Today I want to talk about the empath stereotype. Many seem to hold false misconceptions about themselves. Believing they are empaths, or believing their ability to feel empathy is somehow superhuman. But do empaths exist? Are INFJs empaths?
I am not disputing that Highly Sensitive People exist, but I am disputing the existence of empaths and the definition of the Empaths. The more I read popular culture definitions of this supposed group of people, the more sceptical I become.
What is an empath?
Take the below image I found online. I modified it in red to clarify the problem with the “empath” stereotype.
Some people believe they have an almost superhuman ability to empathise with others. They also believe that most others or a large majority lack this ability. I don't believe this group of people really exist and I believe their abilities are highly exaggerated. They also completely downplay other people and their ability to empathise with others. Anyone can become irrationally emotional, and it can be easy to take on the emotions of other people.
Highly sensitive people or HSP for short is a real and well documented personality trait. ‘Empaths' however seem to be very generic.
Empathy or survival strategy
Victims of trauma or abuse may overrate their own empathy. What they think is empathy is just a heightened sensitivity to tone and a fear of “setting off” the abuser. They may not be actually empathising at all, they may just have develop a survival strategy to help them avoid abuse. It can be something triggered by fear rather than a natural ability to feel the feelings of the other person.
It has been proven that we are all affected by the emotions of one another. Go into an environment where everyone is angry, and you might start feeling more angry or tense yourself. If everyone is upbeat on the other hand, you may instantly feel more cheerful and light as well. This is something anyone can do and not just something an empath can do.
The problem is, empaths will often make general personality traits that apply to a majority or large portion of the population, and then raise these as unique to empaths. This can cause empaths to feel more cut off from people around them. “Nobody else feels this way” “Nobody else feels the way I do.” We may all feel alone or isolated but it may not have anything to do with a superhuman or unnatural empathy. It may just be how you are feeling. Talk to other people around you. Many will surprise you with the depth and intensity they can feel emotions. You just got to let them open up to you.
Are INFJs Empaths?
INFJs are the personality most often called empaths. I don't believe we are. We are great people and unique in many ways, but hardly superhuman. Here's a stereotype breaker for you: ESTPs also feel other people's emotions strongly. That is why they work so hard to keep everyone happy and light. They prefer when people are cheerful and positive and struggle when people are down or sad. They experience this as highly draining.