It’s always been hard to explain the difference between sympathy and empathy. It’s even harder to describe being an empath versus feeling empathy, but the best I’ve been able to come up with is this: empaths are highly absorbent emotional sponges in human form.
Unlike sympathy, which is essentially identifying someone’s emotional state and reacting compassionately, empathy is the ability to put yourself in another’s shoes. Actually being an empath takes it one step further—we actually feel the emotions others around us are experiencing within our own bodies as if it were happening to us.
I won’t describe my journey to realizing I possessed these traits— that would take up far too much time, though if you’re curious you can click the links like this one here or here. I will say they traits have amplified as I’ve matured and become less self-involved (which in a way, makes sense, right? I pray, “more of You, Lord, less of me,” and He actually answered that prayer in a very literal way, allowing me to hurt for what hurts Him).
Anyway. So how has being an empath impacted my writing? I’ll do a list of the positives and a few drawbacks.
- Empaths are able to conceptualize the world from a multitude of perspectives. In my writing, this translates to infinite storylines with a wide range of characters! My career never has to end! (Hear the maniacal laugh there?)
- We can read emotional cues and tend to be highly emotional ourselves, so it’s easier to imagine both the physical and internal experiences of others. In writing, that means I can craft authentic characters and vividly describe their experiences.
- Because empaths perceive a lot of nonverbal cues and experience emotional responses internally, I can write realistic character interactions, even if I haven’t lived it myself.
- Working out sticky plot points is actually fun for me because I can run through multiple scenarios and see how different actions might spark different reactions from different characters, and how the plot would naturally move depending on each scenario. Like a crazy road map in my head.
- Heightened awareness extends beyond emotion. I’m also highly attuned to colors, sounds, smells, sights, flavors, and touch. Incorporating heightened senses enriches the reader experience of a story.
- I can get stuck inside my head and feel too much at once, though, which means sometimes it takes forever to write a scene (or blog post, ha ha) and I end up revising it 436 times while rethinking, “will a reader understand this is my character’s opinion and not mine?” or “will this hurt a reader?” or “how else might this be interpreted?”
- Empaths want to help everyone, all the time, whether that’s listening to a loved one or aching to bring understanding to a polarized society or observing injustice or someone hurting in the grocery store. So sometimes priorities get skewed as I drop my writer jobs to help someone else with theirs. Usually that’s not a big deal. I enjoy helping others, I just have to work extra hard to say no because I love saying yes so much. It’s also imperative to create a bubble I can retreat into to restore my spirit.
- Emotional trials get in the way of my creativity, which means sometimes I can’t write at all. Last week we lost a very dear friend. We had both good and not-so-good news from other loved ones. Added to the existing COVID stress, racial tension, and political negativity from every direction, I could hardly function.
- Back to the good stuff. There’s a lot of humor to be found in hyperbole. What’s a fun way to deal with all those extreme feelings? Turn them into dramatic reactions and over-the-top situations. Case in point, Jenna Davis from Whatever Happens Next.
- And last but not least, because the Christian and Inspy writing community is so very uplifting and supportive, all that love and grace restores my spirit and stirs me to bring balance to the world by writing stories that inspire empathy in others, too.
So there you have it. Many of these traits are common to other writers and readers, of course, to a degree. When we read, we’re naturally building empathy skills because we’re reading through the eyes of the characters. While only about 15-20% of the population are true empaths, we can all increase our ability to exhibit the traits that make us better and can be an asset to us in everyday life. I hope I’ve shared a little bit of something new and interesting with you! Be sure to comment below—whatever you’d like to share. I’d love to hear from and connect with you!