What is Empathy?

You know how everyone & their mother claims they’re an Empath? I’ve legitimately never understood that. Not even way back when I was a “baby pagan” and so desperately trying to fit in. Just…pretending like I was super sensitive & able to sense other people’s emotions–it just was never going to be the case.

People like to claim stuff that makes them look good. I think that’s universal, regardless of background, religion, beliefs, culture…it seems like a human “universal constant”, if you will. And feeling other people’s emotions past the point of normal empathy–into the spectrum of being an empath–well, that’s just all sorts of good.

I’ve always been curious about the whole phenomenon. Admittedly in a type of detached, unaffected sort of way.

What really is an Empath?

So, digging in – an empath is someone who claims to feel the emotions of others. This is beyond what normal people do–i.e. sympathize and empathize with other people. They are saying that they don’t just “put themselves in [your] shoes”. They go beyond that and feel exactly what the other person is feeling. Like, to the point where they usually claim that other people’s emotions negatively, adversely affect their daily life & well-being.

Now! I know there are real empaths out there. I’m friends with one. But, the real ones usually don’t make a huge deal out of it. They’ll address it if it gets brought up; but otherwise, they just go about their lives without constantly yelling and shouting about being an empath. It’s just part of who they are, their work–and they actively protect themselves & work with it. So they ground, they shield…they take care of themselves and actively work on making sure they do not overwhelm themselves.

The Online Empath

On the other hand–most people online who spout about being an empath don’t do that. Most people online are all about screeching how they’re an empath–and negative emotions from others are harming them. How they can just “sense” that another person is being hateful, spiteful, rude, or just disliking them. Even though reading emotion online is a dangerous thing; and usually this happens in normal debate–nothing heated, nothing rude.

Side Note:

It’s always negative emotions that they are “sensing” from others. Which is just…baffling in and of itself; considering that no person is totally, 100% full-on negative. Why is it always negative emotions?

I’m really of the opinion that anyone who always claims negative emotions from others is no empath. A true empath gets the range: anger, sadness, happiness, elation, excitement, curiosity…all of them. And in an online conversation with strangers (some possibly thousands of miles away), I’m skeptical of most people’s ability to sense emotions. But those who really can, well, they’re going to get everything.

If someone is constantly claiming negative this, negative that…that’s not accurate. By laws of averages and just general, normal human behavior–an empath should get more than negativity. But that’s the point, really. People who claim negativity from others all the time are not empaths; not to my mind.

It’s attention seeking. That is all that it is.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting attention. As I said–it’s human nature. And I’m guilty of it, too. I like attention and having people think I’m interesting or unique. Who doesn’t?

And that’s–I think–the point of people claiming to be an empath.

Because really–what better way to get sympathy, attention, and lots of kudos?

  • Oh, you’re exhausted because you’re an empath & you’ve been feeling John Smith’s tough time at work? — Wow, so great of you.
  • You’re drained because you can feel Jane Doe’s upset and anguish at her cancer diagnosis? — Here’s lots of support & free stuff (attention, support, etc) for your hard work.

Now, I’ll admit I’m overly cynical about it, there’s no denying that, either. But I still hold to it. Most people I see online claiming to be an empath–they only go for the stuff that will get them maximum attention, or that will allow them to get the “major points” for facing something negative or bad.

And the reason I’m a cynic:

Most online empaths use their “empathic ability” to claim that anyone who goes against them, doubts them, or even just calls them out on bullshit–or hell, asks a question–is negative & being rude to them because of their ability.

Which I think most people online can recognize that pattern. It’s pretty damn insidious in the community online. So, I think that anyone who is skeptical is fully justified in being so. It’s rather what we should expect, given the normal way these types of situations go down.

As for myself, I’m cold.

I can admit that I don’t at all care to empathize with a lot of people. It’s flat draining. And paired with my job (where I’m forced to empathize with people for 40+ hours a week, on demand): I’m just flat not able to devote much time in my non-work life time to empathizing and really getting into that with people. Customer service is a hellacious, thankless job where you’re forced into emotional labor with no feedback & just a lot of horrific abuses.

