Are You an Empath, or Just Empathetic?

It seems like everyone and their brother claims to be an empath these days.

There are a plethora of those “feel-good” memes all over, describing vague points that make everyone feel as if they’re included in the Empath Spectrum. Kind of like a newspaper horoscope that could apply to anyone, but feels specific to one person because they want it to be. But is that true? Are empaths on the rise in a world where we’ve become more disconnected from each other than ever?

If you take a look at the comment’s section just about anywhere on the internet, it’s hard to believe that there are that many out there. For a true Empath, the internet can be a war zone. We don’t enjoy battles waged in spite of others, nor do we look forward to the blasts of negativity that ricochet from the keyboards of those intent on wreaking havoc for no other reason than because they can.

For an empath, pain is not a sword to be pointed at the necks of others. We feel their sorrow as if directed toward ourselves, and for most of us, we refuse to participate in causing it for anyone.

Not to say we don’t cause some, we just don’t do it intentionally.

So, are those keyboard soldiers, who claim to wave the flag of Empath, yet plunder the lives of others, really Empaths?

It’s probably a controversial statement in the age of inclusion, but I don’t think so. I think the term “Empath” has become similar to what “Irish” has become during March- everyone who wears green believes they can lay claim to the Gaelic heritage; or quite similar to so many claiming to be an INFJ, even though it’s the rarest of all the Myers-Briggs Types. (As a person who truly is all three, it’s almost as if my own identity has been stripped for the sake of novelty.)

In our society, our common empathy has fallen to the wayside. So much so that the term Empath has risen in its place to justify why we feel for others when there’s no rational reason to.

However, empathy still exists- we’ve just forgotten how to embrace it. As the internet has connected us, allowing us to see that we’re not alone- we’ve also lost a bit of our individuality. In not being alone, we also realize how unoriginal we are. We see just how many people out there are just like us, and that’s threatening in a world that demands we be special to be heard. Therefore, before we’re swallowed by the quicksand of being normal, we grasp to labels and uniqueness that allow us to keep a bit of our identity.

But can you feel emapthy and not be an empath?

Absolutely. In fact, I believe that most people who claim to be an Empath are just unaware that empathy is a normal part of the human condition.

There’s nothing wrong with being simply empathetic, either. In fact, being able to recognize empathy separates many from the herd- and can help create a better world that we all wish to live in.

So, what’s the difference between emapthy and Empath?

Emapthy is being able to relate to someone in a deep and profound way. Almost as if their pain is your own. It’s having children and feeling that deep ache when you see another child has been kidnapped. It’s losing a loved one, and knowing how your neighbor feels when their spouse dies.

Empathy is an emotion that is not only universal, it’s pathological. Emapthy is what makes a gruff-looking biker answer a child’s plastic phone as if it were the real thing, while it’s also what keeps the scared man in the jungles of war from leaving his wounded friend behind. It’s built into our brains as a way to keep our species alive and thriving.

While many of these new-age websites would have you believe this is also what makes one an Empath- I am here to quietly say different.

Empathy is a directed reaction to a certain stimuli, triggering intense emotions in a person because they can visualize themselves in that situation. It’s different than sympathy, because that’s responding to pain while not being able to visualize, or understand, what another is going through.

However, in both empathy and sympathy, it is the person’s own feelings being felt- which separates it entirely from the category of Empath.

A person experiencing empathy is listening to the broadcast of others pain and emotions, but isn’t actually feeling the frequency. Instead, it inspires their own emotions that resonate alongside the frequency. Whereas an empath is more like the antennae that’s tuned into the station of emotions at all time in all people- they don’t just hear it, they are it.

An Empath, unlike someone who just displays empathy, has no choice but to feel pain. We can’t turn it off, even if we can’t imagine what the other is going through, we still feel their ache in a way that doesn’t separate it from our own.

We are almost like confidence men, able to read a room and understand exactly what is being felt at all times. We know people, sometimes better than they know themselves, and yet, we don’t ever have a rational explanation for our gifts. We feel intentions as if they were like blaring advertisements branded on the foreheads of those around us, making it impossible to truly trust anyone- because we see what everyone wishes to keep hidden.

