There’s a new “it” word that seems to be everywhere lately.
That word is “empath.”
An empath is someone who can feel the emotional and mental state of someone else—an empath isn’t entirely separate from the idea of empathy for others.
Yet another “it” word right now is “narcissist.” Narcissists, on the other hand, have an inability to feel true empathy for others, but it’s not just a word to throw around—it’s a serious psychological personality disorder.
Empaths and narcissists frequently attract—and are fused together conversationally—because of an empath’s overly empathetic nature and a narcissist’s pathology to be dominant and shown excessive attention—and they often continue this cycle of raising and creating more empaths and more narcissists.
But anyone who is infatuated with being empathetic would possibly be better off looking at their own family history and becoming interested in stopping this often damaging cycle of breeding, rather than feeling empowered by their empathetic nature.
This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t be proud of our personalities and personal abilities—having the desire to empathize with other people can be a beautiful thing.
Yet, there’s a point where this current “it” topic is not something to go around bragging about and aspiring to be—because, again, these can be truly injurious personality disorders and personal liabilities that attract us to the wrong people, be it romantically or not.
My daughter and I were watching this kids’ show Caillou the other day.
Let it be officially know that I cannot stand this show. I’ll give you one reason why.
This particular episode wasn’t unusual in depicting the main character, a four-year-old boy named Caillou, as empathetic—I will not go so far as to call his character an empath right now.
Anyways, Caillou encountered a boy at preschool who, after multiple attempts, had no desire to be Caillou’s friend. So Caillou goes home and talks to his family, and his mom tells him that he’s a nice person and nice people just keep on trying to make friends.
Just keep trying to make him like you, Caillou!
Doh! My hand slaps my forehead as my daughter attentively watches this show.
I’m sitting there thinking how this would have been a great opportunity to display to small children that while it is important to be nice, regardless of how others treat us, that we, for one, cannot get everyone to like us no matter what we do and, for another, we don’t need to be friends with everyone.
But, no, this has become a discussion with my daughter about how this animated series on our television screen—that she seems to adore—is, in my estimation, way off base in its lesson of the day.
Back to being an empath.
We can care for and empathize with others without regularly going over and beyond our own needs for care and empathy—this is what healthy emotional relationships—and healthy boundaries—look like.
They don’t look like trying to read others’ thoughts, or anticipating what someone else is going to say. They don’t look like placing our general happiness into the hands of another person. (And this type of behavior can and should be annoying and clingy to someone who is healthy and doesn’t pathologically need to always be the center of attention—cough, cough—we’re all looking at you, narcissist.)
While encouraging unity among people, love for other people and a desire to connect with others is something positive, attempting to nourish and procreate an empath personality without considering healthy personal boundaries is not.
People can, and do, have an in-born nature of empathy, but this can be encouraged healthfully in the form of good personal boundaries, or it can be nurtured into codependency.
Yet being co-dependent and a true empath are not the same.
Codependency is a dysfunctional relationship of enabling. Empathy, though, is the ability to feel for and understand another individual through the frame-work of their own experience—and this is critical: empathy is not a projection of our feelings and thoughts onto others.
But the debate of whether real empathy is healthy and positive—or not—comes into play when we really dig into the reason for empathy.
Empathy can surely be altruistic and, arguably, often is, but it’s definitely possible for empathy to be as ego-fueled as narcissism. In this particular situation, being an empath is problematic—and not something to idealize or aspire towards.
A friend and I were talking about this recently and she said that “empath is this decade’s “sensitive skin”—everyone wants to have it, but the people romanticizing it don’t realize how difficult it can be.”
Because an empathetic nature can be genuinely nurturing and beautiful, but, much like sensitive skin, it can be equally disastrous if not taken care of.
Still, I’m not a psychologist. I’m not here to give precise advice to either empaths or narcissists or to be the front-runner in this important discussion. That said, a lot of writers are hopping onto this empath band-wagon—and romanticizing this empath character without also talking about the often unhealthy reality of life as or with one.
So, yes, let’s talk about empaths.
Let’s talk about narcissists, too.
After all, this should only be the beginning of this conversation.
Because let’s not forget that healthy emotional love does not have to involve needing to plug into others at the expense of remaining an independent source of light and love.
Photo: Flickr/Holding two daisies.