After that for 40+ hours a week–I have pretty much zero energy left to empathize with people outside of work. That’s just the way things are. I can sympathize with people, as in, I can feel sorry for them, or happy for them, etc.

But I cannot really empathize, or put myself in their shoes. It’s just too exhausting. I’m sure that sometimes makes me a “bad person”–but I’ve begun working on self-care, and truly taking care of myself. So, if it’s too much emotional labor and work to empathize, I just flat don’t. My health is important; far more so than other people’s feelings about how I react.

This explains my utter lack of belief about most empaths, too.

I got into a debate about shielding and grounding techniques with a group online, a while ago. It was after one of the worst shifts I’ve ever worked. I was exhausted, drained, and just…well kind of an emotional zombie, really. Sure, I was intellectually engaged in the discussion, but emotionally not there. Not in the slightest.

I was disagreeing with one of the empaths, who was insistent that grounding & shielding was never necessary to care for yourself & protect an empath from emotional overload and draining. I pointed out that for those few that I know, grounding & shielding is required to keep them functioning. Just a simple opinion and information based on my anecdotal experiences.

This person was clearly angry about my answer (as evinced by their caps-lock shouting, and calling me an idiot multiple times)–and claimed that I was being “negative” and “angry” in my responses.

Now: if they were a real empath, they would have been able to sense that I was just…not emotionally there. Or at best, I was emotionally exhausted. That was it. No anger, no annoyance even. No interest, no curiosity. Just…exhaustion at best, nothing at worst. I really did not care about the conversation. I was filling time and just discussing to have a conversation and something to do. No horse in the race.

And that is why I’m so cynical & skeptical about empaths online. Because most of them can’t sense themselves out of a paper bag.

Like, just be honest. Not everyone is going to have special talents in traditional “witchy/pagan” areas. Not everyone is going to be psychic, or a gifted witch, or whatever. Hell, I have zero talent in traditional ‘witchy’ things like spellwork, growing things, or whatever. But I’m a fair good writer, and I’m an excellent researcher. So I use my talents in that way.

Some people are great musicians, can use their music, or voice, or instrument towards magic, or worship, or whatever. Other people are great at growing plants, herbs and the like. Still others are brilliant at casting spells.

Just–take the talents you have. They don’t have to be stereotypically “witchy” to count. And even if you think you don’t have any inborn talents: then find out what you like, and practice that. See what works, what doesn’t, hone skills. And keep learning, experimenting and trying. That’s the most important thing, in my opinion.

There’s absolutely no need to claim fake “talents” just for attention or approval or wanting to fit in. Honestly, lying about stuff like that just annoys others, and makes it harder to fit in. Because when people keep claiming stuff that others know is BS, well at a certain point then, people stop paying attention to whatever else a person says–because they’ve proven untrustworthy before, so why listen to the other subject?

To be honest, I am sick and tired of the push for empathy & accepting empath claims online. It’s just…well, it’s as draining to deal with ’empaths’ online as it is to deal with the emotional labor I have to deal with on a daily basis at work.

Prove to me that someone is an empath–being able to sense what I’m actually feeling; then they have my respect for their talent and ability. Make up stuff about how I’m feeling; or claim that they “sense” I’m negative, or angry or whatever…and I’m not? Well, I officially don’t believe anything else they’re going to say about their abilities, talents, whatever.

It’s just been a roller coaster lately with all the empath claims popping out of the woodwork online. So hopefully, people stop, think–and realize that no one has to make up fake claims. Just be a real person, and be honest.

Myself? I’m just glad I’m emphatically not an empath. It makes my life so much easier.*


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I'm a bibliophile who loves collecting books. Definite cat person. Amateur historian and major geek, who loves all things Tolkien and Star Trek. I'm also fluent in German.

2 thoughts on “What is Empathy?

  1. IME the “real” empaths are grounding, centering, shielding, cleansing, etc All The Time and hiding in a corner alone or with a small group most of the time. There is nothing more tiring, and there are many times it is not helpful, or at least not wanted in that moment.


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