To be honest, I’ve been drafting this piece for three years. Three years of reading, rewriting, interviewing, surveying, and observing to find anything that could support the idea that highly (and I mean highly) intuitive people are as common as the posts on Facebook would suggest. As with all my posts, I understand this perspective I have formed will irk some, so I would like to invite the shaken and bothered to question not only my perspective but theirs as well. If you do feel called out, however, I sincerely dedicate this post to you. Links are in bold and underlined.
Empaths are highly regarded as these supernatural lie detecting, room reading, emotionally giving people. But all they seem to amount to when repeatedly given opportunities to demonstrate these abilities is self-serving demons masquerading as angels in a society full of the broken and the sheltered.
Do I think empaths don’t exist? I feel a need to specify that we’re not talking about actual empathy. You know, the feeling one step above sympathy (understanding a situation is bad, ) and is born of having the experience of that very situation to offer a perspective (knowing the reality of the situation instead of imagining its gravity and ultimately knowing how that can make people feel). We’re talking about the people who glorify the emotional return they get from half assedly displaying a superficial idea of empathy, usually to people who know even less about empathy than they do.
In my mind, it stands to reason that if we can have a pool of people where a small fraction of a fraction of them can be devoid of any empathy at all then we must imagine a world where people can also be overtly in tune with the emotions of others. I do believe these kinds of people exist. I just don’t believe I would be so fortunate to find so many of them in one city…
The qualifiers for empaths tend to be rooted in a heavily guarded and shallowly formed idea of other people, relying strongly towards misconceptions and stereotypes.
From Live Bold and Bloom, of the 29 traits listed, 20 of those traits are based off of trusting other people’s standards for supportive or empathetic behaviors or using your own judgment of demonstrating those things well. (Which if not actively pursued and challenged can be a recipe for a shallow understanding of the world around you.) One of the traits listed is being considered a great listener. Now you can be a great listener to someone who has never met a great listener before (or someone you want something from) and still be bad at truly listening to other people because you don’t like how they communicate. You can be a bad listener in the moment because you are human (and emotional labor is really hard, surprise) and not have that negate your past experiences of being a good listener. My question is how do you challenge yourself to be a better listener to fulfill this narrative?
Is it in filtering out people with enough life experience to know when you’re just paying lip service and fostering relationships solely with people who make you feel good? Or is it in forcing this trait you would like to have down other people’s throats until they (sometimes begrudgingly) agree to let you believe it? Or do you actually take the time to check in with people to find out if they feel you did what you claim to do? Do you ever ask if there are ways you can improve?
But maybe Live Bold and Bloom isn’t a good reference let’s look at five others…
Exemplore, Your Tango , MSN , Intuitive Souls Blog , and Bustle all cite “being overwhelmed in public”, “experiencing other people’s physical ailments”, “being a great listener”, and some variety of emotional repression and/or difficulty with intimacy as traits of being an empath.
Hold up, difficulty with intimacy? Bitch, I know. I have been led to believe that being an empath meant you experienced a high level of intimacy with people sometimes even when you don’t want to. So how would someone with problems of intimacy be capable of effectively recognizing moments of vulnerability and honesty? How would someone with problems with intimacy be capable of exploring that relationship with empathy?
Overwhelmed in public? The majority of the population experiences some form of anxiety in various ways and several of those ways cited as triggers for anxiety include interaction with groups of more than one person. Experiencing other people’s ailments? Have you heard of the multitude of ways we try to reflect others to build a sense of familiarity and endear ourselves to people? And being a great listener? In a society that frequently tells anyone remotely marginalized to shut up and cannot be bothered to separate narcissism and narcissistic behaviors? I just….I’m at a loss.
So are these fake empaths actual a new breed of narcissist?
No, not really. These empaths tend to have a long history of being bullied or ostracized for being too sensitive (we’re defining it as high emotional reactions because not a single source did and that brings up more questions than it answers), too direct (“telling it like it is” was cited as a trait for empaths), or too emotionally withdrawn (which leans more to psychopathic behaviors than empathic ones because that limits your emotional vocabulary). But narcissism isn’t a word that should be casually thrown around because at the root of it there is no separation of the narcissist’s idea of self and other people…being other people. The empaths we’re talking about tend to, at the very least, allow people to live lives separate from them without their influence or control. Just because they aren’t outright narcissist, however, does not exempt them from their predatory behavior. And yes, sometimes the empath is the narcissist.
The empath has one goal in mind and that is primarily to fuel and cultivate an image of a benevolent, understanding to all and any, supernatural being. They will pursue this goal to the point of their own detriment (“constantly fatigued” was cited across multiple sources as a trait of being an empath). They tend to latch onto “troubled” people (Attracting “energy vampires” or narcissists was also cited.) who are broken in a specific way that the empath can achieve one of two things with. One is pull off a miracle of transforming the troubled person into a character that represents what they’re capable of as a benvolent, understanding to all and any, supernatural being. Usually, this is done according to a highly coveted group’s standards for what makes a person good or desirable and done where the trouble person doesn’t actively know it’s happening and has little say in the matter. The other is forming a relationship where the “prey” will constantly feed the empath’s narrative. The empath then forces their desired idea of ideal prey onto the person, dramatizing distressful body language, emotionally unstable behaviors, and the like to create a position of heightened awareness and eventually, authority. “I know exactly what you’re talking about. I could feel it before you said anything. I know….I know… I know….” to which the expected response from the prey is “Oh my god, you know me so well. Thank you for helping me.”
