The Art of the Empath

2 Jan

Empathy (from the Greek empatheia, meaning “physical affection, partiality”) is commonly defined as one’s ability to intellectually and emotionally identify with the thoughts, feelings, or state of another person and the capacity to understand another person’s point of view as the result of such understanding. Do not confuse empathy with pity, sympathy, or compassion.

Since the states of mind, beliefs, and desires of others are intertwined with their emotions, a person with empathy for another may often be able to more effectively define another’s mode of thought and mood.

Empathy is often characterized as the ability to “put oneself into another’s shoes,” or to in some way experience the outlook or emotions of another being within oneself, a sort of emotional resonance.

Here is how American psychologist Carl Rogers (1902-1987) defined empathy: “To perceive the internal frame of reference of another with accuracy and with the emotional components and meanings which pertain thereto as if one were the person, but without ever losing the ‘as if’ condition. Thus, it means to sense the hurt or the pleasure of another as he senses it and to perceive the causes thereof as he perceives them, but without ever losing the recognition that it is as if I were hurt or pleased and so forth.”

One must be careful not to confuse empathy with either sympathy, pity, emotional contagion, apathy or telepathy. Sympathy is the feeling of compassion for another, the wish to see them better off or happier, often described as “feeling sorry” for someone. Pity is feeling that another is in trouble and in need of help as they cannot fix their problems themselves. Emotional contagion is when a person (especially an infant or a member of a mob) imitatively “catches” the emotions that others are showing without necessarily recognizing this is happening. Apathy is a lack of emotion. Telepathy is a controversial paranormal phenomenon, whereby emotions or other mental states can be read directly, without needing to infer or perceive expressive clues about the other person.

Sympathy is: “I’m sorry for your sadness, I wish to help.”

Pity is: “Things are bad for you, you seem as though you need help.”

Emotional Contagion is: “You feel sad and now I feel sad.”

Apathy is: “I don’t care how you feel. ”

Telepathy is: “I sense your sadness without you expressing it to me in any normal way.”

Empathy is: “I know what made you sad and how that sadness feels, because I understand how and why that made you sad and I have a deep sense of how that sadness is affecting you.”

Since empathy involves understanding the emotions of other people, the way it is characterized is derivative of the way emotions themselves are characterized. If for example, emotions are taken to be centrally characterized by bodily feelings, then grasping the bodily feelings of another will be central to empathy. On the other hand, if emotions are more centrally characterized by combinations of beliefs and desires, then grasping these beliefs and desires will be more essential to empathy.

Furthermore, a distinction should be made between deliberately imagining being another person or being in their situation, and simply recognizing their emotion. The ability to imagine oneself as another person is a sophisticated imaginative process. While the basic capacity to recognize emotions is probably innate and may be achieved unconsciously, the ability to imagine oneself as another may or may not be innate. Either way, it can be trained and achieved with various degrees of intensity or accuracy. Many people who are drawn to the various pagan paths are natural empaths of one degree or another and the paths they walk build and increase their ability exponentially. Many achieve such a high degree of sensitivity that they must shield themselves from a near constant barrage of emotional data streams. I feel fortunate that my skills as an empath, while highly developed and accurate, are not so highly developed that I am frequently in danger of being inundated or overwhelmed. I seem to ride right on the lip of the curling wave, which requires a finely tune balancing act. Occasionally, I fall head long into the surf, but then I pop right back up.

I realize that I have been trying to share my empathy for London Marie Sherwood, Jessica Sherwood, and Joshua Schaak in posts such as One Post Does Not A Whole Picture Make and A Call For Positive Energy. I have finally discovered why I have failed so miserably.

There are three stages of empathic maturity:

Stage 1 – This most primitive pattern is not common in adults. Persons at this stage see others as fundamentally different from themselves. The rationales for another’s actions, feelings, or thoughts are not experienced as having human relevance in the sense that one’s own rationales do. Those operating at this stage perceive mutuality with others concretely.