Empaths are not psychics, we can’t read your mind- but if you think of feelings as energy, we are readers in a way.

Empaths notice small changes in people, recognizing when they’re frustrated, upset, irritated, hurt, happy, insecure, anxious, depressed, loved, passionate, etc- even if we can’t explain why that person is feeling that way. We’re highly intuitive, able to feel someone’s emotions during situations, understanding how things affect them. We read those things without even meaning to, an invasion of privacy that is not only inadvertent but inescapable.

Though someone who displays empathy might feel depressed at times, an Empath is often existentially depressed. The pain of the world sits on our shoulders at all times, and it’s a heavy weight to carry. Watching internet videos that may end in tragedy, horror movies, or even realistic dramas that use depression as drug is usually avoided because it’s just one more avenue of pain we can walk but can’t fix.

And though it’s not an Empath’s job to fix the world, we cannot help but want to. We feel its pain, we feel its sorrow so deeply that it keeps us up at night- wondering if it will ever get better. We also feel its anger- the rage at oppression and suffering that seems never ending, as if it is our own bodies shackled and abused.

Unlike someone who can display empathy with their own emotions, Empaths can be very unaware of how we feel. It’s a disconnect between our surroundings and our emotional selves, because they don’t always go hand-in-hand. There are times when the emotions of others, especially for those of us not well-versed in grounding, will overpower our own- drowning out what we should be feeling for what they are feeling. It can be confusing, and in some cases, down-right insanity to pick out what is truly yours, and what you’ve picked up along the way.

For me, personally, I can walk into a room full of strangers and know that I’m being judged in various ways by many of them. Though for someone who isn’t an Empath it sounds like insecurity, for someone who has the gift- we know it’s just human nature. We all judge, but not all of us can feel it when it happens. I know when they’ve judged others, how they feel about their partners, how they feel about others in the room- and yet, I’ve never spoken a word to them. I know when people are hiding feelings, and what is under their masks. And I feel it all as if I were them. I know when certain conversations irk them, or what they’re secretly drawn to. I know who is suffering relationship problems, and who is attracted to whom.

An Empath can read someone and tell you that that person is a liar, without ever having to hear their voice. An Empath can tell you whether a person is abusive, or fake, without ever needing to do more than see them. An Empath can tell you when someone is kind and generous with their intentions, just by glancing at someone.

We are never the ones on the television claiming our serial killer neighbor was such a good guy; we’re the one’s who warned everyone that something was very off about that man, and to stay away from him.

Sometimes we don’t even have words for it, these feelings. Vibrations. Vibes. Whatever you want to call them. They just sit on our skin in various ways, alerting our senses that this person is either friend or foe. Many times, the feelings of others will invade our senses, dragging us down under waves of emotions we can neither escape from nor ignore. We are scattered about in a sea of ever-changing currents, constantly trying to swim to shore- yet, never reaching it.

And to many, we sound like a bunch of hippies who just woke out of a mushroom trip- but really, it’s because they just don’t feel what we feel.

Empaths feel empathy, as all humans do, but it’s hypersensitive and overactive. It is not conditional, nor does it respond in kind with our experiences. It is not ours, even though it is felt by us, and cannot be turned off.

Empathy, on the other hand, is situational, responding to outside influences from the perspective of yourself. It’s almost selfish in nature, your body responding to pain that you might once again feel or can picture yourself feeling. Empaths are different, as if their minds or bodies are meant to be shared with others, loading up on the rampant emotions of others that cannot be carried alone.

It’s a tough life, in reality. It makes for confusion and hurt feelings, because to be an untrained Empath means you’re never sure what’s yours and what isn’t.

It’s not a gift for the lighthearted either, as there are times when it will become so unbearable that it can destroy you if you let it. Many of us have, at one point or another, struggled with suicidal idealizations because of our gifts.

The question becomes: Are you an Empath, or just empathetic?

Remember, there’s no shame in being either- but knowing the difference can help you become more intuned with who you are which only helps you to better understand who everyone else is.

Until next time, my friends…


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