Hang on Zakkarrii, people can do those things and not being preying on people.
Absolutely, but usually being a good listener means asking questions without an ulterior motive even when you might not like the answer. Cultivating relationships with genuine interests mean investing time, energy and caring about a person even if it doesn’t serve you. So for your empath friends you’re seeking to defend, do they ask you questions that sound like leading you to respond a certain way or do you genuinely feel you can tell them you disagree with their read of you without backlash? When you are masking your emotions for whatever reason do they fill in the blank or force you to play a guessing game? Do you ever feel like you’re being made to see yourself sicker or more broken than you really are? And here’s the real kicker for your bestie…while you were getting your ego bruised, your heart broken did they ever seem more excited than concerned? And then when you had outgrown some of your broken ways, did your friend the empath seem to grow in their own way or stay the same for years? I just want to know.
So what would a good empath look like?
Generally, someone who is capable of establishing clear boundaries between their friendships and trying to solve everyone’s problems to the point of martyrdom, constantly questions and challenges their own perspective of other people, can admit they’re wrong and apologize, can recognize their own limits of experience and seeks to gain some understanding from the countless resources available to them.
The ultimate point of a good empath is that to be good at anything takes real work and I believe that work will be rewarding regardless of their real or imagined powers. If more effort is being placed in amassing relationships where the empath is not challenged in a healthy way than being invested in becoming a better empath…then I think you know how this story goes. (Unhealthy would be to achieve the two goals we mentioned earlier or to the point of sacrificing their own well being to uphold this narrative in their head. The part where it becomes unhealthy is when proving you can solve other people’s problems with or without their desire for help becomes more important than listening to what will help them.)
All fake empaths must be punished.
Calm down skippy. Fake empaths lack the malicious intentions to qualify for truly monstrous beings. They’re hurt like a lot of us and their way of healing is to try to build a self-image that they don’t think anyone has for them. They don’t generally seek to control people but instead look to aggressively control this image of themselves, cutting out anyone from their life that would challenge it. Being an empath is very desirable and if you can convince several people you are one without doing any real leg work, it is unlikely you’ll continue to actively try to live up to it or be open to being questioned. If you want to help your empath friend live up to this idea of themselves you need to question them. If you want to believe in your empathic abilities, you have to be questioned and you have to take responsibility for putting your fantasy self before the real story people are trying to live with you. People correcting you or telling you the truth doesn’t make them harmful or toxic…but instead presents an opportunity for growth in all parties. Shutting them out doesn’t mean you won…it means your world and your life get to remain small and stagnant and eventually you will push away anyone who could have helped you actually be an empath.
Honey, they punish themselves every goddamn day of the week.
But being human is hard.
For empaths and non empaths alike, I’m hearing this excuse for being a barely tolerable human being thrown out a lot. Yes, when your way of existence is called out, challenged with an alternative or is not measuring up to standards you thought you were measuring up to, it is hard. Because now you have to reflect, sometimes quickly, about where the difference between your idea of self and others’ idea of you truly lies. You can end frienships over it, you can change and grow and not be forgiven, and you can both grow to demonstrate new traits and behaviors and learn to appreciate them being demonstrated in different ways. The line between actual abuse and meeting a question for how you exist is bigger than some people seem to think. And we do not get closer to defining these things by ourselves feeling “threatened” or solving those problems by closing ourselves off.
In the same way fake empaths seek validation in declarations on Facebook, we seek to excuse our shortcomings by dismissing our potential to survive whatever imagined hell we think comes of changing our behavior. You’re right, you can’t please everyone and not everyone can appreciate you being this current version of yourself. But I doubt any of us have been 100% correct, or in the right, in the way we carry ourselves 100% of the time, especially when some of us don’t explore past the selves we “finished” creating in our youth.
It is perfectly fine to be comfortable with who you are and how you choose to express that, but at some point you had to put in time and thought into becoming that person. Maybe it didn’t seem like real work because remind me, what was your biggest objective as a teenager? Meeting all the new wonderful versions of yourself will take work, and you can choose to never venture out your comfort zone till the end of your days or dive into the bounty of all human existence has to offer. There are consequences for every decision, just some suck less than others.
The empath’s greatest sin is grossly overestimating their ability to perceive the absolute truth of the world around them and the true nature of the people in it without a real intimate conversation. The pursuit of the absolute truth is a problem philosophers have been looking to solve for centuries so I highly doubt an empath focused primarily on their own narrative has enough knowledge of the words “absolute” and “truth” to solve what many couldn’t and still can’t. If it is any consolation to the empaths I now leave in my wake angry and/or at a loss, there are people who enjoy the mind games you play. There are ways to play them ethically and with actual results that better everyone involved. Instead of tricking people into buying into your lies to set them up for failure because it makes you feel all big and magical inside. But that would require an actual conversation with a human being whose demonstration of self you don’t erase when it stops serving you. Everything is hard the first time you try it…
My idea of making a fake empath’s job even more difficult is to openly question them and do the things they don’t. Have real meaningful conversations with people, say how you really feel, and when listening to others instead of being defensive and shutting people challenge yourself to try an alternative. Because if everyone else become better informed at being an understanding and real human being…the empath will have less people to prey upon.
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Until next time,
Don’t be hungry for life. Be ravenous.
Zakkarrii Edison Daniels