empaths” and I can’t help but think the terms are not being used correctly, at least much of the time. But that’s why I’m asking.

An “empath” is defined as a person with an exceptional amount of empathy. Do you believe that you have more empathy than the people around you? Is there a Dunning-Kruger effect going on where we tend to overestimate our empathic levels as we overestimate our intelligence? Is “empath” a legitimate category or is it simply the natural state for most people and those who have middling or lower amounts of empathy are the exception?

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21 Answers

jca2's avatar

I don’t consider myself an empath. I do have a lot of empathy and sympathy for people, and when it comes to certain people or situations, I really will think hard about what their lives or their situations must be like. However, there are also times, especially online, when someone will talk about someone else behaving like a total asshole, for example, yelling at restaurant workers or other bad behavior, and people will respond “don’t judge” or “you don’t know what they’re going through” or “you don’t know what kind of a day they’re having.” Well, I have had some really bad things happen to me and I’ve had some shitty days just like everyone else in the world, and I don’t think it justifies bad behavior.

I’ll also say to people “yes, I do judge.” Certain things, I am judgey about. I judged people for a living and I’m will judge now. For example, yesterday I was in NYC and some weird looking guy with stains all over his clothes came up close to us and asked me if I knew what time it was. I said no and moved away. Did I judge him? Yes. I judged him by his appearance, his demeanor and his behavior. Is it possible he was not a bad person? Yes.

ragingloli's avatar

I am not a Betazoid, so no.

kritiper's avatar

The “word” EMPATH does not show up in my dictionary. Based on similar words, I’d have to say that anyone who said they were an “empath” didn’t know what it was or what it was imagined to be.
@ragingloli got it right, to a degree. An “empath” is someone who can feel someone else’s thoughts, feelings, emotions. A mind reader in the purest sense.

elbanditoroso's avatar

Is this even real?

I have seen a couple of movies where there was an empath character with a central role. But I had the feeling this was a plot invention more than something that is real and measurable.

It seems irrational bullshit to me, and without something more than anecdotal hype, I find it hard to believe.

Dutchess_III's avatar

“Empath” is on the same plane as a “fortune teller” IMO.
The term tends to be used by flakey people who consider themselves enlightened and spiritual. They use essential oils thinking they really work.

chyna's avatar

I feel like it’s just the new buzzword of the week.

flutherother's avatar

I think that anyone who claims to have more than their fair share of empathy is a little suspect. How people feel internally is known only to them but it is through their actions that they are known to others.

raum's avatar

No, I don’t consider myself an empath. Though I do think there are legit empaths. Just not as common as the current usage would lead you to believe.

It’s not so much that they know what you are feeling through telepathy or something. It’s that they’re sensitive to subtle cues. And have difficulty keeping the feelings of others separated from their own.

At least, that’s how I understand it.

KNOWITALL's avatar

Empathy now seems to refer to some special spiritual power involving your third eye, but it’s nothing new. To me it’s just another group of people who want to feel special.
Like #domtok or #witchtok, etc…many are pretty cringe.
What I will say is that people I feel are actually naturally talented are rarely open about it. So open proclamations of talent are sus.

raum's avatar

I get that there’s pushback to the idea of empaths being just the latest catch phrase.

But there’s also a high comorbidity rate among trauma-related personality disorders like PTSD, CPTSD, and BPD. And with those who are autistic.

There’s kind of a movement within psychology that’s reframing BPD and autism-like symptoms as a trauma response.

Imagine growing up in an environment where your survival hinges on knowing whether your caregiver is on the brink of anger. The ability to read these cues could make the difference between getting beaten or knowing to avoid that person.

It’s not a wannabe superhuman human ability to be mocked. It’s a survival skill based on a lifetime of trauma.

Mimishu1995's avatar

I totally agree with you @raum. That said, I haven’t heard people who claim to be empaths talk about this ability. They think of themselves as someone who are excessively empathetic, to the point of being manipulated. I see the empath talk a lot when it comes to narcissists and sociopaths. So in that sense, I’m more skeptical of those so-called “empaths”.

cookieman's avatar

I think I posses an average amount of empathy so, no.

