Empathy is when we reach out to others and try to feel what they feel. But being an empath goes further. Empaths are people who are high on the empathic spectrum, and can actually feel within themselves what other people are feeling. As a result of this, empaths possess great compassion for others. They can often get exhausted from feeling “too much”, and the only way to protect their sensibility is to create strategies and healthy boundaries.
These are just a few from many intriguing scientific explanations for empathy and empaths, which help us utilize and better understand the power of empathy.
- The Mirror Neuron System
Scientists have discovered a group of specialized brain cells responsible for compassion in people. These cells enable people to mirror emotions, share in another one’s pain, fear or happiness. Since empaths are believed to possess hyper-sensitive mirror neurons, they deeply resonate with another person’s feelings. This happens in the following way: mirror neurons are triggered by external events, like for example when your spouse feels hurt, you feel hurt, too.
You feel sad when your child is crying. Your friend is celebrating something and you feel happy too. In contrast, psychopaths, sociopaths and narcissists are believed to possess a thing called “empathy deficiency disorder”. This means that they lack the ability to feel empathy like other people do, which may be caused by an under-active mirror neuron system. Such people are to be aware of, as they are incapable of unconditional love.
- Electromagnetic Fields
Another finding is based on the fact that the brain and heart generate electromagnetic fields. These fields transmit information about people’s thoughts and emotions. Empaths may be especially sensitive to this and may tend to get overwhelmed by it. They also have more expressed physical and emotional responses to the electromagnetic fields of the earth and the sun, and changes in them induce changes in our state of mind and energy.
You might like: The Toxic Attraction Between an Empath & a Narcissist.
- Emotional Contagion
Another theory to widen our understanding of empaths, is the phenomena of emotional contagion. Research has shown that lots of people pick up the emotions of those around them. For example, a crying baby in a baby ward will set off a whole wave of crying babies. Or an extremely anxious co-worker spreading this feeling to you. And feeling spread particularly fast in groups. A recent New York Times article claims that the ability to synchronize moods with others is vital for a strong relationship. The key is to surround yourself with positivity and positive people.
- Increased Dopamine Sensitivity
The fourth theory involves dopamine, a neurotransmitter that stimulates the activity if neurons and is associated with pleasure. Research shows that introverted empaths tend to be more sensitive to dopamine than extroverts. Simply put, they need less dopamine to feel happy. This explains why empaths appreciate their alone time more than others , like to read, meditate, and need less external stimulation and socialization like going to parties or other social gatherings. In contrast, extroverts crave the dopamine rush from exciting events. They can’t get enough of it.
The most compelling explanation of all is a peculiar state called “mirror-touch synesthesia”. Synesthesia is a neurological condition in which two different senses are paired in the brain. For instance, you can see colors when you listen to music, or you can taste words. Notable synesthesians include Isaac Newton, Billy Joel and violinist Itzhak Perlman. People who possess this rare gift can actually feel the motions and sensations of others in their own body, as if they were their own.
” Empathy is the most precious human quality” said the Dalai Lama. In these hectic times we live in, it’s easy to get overwhelmed, but regardless, empathy is the quality that will get us through. It will make us try and understand each other, even when we don’t agree. Empathy doesn’t make you weak, it allows you to open up your heart to tolerance and understanding.