Stage 2 – People at Stage 2 hold that their rationales for behavior are valid for everyone. And so, reasons for behaviors and feelings are legitimate to the degree they coincide with the Stage 2 person’s reasons for behaviors and feelings. Unlike Stage 1, the Stage 2 person sees others like him or her so long as they make sense of their world the same way. Therefore, positive regard for a sufferer perceived to be participating in negative behaviors is difficult for the Stage 2 person unless the behavior is explainable from his or her point of view. An example of such negative behavior would be AIDS as the result of sex practices not condoned by the Stage 2 observer. If the Stage 2 person believes the sufferer is responsible for the behavior, he or she will have no empathy for the sufferer. However, if the Stage 2 person can detect an acceptable reason why the sufferer is not actually responsible (for example, illness resulting from a blood transfusion beyond the sufferer’s control), then empathy emerges. Most of society operates at Stage 2.

Stage 3 – At this stage, mutuality occurs prior to any judgment about the person’s behavior. The other is perceived as human in the same way the self is experienced, based solely on being a creator of meaning rather than on the content of the meanings created. The perception of another person as responsible for a problem no longer has the power to hinder the development of empathy. If the sufferer is seen as responsible, there is no longer any need to mitigate that responsibility as a method for allowing empathy. A hallmark of Stage 3 is a person’s ability to perceive another empathetically while simultaneously and without apparent contradiction perceiving that other as responsible for problematic behavior. I operate at Stage 3.

Based on the comments readers have submitted, the majority of them cannot explain or understand the behavior of Joshua, Jessica and the others involved; it is beyond their world view. What’s more, they consider it a point of pride to refuse to even admit there is any other world view. They see no mitigating factors at all that would permit them to develop an understanding or reason for the “accused’s” unacceptable behavior, so no empathy occurs. “Majority” means most; it does not mean all. There have been some very notable exceptions, thank the Goddess.

I can’t explain or understand the behavior of Joshua, Jessica and the others involved; it is outside my world view, too. But I look beyond that, to their frail humanness, and I know that they are NOT DIFFERENT from me. I feel this with my whole being, my soul, my very essence. They are children of the God and Goddess, just as are you and I. I know that they are responsible (in varying degrees) for what occurred; yet I have no need of mitigating factors. They are there, though. I know what triggered Joshua’s rage, I understand the circumstances that led him into the situation, and I perceive how a rage like that can escalate out of control so quickly. Before I even knew what and how and why Josh lost control, I already had a deep sense of his shock, guilt and remorse. It’s tempered by his determination to “take it like a soldier” and never appear weak, especially not before his unbending and unforgiving father. He is an incredibly confused and damaged young man.

This is the art of the empath. He is guilty, and yet I still feel his humanity and will not revile him.

Every tradition has told us that we were created in the image and likeness of the creative source; my Goddess, your God, her Buddha. Quantum physics is now showing us that we are, in fact, made out of the creative source of the Universe. James Ray, in The Secret, says,

Most people define themselves by this finite body, but you’re not a finite body. Even under a microscope you’re an energy field. What we know about energy is this: You go to a quantum physicist and you say, “What creates the world?” And he or she will say, “Energy.” Well, describe energy. “OK, it can never be created or destroyed, it always was, always has been, everything that ever existed always exists, it’s moving into form, through form and out of form.” You go to a theologian and ask the question, “What created the Universe?” And he or she will say, “God.” OK, describe God. “Always was and always has been, never can be created or destroyed, all that ever was, always will be, always moving into form, through form and out of form.” You see, it’s the same description, just different terminology. […] You’re a spiritual being! You’re an energy field, operating in a larger energy field.

We are all connected. We are One. We are all part of the “One Supreme Mind, the One Consciousness, the One Creative Source.” Call it what you will, I’m calling it being a part of the God and the Goddess; their will made manifest on this Earth. Blessed be.


6 Responses to “The Art of the Empath”

  1. racheld81 January 11, 2008 at 1:38 AM #

    Hey Faery Kat,

    I like this post, good stuff. Interesting to read about the empathy levels – not something I’d ever delved into before.

    You’re still doing a great job keeping this information alive.



  2. Faerie♥Kat January 11, 2008 at 8:02 PM #

    Hi Racheld81

    Thank you so much for your interest and your support. I am very encouraged when I get comments like yours, because then I feel that perhaps I am reaching people with my messages of education and empathy for this case. An unbelievable amount of people just don’t get the difference.

    Faerie blessings,



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