Demosthenes's avatar

@Mimishu1995 Yes, that is how I see it used as well. People don’t speak of it as a skill, but almost as a talent they’re born with. Which again, I’m not saying doesn’t exist. I’m just skeptical that there are as many people who are remarkably empathetic as claim to be.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I can say I pick up on social cues that Rick is blind to.

cookieman's avatar

It could be that, in the face of rampant selfishness and self-centered behavior, displaying any amount of empathy now seems so rare and thus more valuable than it really is.

YARNLADY's avatar

No, I am a person who doesn’t have a clue.

raum's avatar

@Mimishu1995 Could you clarify what you meant by:

“I see the empath talk a lot when it comes to narcissists and sociopaths. So in that sense, I’m more skeptical of those so-called “empaths”.”

Mimishu1995's avatar

@raum So this is a trend I see on forum discussion and self-help websites. Forum threads would have something like “I was involved with narcissists a lot in my life. They did <list of bad things> to me. I’m an empath, I love everyone, so I think that’s what draws me to narcissists”. And there are self-help websites with titles like “Why narcissists are drawn to empaths”. These are the instances where I see “empath” being brought up. And when the term is brought up, it seems to me more like “excessive empathy to the point of being manipulated” than your definition of “the ability to sense other’s feelings”. I hope my explanation makes sense to you.

Given that we only get to hear one side of the story on those threads, I have my doubt if I am really reading the story of a real “empath”. Moreover, those people talk about themselves being easy to manipulate as if it’s something to be proud of, when, in my opinion, a real empath, someone who has high emotional intelligence and, like you said, has been through hell, would be more likely to establish healthy boundary and be more aware of the signs of manipulation. And also I don’t think someone would go around claiming to be an empath so freely. It’s like feeling the need to tell the world how kind you are.

Maybe it’s just me who hasn’t seen “empath” as defined by you yet. I’m more familiar with the definition I said above. And yeah, I do believe there are real empaths. I’m just cautious of the people who are using the term for not-so-great purposes.

raum's avatar

Thanks for clarifying!

Yes, the online armchair-diagnosing of NPD has gotten pretty out of hand.

Just because your ex was an asshole, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a narcissist. Assholes come in all sorts of varieties.

Though there is a legit empath/narcissist dynamic. So it makes sense that the flip side of that dynamic would also be blown out of proportion too.

But to understand that dynamic, I think you have to make the distinction between having a high level of emotional intelligence and being an empath.

With emotional intelligence, you understand how others feel and know how to respond. Being an empath, they feel how others feel, but they have a hard time distinguishing other people’s feelings from their own feelings. It’s actually harder for them to establish boundaries.

And I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the statistic that abuse victims are at higher risk for being abused again. Probably a combination of human nature to repeat patterns of behavior. And that predators seek out vulnerability.

Being an empath may have been developed as a survival skill. But it’s a maladaptive survival skill. Often making them more vulnerable.

Hope that makes sense?

Mimishu1995's avatar

Yes, it makes sense, thank you :)

I’m very familiar with the fact that abused victims are more likely to be tangled into abusive relationship, and abused victims are more sensitive to others’ emotion. I read that in psychology books. But none of the books I read mentions the word “empath”. I’m more likely to encounter “empath” on the Internet and pop-psychology websites. The tone of the books I read tends to be that the skill empaths possess aren’t healthy and they need to learn better ways to deal with people. That is very different from the Internet, where empath traits are glorified.

I think the fact that we are discussing what empath means shows how much the Internet has muddled up the true meaning of the word. Just like how “narcissist” and “depression” have become. And that’s really sad, because it downplays genuine people with actual problems. That is happening to me too. I don’t want to downplay anyone’s problem, but when you encounter so many lies, you tend to be more suspicious.

Forever_Free's avatar

Yep. I became an empath out of survival.

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