Most human beings have some level of empathy, and some have a great deal more than others. With training or personal ability, can empathy be like a super power?
If you’ve watched a lot of movies, you’ve probably seen many characters with psychic abilities. Movies and books like to use telepathy, mind-reading and telekinesis. Very few works of fiction have touched on heightened empathy, but could it be a kind of psychic superpower?
What is empathy? Empathy is the ability to share the feelings of another sentient being. Some people confuse empathy and sympathy. If you sympathize with someone, you understand what they’re feeling, but don’t feel it yourself. If you empathize with someone, you’re experiencing the emotions with them.
Many people have a higher than “normal” level of empathy. I happen to be one of them. Some people don’t even understand what it is that’s happening to them. Have you ever been in a room where people are arguing, and you become angry and act out, even when you’re not usually an aggressive person? Have you ever been around a hypochondriac and started to feel sick? Have you ever been around someone who was extremely depressed and started feeling depressed too? Have you been around people celebrating and been filled with a sense of overwhelming joy? These are all examples of empathy.
People who have heightened empathy can face a lot of problems in life. People who don’t understand the phenomenon can be carried away by the emotions they absorb, and can completely lose their sense of self. I have had to learn how to “shield” if you will, when around people in negative emotional states, or avoid them as much as possible. It doesn’t take much to become caught up in the emotions of others and begin acting in ways that are not true to who you really are.
Combining empathy with observation. When any individual combines empathy with observation, it can raise the ability to a whole new level. Much like a profiler (Think of the BAU on Criminal Minds), any person can learn to read the nuances of both behavior and mannerism. You can learn a great deal about a person by observing how they interact with the world and other people. You can learn even more by watching fidgeting, eye movement, facial expressions and the like. Combine that with actually feeling someone’s emotional state, and you can become able to read people to a point you may be confused for a psychic.
Accuracy of empathy. Empathy, like any other ability or power has varying levels of accuracy. Someone who doesn’t really understand their empathic abilities may misread what they feel. Practice and knowledge can make a person more accurate. It’s also important to remove or drown out other influences and signals to get a true reading on an individual. If trained empathy and observational skills are combined, the rate of accuracy greatly improves. Imagine if Patrick Jane from The Mentalist, in combination with his fantastic observational skills could also feel the emotional state of the given person. The reading of that person could be extremely accurate. However, much the way people can fool a lie-detector test, it is possible to fool a behavioral analyst or empath, if you know that abilities of the person you’re trying to fool and you have a great deal of personal control.
Is it a superpower? When combined with training and observational abilities it does appear that empathy could fit right into the realm of psychic super powers. If done right, it could be almost as good as mind reading, maybe better since many people can control their thoughts better than their emotions. I’m sure at least once in our lives most of us have felt hate or rage but thought and acted in a contradictory manner. However, your emotions would give you away to an empath. Keep your eyes open, an empath might be the hero (or villain) of the next big sci-fi movie!