Are empaths born or made? An interesting question!
Here at the Modern Empath, we talk a lot about how to get empathy under control when one first realizes they’re an empath. This is mainly because in the beginning, it is a difficult and overwhelming thing to learn how to deal with. But what does it mean when I say “in the beginning”? If someone realizes they’re an empath as an adult, does that mean they just suddenly blossomed and became an empath? Or have they always been an empath and just didn’t know it?
Empaths are born, not made
The ability to naturally feel the emotions of others as if they were one’s own is an innate ability. Empaths do not have to try to do this, because it comes as second nature. Simply put, empaths are born, not made, and they are like this from day one.
The reason why so many people don’t realize this about themselves until later in life is because it is a misunderstood gift. And now that we frequently live in societies that do not value sensitivity, our parents, grandparents, etc. do not recognize this gift for what it is, let alone know how to teach their children how to thrive with it.
In traditional societies, the village elders would be able to spot right away if a child was sensitive and empathic, and they would take that child under their wing and train him or her. The child would know from a very early age the nature of his or her ability and would not have to worry about “getting a handle on it”. They would have been taught from the very beginning that it is just a part of who they are. And because of this teaching, they would naturally grow into being a strong and happy empath.
Why Natural Empaths Have a Rough Time
Unfortunately, nowadays this is not the case for most sensitive people, and it is not uncommon for sensitivity and empathy to be mistaken for mental or emotional disorders. People are often sent to psychiatrists and given myriad psychotropic drugs, simply because they are misunderstood*.
If and when a misunderstood empath makes the discovery that they are picking up on the emotions of other people, they will then have to learn the hard way how to deal with that as an adult or teenager, when learning such a thing is much more difficult.
To give an example, think about what it’s like to learn a language as a child. Children naturally learn how to speak their native language, and can also learn second or even third languages with ease, without having to go to school or be formally taught how to do it. As we age and our brains develop, it is still possible to learn new languages, it just becomes more difficult and takes a lot more time and effort to become fluent.
The same occurs when learning how to be a successful empath as an adult (or young adult). It is still totally possible, it is just more difficult and time consuming. It would all be so much easier if we just learned how to do this when we were kids!
“You can’t be taught to be an empath, you can only learn to be an empath.”
-(Zen and the Art of Empath Maintenance, a pretend book by Nicole Berrios)
Basically, you can’t learn how to be an empath, because it’s not a skill that can be taught. It’s just a natural ability. Empaths can, however, learn how to truly utilize their gift and not be debilitated by it. This is what I mean when I talk about becoming an empowered empath.
What about the claims that people can learn to experience empathy?
If you’ve ever come across books or articles that claim to teach people how to experience empathy, what they are trying to convey is teaching people how to “put themselves in another’s shoes” and learn how to be more sensitive to what others may be going through. This is not natural empathy.
This is more of a psychological technique that teaches people to be more considerate of others, which is a good thing to do and should not be discounted by any means, but nobody can actually learn to feel the emotions of others as if they were one’s own if they can’t already do it.
On a related note, some people learn to turn their empathic ability “off” or “down” as a survival mechanism when they are young. Just the same, these types of empaths can also learn how to turn their ability back “on”, which makes it appear as if they suddenly became empathic, when in reality, they were always empathic, their abilities were just laying dormant.
The Bottom line
Whether somebody “discovers” that they are an empath later in life, or if they were fortunate enough to know from a young age what they were, empaths are simply born the way they are. It is possible for non-sensitive people to learn how to become more sensitive and considerate of others, or to learn how to read faces, tone of voice and body language, but one cannot learn how to actually feel the emotions of others. Once an empath, always an empath!
*Disclaimer: This is not to say that true mental and emotional disorders do not exist or that seeing psychologists or psychiatrists and taking psychotropic drugs can’t be extremely beneficial to some people. I am simply pointing out that a lot of times, because empaths can have intense mood swings due to the nature of their ability, it can appear that they have mental or emotional disorders. Please see a qualified health professional if you are concerned that you have a disorder.