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Here’s why ‘I am an empath’ became the ‘it’ phrase on Internet

With the help of experts, we explain what it means to be an empath and how excessive empathy can be harmful for you

sex and relationships Updated: Jul 07, 2017 19:07 IST
Abhinav Verma
French actress Pom Klementieff played the role of Mantis in the movie The Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2.  Apart from being an empath, she also communicated with plants and saw the future.
French actress Pom Klementieff played the role of Mantis in the movie The Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2. Apart from being an empath, she also communicated with plants and saw the future.

Every now and then, the Internet comes up with new words or phrases that take over social media. The latest ‘it’ word that has made its way into the urban dictionary is ‘empath’. From Tinder profiles to Facebook statuses, everyone is now describing themselves as an empath.

Who is an empath? According to Google, the word is derived from empathy and is defined as a person who has the ability to perceive the mental or emotional state of another individual. The popularity of the term has grown to the extent that a character named Mantis in the film The Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2, has been referred to as an empath. The Guardian recently did an article on how people in Los Angeles, US, are hiring empaths for $200 (Rs 12,946) an hour to help people deal with their own emotions. In a tete-e-tete, psychologist Pulkit Sharma and psychiatrist Manish Jain explain what an empath is, why is it a coveted quality and how excessive empathy can be harmful.

Defining an Empath

According to experts, an empath is someone who is able to feel and absorb other people’s feelings and emotions. They are able to do that because they are highly sensitive. Empaths have a tendency to perceive the world through emotions and intuitions and usually have trouble intellectualising their feelings.

Why empathy is in demand

Experts believe that the dominant social media culture has made people increasingly self-absorbed and narcissistic. Constant contact with phones has led to an information overload, resulting in people being perpetually occupied. Experts also state that communication skills have declined as individuals now focus only on their own point of view. Conversations have become one-sided with people not listening to others’ perspective. As a result, most people feel misunderstood. The Guardian reported that people are now looking to connect with individuals who can empathise with them and give a patient hearing to their issues. According to experts, without empathy, being happy, and maintaining healthy relationships with anyone is not possible. Empathy allows us to connect emotionally with each other. However, experts also advise caution against excessive empathy, as it can be detrimental.

How excessive empathy can be harmful

1) Wrong choice- Experts suggest that at times, we end up empathising with the wrong person. It’s easier to empathise with people we know rather than someone we don’t. One needs to empathise with the person deserving it. If you emotionally invest yourself in the wrong person, you can get manipulated and deceived.

2) Objectivity- If there’s a choice involving more than one person, you have to be objective. Excessive empathy can cloud your judgement. Your emotions can get in the way of making logical and fairer decisions.

3) Unhealthy relationships- Excessive empathy in relationships can lead to over- dependence. People tend to excessively empathise with their partner.

4) Manipulation- At times, too much empathy also means that you tend to get used by people who do so to feel good. This may make you feel emotionally drained. It also leaves you feeling alone as people only talk to you about themselves and you don’t get a chance to open up.

5) Enablers- People who have usually developed bad habits or have self destructive behaviour, tend to attract people with excessive empathy. People with excessive empathy encourage such behaviour by with relating and consoling them.