Did you just realize you’re an empath? Are you wondering what is the difference between empath and empathy? Although these terms are closely related, they are triggered by very different situations.
Definition of Empath
Empaths are emotionally sensitive people who sponge up the emotions of others: We feel what they feel. An empath can experience the emotions of other people as if they were their own. This can be a very confusing, especially if we’re unaware of what’s happening.
Definition of Empathy
Empathy is a concept used in psychology to describe the ability to imagine what another person is feeling, without necessarily having those feelings ourselves.
It is colloquially known as “walking in someone else’s shoes”.
It plays a crucial role in our social interactions. Feeling empathy can inspire us to help someone who is struggling. It’s a powerful superglue that holds our society together.
Cognitive and Emotional Empathy
There’s two systems involved in the process of empathy:
The emotion based contagion system, meaning “I feel what you feel”
The cognitive perspective-taking system, meaning “I understand what you feel”
The emotional empathy process activates the inferior frontal gyrus.
The cognitive empathy process is more closely tied to the mirror neuron system.
Since the empath experience involves mostly emotions, it is most closely related to emotional empathy. However, psychological empathy always involves some cognitive aspect while the empath experience does not.
That’s a fundamental difference between the two concepts.
Empathy involves some cognitive stimulation while the empath experience does not.
Mental vs Emotional Emotional Triggers
In order to “perceive the internal frame of reference of another” as Rogers describes, one must have a mental experience of the other person.
Most psychological experiments that study empathy use observation as a means to trigger empathy, where children or adults are watching someone who is put in a situation meant to elicit strong emotions.
This is drastically different from the empath experience. Empaths report feeling the emotions of people who are not in their physical presence and with whom they’ve had no contact. The empath experience does not rely on visual or auditory cues. It circumvents the mental stimulation involved in empathy and jumps straight into an emotional trigger.
For example, empaths often experience a sense of dread or sadness as they reach for their phone to answer a call from someone who is distressed. They don’t know who is calling, or why. They just feel an unexplainable shift in their emotions.
Empathy involves thinking first, then feeling. The empath experience involves feeling first, then thinking. Unfortunately, many empaths do not know how to process this external emotional experience which can lead to a confusing situation where both types of emotions become entangled and thus extremely difficult to differentiate.
Empathy involves thinking first, then feeling.
The empath experience involves feeling first, then thinking.
Beneficial vs Detrimental Experience
Empathy and the empath experience also differ in how they are subjectively perceived. While empathy is seen as being a positive quality that parents aspire to nurture in their children, the empath experience can be chaotic and painful.
This situation is attributable to the fact that little is known about the empath experience. Most empaths do not realize what is happening to them, nor do they know how to control the influx of external emotions that is flooding their consciousness.
Even as adults, empaths often experience years of incomprehensible emotional turmoil before considering the impossible: that they can pick up emotions that are not theirs.
We understand so very little about what lies beneath the empath experience. Why does it happen? Is there a deeper meaning, a purpose underneath our struggle? These questions demand a better explanation than a reduction to the concept of empathy.
The empath experience is larger than this.