Definition of Empathy
In short empathy is an ability (be it innate and mystical or a parlor trick of the brain) to feel the emotions of others. You get to experience what
another person is feeling. I think it would be pretentious of me to claim I have the answers to why I think empathy occurs just because I study
psychology. Frankly I do not have all the answers, never will and in a way don’t want them all. So instead, what I want to do is open for discussion
and debate if needed. Here are the answers I am looking for:
(please bear in mind this is not ALL the relevant answer, rather a starting off point for the discussion. As always in my threads feel free to add to
this and evolve it)
1. What is empathy? I posted what I think to be a concise definition but as well know, an abstract concept such as empathy or love or hate should not
be defined by one for all but rather one for himself. So what do you think empathy is? Is that definition clear cut and seals the deal or is there
more to it? Perhaps you completely disagree with the definition.
2. What are the origins? How does it work? Is it a cosmic force based in spirituality and religion? Do we connect on a spiritual level? It is a mere
set of tricks your brain uses such as verbal and nonverbal cues? Are we simply reading faces and text and using the level of affect to determine mood
3. Are you empathic? To what degree? Can you turn it on and off? Does it work only on humans?
4. Are there side effects to being empathic? Does it exhaust you or hurt you personally? Do you wish you could turn it off?
So there ya have it…a nice open discussion for all
((now with 50% less pretentious behavior :-p ))
Ok so I suppose I will go ahead and put out my thoughts.
I have been described and also self-describe as a reasonably strong empath. I always refrain from using the word powerful to describe a ‘gift’ of
mine. To me using such words as powerful and gift make me feel like I am describing myself as above the rest. On the contrary, I think I am just like
the rest. We all have abilities at which we excel and those at which we falter. On one hand I can read people’s emotions like an open book. On the
other hand I am very vulnerable to personal criticism and wear my emotions like a fine coat.
Now as to what I think empathy is…I think the stated definition is fairly sound. Feeling emotion is, in my opinion of course, natural to all of us.
The only difference is to what degree we experience it.
((a little primer for conversation-sake))
I have a funny way about me that sometimes I swap back and forth on an idea until I make my concrete decision. I will read into one perspective and
absorb it, then read another and absorb that as well. Then I will sit and look at the pros and cons of each and agree with each until I find my
decision. Though in reality that is probably not unique and I am sure many others function the same way. When I read into empathy I can see a very
physical and psychological side to it but I also see a very spiritual version of it as well. In this specific case, I think my decision is to say
Argument for the physical and psychological side:
We know that conversation is more than just words. Active listening involves verbal cues, nonverbal cues, body language and even the little
hesitations that exist in the conversation. All of them in my opinion ((no it isn’t an original thought I am claiming)) comes down to pattern
recognition. From our early years ((sometimes as early as two or younger)) we learn to recognize facial and vocal patterns. If at a young age you are
spilling a drink on the carpet your parent might calmly say “no” or “be careful.” On the other hand when you as a toddler are prepared to
touch a 450 degree open oven door you might get a much harsher reaction “NO!” Now clearly the parent is merely trying to protect you because
obviously spilling on a carpet and the potential for severely burning your hand carry with it many different consequences.
But from that age we start to realize we can tell the difference in sincerity and intensity of our parent and as we grow we translate that to our
friends, siblings, lovers, professional colleagues or any other type of relationship. So we recognize patterns and as we learn we get more efficient
at it. Our ability to recognize patterns might determine the level of ability the individual has if we were we to test his abilities compared to an
average. So as we travel along we meet people and we read their faces and bodies and feel their voices as we converse and thus we start to determine
what is happening underneath. And because of that we begin to feel their side of things so long as we don’t lack that programming of empathy such as
a true clinical psychopathic individual. I think the same can be achieved over text although perhaps it takes a bit more skill. If you are commonly
getting an “I love you” or a giggle or an LMAO from a friend and suddenly she stops those common behaviors, that can be a cue that something has
changed. I think many of us in the internet world and in the normal world know the feeling of dread when something is said and suddenly your techno
mate or internet friend suddenly doesn’t say “I love you” or giggles. You begin to wonder what went wrong and once you pass the fear response
you begin to experience his or her pain.
Argument for the spiritual side:
So what about those people you are not around? Many of us hear or personally experience stories of long-distance sharing of feelings. I have had a few
days where I am not in contact with my wife HarlequinRaven and suddenly I get the feeling she is hurting. So I call or email only to find out I am
indeed correct. My aunts (both twins) were on different continents when my father passed on. Obviously the aunt at home knew immediately but that
doesn’t explain how suddenly my other aunt in Europe called home ten minutes later and asked specifically “What is wrong with George (father)?”
The thing is I am not some unique or special deity here. I don’t have superpowers to read my wife’s mind from 20 miles away. I have heard many
stories like this so it gets me to thinking that perhaps (religion aside) there is indeed a spiritual connection between all. Perhaps it is just the
shape and size of that connection that determines how intense your personal relation to your friend’s emotions will be.
As far as side effects go, I think they do definitely exist. When I feel my wife is sad, I am sad. I cannot shut it off. Again, whether you think
empathy is the spirit, magic, or based in concrete reality isn’t the issue in my opinion. If you experience it then you experience it whether it was
your brain working hard to determine the other person’s response and feelings or whether it was a strong spiritual and psychic connection that
brought you to your determination. I think another side effect is that I wear my emotions outwardly for all to see. I do truly believe that empathy is
a trait shared by most so if I can read you how can you not read me as well? So I think eventually I realized that to some degree everyone can do it.
So I figured why fight it? The problem is that leads me to be a vulnerable individual and at times a bit fragile on the social level.
So…there you have it
Let’s hear what you think