There is the fashionable notion nowadays for individuals to be branded as ‘psychics’ or ‘empaths’ if they are emotionally sensitive or display a high level of compassion towards others. It is automatically assumed that people who are emotionally intelligent must also have an exceptional capacity for extra-sensory perception.

Nothing could be further from the truth. If anything, this myth is serving to confuse and mislead people, and may even cause further emotional damage, by imposing unreasonable expectations on some highly sensitive or even emotionally vulnerable people.

I had many traumatic paranormal experiences during my childhood, and I was constantly overwhelmed by extra-sensory perceptions I did not understand. To find any reliable information on the subject was near impossible. The confusion and frustration I had to endure in my youth – often due to the ignorance of others – made me vow to research, learn and share as much as I could about psychic abilities. If I can spare just one gifted child unnecessary trauma, or inspire just one adult to come out of the ‘clair closet’, the bewilderment I had to endure would all be worth it.

Please know that natural human empathy is not a scarce commodity that needs to be classified as a paranormal phenomenon. It is also not a psychic ability that must be developed or applied at all cost. If empathy really is such a rare trait, then our society is in much greater jeopardy than we may suspect.***

People who do not display empathy are considered by the medical profession to be abnormal, or disordered. A lack of empathy is a common characteristic found in the Cluster B Personality Disorders in the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), especially in those diagnosed with Antisocial and Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Individuals who are unable to express empathy need psychological counseling or psychiatric treatment, not a psychic development course! If empathy really is an inherited talent or innate psychic ability – like clairaudience or mediumship – then everyone who does not have the ‘gift of empathy’ by implication must be some sort of psychopath, sociopath or narcissist. One might as well claim that all people who have the ability to cry are incarnations of archangels, or every person who can laugh carries extraterrestrial DNA.

The erroneous association of natural human empathy with ‘supernatural’ psychic ability stems from the confusion that exists about terminology and a shortage of parapsychology research, as well as plain ignorance. There is already so much confusion and skepticism about psychic abilities that professional psychics and spiritual workers can hardly afford more myth and mockery to be added to the mix. The use of the term ‘empathy’ to describe an extra-sensory ability is simply inaccurate and misleading. To unravel the truth behind all this ‘emotional mayhem’, one needs to understand the difference between the following terms and concepts:


Both empathy and sympathy are natural ways to express compassion and caring for others, and both are a normal trait found in most well-adjusted human beings. In fact, both empathy and sympathy are an important aspect of Emotional Intelligence (EI), and both are basic social skills taught to us at a young age by our parents and caregivers. Experts also believe that there is a genetic or biological basis to empathy and sympathy.

But there is also a distinct difference between empathy and sympathy, which is important to understand, especially for people who work in the helping and service professions.

Sympathy is an expression of concern, regret or sadness about unfortunate events in someone else’s life. In other words, you worry about that person’s distress, or you feel sorry for what has happened to them.

Empathy, on the other hand, is our ability to grasp the feelings of another person on a much deeper level, as well as the ability to convey this understanding to that person, which shows that you really do comprehend how they feel. Empathy is therefore the ability to ‘place yourself in another person’s shoes’ and the knack to truly understand where they are coming from; to see things from their perspective and relate to how it is making them feel.

Empathy and sympathy can be expressed at the same time in certain situations, but they can also be expressed separately.

Sympathy = “I am so sorry for your loss. I feel for you. It must be awful for a parent to lose a child. I cannot even begin to imagine what you must be going through.”

Empathy = “I understand exactly what you are going through. I feel your pain. I lost my own son a few years ago. It is an agony that you cannot even begin to describe to someone else.”

Empathy is therefore appropriate or useful when we need to express our sincere understanding of another person’s feelings and circumstances, whereas the focus of sympathy is more our concern for that person’s well-being in difficult or challenging circumstances, even if we cannot necessarily relate to their circumstances.

Empathy is a normal psychological trait, and it is something all people express to some extent. For example, a study done at Yale University in 2007 found that babies demonstrate a natural tendency towards empathy, while the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology has shown that even when given no incentive, toddlers share with others and act in a helpful manner. Empathetic behavior has also been demonstrated in certain animal species, including mice.

Some people may have a greater aptitude for empathy than others, because they are emotionally more intelligent, have more life experience, or due to a genetic predisposition – but that does not make them psychic. You are not a psychic or an ‘empath’ because you were properly socialized by your parents; or because you are a caring and considerate member of society; or because you are a highly sensitive person; or because you are able to instinctively notice someone else’s feelings through cues you get from their body language, their facial expressions, their tone of voice, or behaviors like crying, or sighing. The more empathetic you are, the more you are able to comprehend and express how others must be feeling. But this is not an extra-sensory ability.


