Empath is psycho-shorthand for ‘someone who is empathetic.’
Empaths can put themselves in another’s shoes and experience their emotions.
You want an empath around when you need more than someone to pat you on the shoulder when you are miserable and say “Poor, pitiful you.” That is a sympathizer. They serve a purpose. When you wallow in your particular wretchedness, the sympathetic person will not get overly-involved. The sympathizer will just feel sorry for you.
Then there’s the role of an aloof. This detached person sees your gloom, and wonders how you got there. And possibly is glad he isn’t in there with you.
Unlike the jurist—who will critique, censure, and castigate you from the edge of the pit of despair.
The sympathizer will offer you a shoulder to cry on. Sometimes we need sympathy. And sometimes we need cool appraisal from the aloof, to give us a sense of perspective on our hurt. There could conceivably be times when we need the jurist, who tells us exactly what we did wrong (if anything) that got us into the pit, and MAYBE even instructs us how to get out.
But the empath will mourn with you when you mourn. The empath’s cheeks will burn when you are humiliated, and the empath’s heart will beat faster when you are afraid.
The empath will climb right into the ooze next to you and sob along.
I could always, from the time I learned to read, put myself into a character’s shoes. Shoes? No, I climbed into the character’s skin and walked around in it. If I were a more open child and had shared these tendencies with my parents, they might have been able to act as aloof, or even a jurists, and convince me that too much empathy is too much. By the time I was about seven the damage was complete. There was no going back.
That year, our family stood on the sidewalk in our little town, cheering as a parade went by. I think candy was thrown. (I wouldn’t have cheered as much otherwise.) When I heard jeers of some rascally-types up the street, I raised my eyes from the Bazooka Bubble Gum piece at my feet, and met those of a truck driver. He and his truck had somehow gotten caught up in the middle of the parade. All thoughts of that hard brick of pink adhesive wrapped in an incomprehensible comic disappeared. My heart and soul flew into the truck with the man. I was experiencing the humiliation from the jeering children. I was aching for the moment I could break free from the parade, park my truck on a private, tree-lined street, and salve my wounded spirit. The rest of the parade was spoiled for me. I was one with that miserable driver.
It wasn’t till decades later—I’m embarrassed to tell you how many—that I could call up that painfully vivid memory. And realize with a shock that the truck driver wasn’t humiliated or scarred or crushed in spirit. He was bored and had a route to finish and just wanted to get out of that treacle-slow speed of a small town parade.
And that is the problem with empaths. We might feel your pain. But some of us (I hope I am not the only -nth degree empath out there) will add more pain to what we think you are feeling. We might project, on you, our own perceptions of what we think your emotional state to be. We may assume you are reacting as we think we would. A seven-year-old should never suppose that she is simpatico with a middle-aged truck driver.
Us -nth degree empaths might be feeling your assumed pain long after you have moved on to a place of peace, contentment and even happiness. We may picture you in the Slough of Despond when you are actually only splashing your way through a mud puddle, regretting nothing but your dirty hem. We can be found weeping with you even while your joy is coming in the morning.
The life of an empath is a tough one. Our emotions are constantly roiling around inside, looking for more tribulation and anguish to weep over. Sometimes we can be the most frustrating of friends.
But when you are in that pit, and the jurist has pronounced judgement and walked on, the aloof is peering over the edge wondering how you got there and how you’ll get out, and the shoulder of the sympathizer is too far to reach, wait for the splash. The empath has jumped in with you, and might even stay there after you’ve climbed out.