When people ask me what I do, I say that I’m a writer, researcher, and empath. This last title often makes people ask “What?”
For my fellow trekkies, the word “empath” has a special meaning. Gem, in the 1968 episode “The Empath,” was able to take other peoples’ emotions and pain into her own body and heal it for them. Gem is magical and does not speak, but she has excellent eyelashes and a sparkly gown. When I do my empathic work, I usually wear sparkling gowns, but I have a hard time with the eyelashes. Kidding!
Though the sparkles are fetching, the skill of empathy isn’t magical or otherworldly. An empath is simply a person who knows that they read emotions and nonverbal information.
You’re an empath, too. You also read emotions – we all do, because empathy is our nonverbal and preverbal language. We all use our empathic skills when we socialize, listen to music, work with animals and babies, appreciate art, laugh at physical comedy, and read body language. We also use our empathic skills when we speak and when we decipher spoken language, because we actually can’t make sense of the world if we can’t use our emotions. The logical, mathematical, and linguistic parts of our brains are extremely important, but without the emotions, they simply can’t work properly. The emotions and the intellect are a boxed set. Empaths know how to look inside and outside of the box!
I once thought that my empathic skills were mystical, because if you can read and understand emotions, you can look exactly like a psychic. You can see the stuff people think they’re hiding, and you can become very skilled at working with people and getting down to the brass tacks of who they are. Through empathy, you can get to know people very deeply in a seemingly magical length of time.
However, empathy also makes you question yourself and your actions. It’s almost impossible to be a scam artist and an empath at the same time, because you feel the pain of others, so you don’t tend to hurt people if you can help it. Empathy made me question my seemingly psychic skills very intently, and in 2003, I ended my career to return to college and study the heck out of the human condition!
I discovered that empathy is a natural human ability, but it looks magical because most of us are educated out of our empathic skills at a very early age. We’re taught to ignore our emotions and focus on what people say rather than what they mean. We’re taught that the emotions are the opposite of rationality; therefore, our emotions go unheeded, dishonored, and unheard.
Because of our early training, our empathic and emotional skills tend to go underground. But they’re never gone. We all rely on them everyday, and we’re drawn to them in obvious and hidden ways. For instance, if you look at most comedy, there is nearly always an empathic undercurrent. Rude comedians often say true things we could never say and get away with it. We laugh because the comedian is funny, but we also laugh because he or she is telling the emotional truth and not getting punished!
Of course, physical comedy also relies on our empathic skills, because there are no words and we have to decipher the situation by relying upon gesture, nuance, undercurrent, and emotion. I have to say, though, that I can’t watch physical comedy like the show Jackass, where people continually hurt themselves in a desperate bid for laughs and attention. Sorry, but that’s just too painful! However, I laugh every time I see the Monty Python fish slapping dance, so go figure.
Puns are also funny empathically, because our logical brains expect words and sentences to mean one thing — and then suddenly the words go careening off onto another tangent, and we laugh!
We’ll talk more about empaths and empathy, but since you are an empath, watch yourself closely. When are you aware that you’re reading gesture, nuance, undercurrent, and subtext? When do you hear what isn’t spoken? When do you detect an emotion that tells you something about another person — and do you work with it, or ignore it? Or is it totally situation-dependent?
How do you work with your own empathic skills?