Empathic people know how to put themselves in the place of the others. They not only understand them intellectually, but experience the emotions of those around them. They are very sensitive people who connect with the others and capture their emotional needs in a special way.
Empathy broadens your horizons and thinking. By understanding other experiences and points of view, these people can expand their perspective and embrace new ideas, a key ability to successfully meet life’s challenges. In fact, it is no coincidence that psychologists from Istanbul University found that the most empathetic students tend to obtain better academic results. The good news is that you are not born empathic, you learn to be.
What is the profile of an empathic person?
1. They feel the emotions of the others
The main characteristic of empathic people is their ability to perceive and feel the emotions of others. In many cases, these people literally absorb the emotional states of those around them, becoming a kind of emotional sponge. They are able to capture and understand what someone is feeling, even if that person has difficulty expressing it through words.
Empathic people connect at a deeper level with others, allowing them to feel the joy or pain of the others firsthand and make it their own. In fact, everything seems to indicate that in the “empathic brain” mirror neurons are much more active, which would facilitate, through mechanisms of unconscious imitation, the task of putting oneself in the shoes of the others.
2. They are very intuitive and know how to interpret body language
Empathic people are often very intuitive. They are often carried away by a “sixth sense” in their interpersonal relationships. By having the ability to see beyond appearances, they can better perceive the intentions and motivations of the others.
In fact, they are especially skilled at capturing and interpreting the emotional signals that people send from the little clues they provide in their extraverbal communication. Empathic people can perceive small changes in the facial expressions, the tone of the voice or the body movements of the interlocutor that go unnoticed by others. That ability allows them to detect inconsistencies, lies or concealments.
3. They are curious about strangers
Empathic people are often curious about strangers. That is why they often strike up a conversation with whoever sits next to them on the bus or on a park bench. They are genuinely interested in the person they have by their side, because they retain that natural curiosity of children and the desire to explore interpersonal relationships.
“Empathic curiosity” is not gossip, it is an open but respectful attitude towards the other, a willingness to connect while respecting the limits established by the interlocutor. This type of curiosity leads to the meeting of two different visions and worlds that enrich both people through moments of special connection, even if they are two complete strangers.
4. They challenge prejudices by looking for common ground
We all make assumptions about each other and use tags to fit into certain categories. We cannot completely get rid of our expectations and preconceptions. However, empathic people are much more open and less likely to judge the others, always giving them the benefit of the doubt.
By putting yourself in the place of the others, prejudices give way to understanding. They are able to put aside their opinions to embrace the perspectives of the others and understand the fears, concerns and motivations of their interlocutor. In fact, empathic people tend to focus on commonalities, rather than the things that differentiate and separate them. They are people who build bridges in their path, instead of burning them.
5. Are fully present and practice active listening
Empathic people can make us feel like we are the most important person in the world, at least during the times that we are together. That’s because they are usually fully present in their interactions, giving us their full attention and time, a rare gift in the hyper-distracted world we live in.
Empathic people practice active listening naturally. They take the time to try to understand the priorities, preferences and motivations of their interlocutor. They listen without judgment, with the aim of understanding and helping. In fact, they often replace advice that might be invasive or defensive with questions like: How do you feel? What do you mean? How do you think you should react? How can I help you?
6. They are vulnerable
One of the characteristics of empathic people is that they are not afraid to show their vulnerability. They are aware that to connect to at a deep level, it is not enough to listen carefully to the others and understand what they feel, but it is necessary to contribute something personal to that interaction, to expose oneself emotionally.
Empathic people often remove their social masks to reveal their feelings and create that special bond that is generated when two human realities touch each other from the depths of their fragility. In fact, empathy is a two-way road that involves sharing sorrows and joys without fear that the other will take advantage of our supposed weaknesses.
7. They tend to feel overwhelmed
If empathic people do not learn to manage that special sensitivity, they can become deeply overwhelmed by the emotions of the others. Absorbing someone else’s anger, pain, suffering, or frustration can be emotionally draining, to the point of developing the Hyper-Empathy Syndrome.
In fact, empathic people not only show that sensitivity when they establish a direct relationship with someone, but they can also absorb the emotions that float in a public space or feel shocked by images and news that reflect a human tragedy. Generally, this emotion arises unexpectedly and completely overwhelms them since they are able to put themselves in the place of the person who is suffering or feels anxiety or stress with special intensity. That is why it is necessary for them to develop emotional management techniques that allow them to protect their mental balance.
Baird, A. et. Al. (2011) Mirror neuron system involvement in empathy: A critical look at the evidence. Social Neuroscience; 6(4): 327-335.
Aysun, T. & Seray, M. (2010) The relationship between empathetic classroom climate and students’ success. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences; 5: 231–234.