Most language experts will disagree, but a distinction should be made between the terms ‘empathetic’ and ‘empathic’. Such a distinction is useful, due to the popular usage of the word ‘empath’.

The word empathetic describes the normal empathy a person would express towards others, while empathic is more appropriate to describe the extra-sensory or energetic perceptions experienced by an empath. This form of extra-sensory perception is what some refer to as clairempathy, to distinguish it from normal empathy. In other words, when you are being empathetic you are showing empathy, but when you are being empathic you are experiencing clairempathy.

Empathetic = expression of natural empathy

Empathic = expression of ‘supernatural’ clairempathy

You will not find this distinction in dictionaries, as the words ‘empathic’ and ‘empathetic’ are generally considered to have the same meaning, i.e. the ‘ability to express empathy’. But we do not use the term ‘sympathic’ to describe someone who is being sympathetic; therefore it makes sense to only use the term empathetic to describe the expression of empathy.

If you are someone that shows a healthy empathy for others then you are empathetic, and you would then be very aware of emotional signs and moods in someone else. But that does not make you an empath. It just means you are very well-adjusted, kind and considerate person, or possibly even a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP).

I am an empath, and in my experience an empath is a person who has vivid clairempathic experiences. This means that I have direct, extra-sensory experiences of other people’s emotions, moods and motivations on a daily basis. I can feel what others feel, without knowing anything about them, or having any direct contact or interaction with them. I can experience these feelings and sensations with people on the other side of the world, and they are not limited to emotions, because I also experience physical sensations and symptoms. I also experience or sense emotional information and feeling states from a person’s past and future. I often know how someone felt at some point in history or how they will feel about something in the future. Clearly this has very little to do with simply empathizing with someone at a given moment.

For example, I would be in line at the supermarket and suddenly begin to feel pain and discomfort in my right arm, and when I turn around there would be someone in line behind me with their injured right arm in a sling. Not only would I briefly feel their physical pain, but I may also get a clairvoyant flash of what happened to them to injure their arm, and how they felt at the time (including the sharp sensation in their elbow when they fell), and I will feel how frustrated they are now having the use of only one arm, and I will also sense how they will feel some months into the future when the side-effects of their injury becomes worse, instead of better.

I can feel the anxiety some people feel in the pit of their stomach when they are telling a lie, or feel their heartbeat increase when they are feeling guilty. If the lady in front of me at the supermarket is getting angry I might feel her ‘blood pressure rising’ and possibly perceive additional information about her personal life that may cause her to be so impatient and irritable. But that does not mean that I necessarily indentify with her feelings (empathy) or feel sorry for her (sympathy). I simply sense what she is feeling and I know why she is feeling that way, even if it makes no sense to me, and without me focusing my attention on her, or engaging with her.

In the past, before I understood my empathic nature, I often did not know where some of these feelings and sensations were coming from, or what they meant. Unconscious empaths often walk around like unsuspecting energy sponges, and can obviously suffer much discomfort and distress as a result. Empaths who are unaware of their clairempathic ability typically absorb all kinds of unwanted emotional and somatic energy wherever they go, without understanding, for example, why they suddenly feel nausea or vertigo; or why they are suddenly overwhelmed with extreme sadness and anxiety, when there is nothing in their environment to be sad or anxious about; or why their positive state of mind has suddenly changed to a really foul mood the moment they walked past a frowning stranger in the street.

To me this is the most evident difference between empathy and clairempathy. Empathy involves an affective (emotional) and cognitive (thought) process based on observation, logical thinking, perspective-taking, reasoning and an appropriate emotional response. Clairempathy however is an energy perception or claisentient response that often has no rational, logical or emotional origin. It is not something I consider or think about when somebody is limping down the street. I feel that person limping long before they come around the corner. It also does not mean I can relate or want to relate with that person emotionally.

Reputable psychics and mediums will tell you that they usually do their best readings and predictions when the energy information they translate for their clients make absolutely no sense to them at the time. The less the psychic’s ego and personal opinions interfere with the reading process, the better. In fact, a reader who expresses too much sympathy and empathy during a reading is probably not doing a very good job, since sympathy and empathy are both a highly personal perspective or viewpoint. If I share my client’s feelings, or feel sorry for them, I am not using my clairempathic ability, because I am applying my own feelings of empathy and sympathy based on my personal values and life experiences. Now, there is nothing wrong with empathizing with a client during a reading, as long as it is understood that empathizing is not psychic reading or mediumship. Empathizing is ‘perspective-taking’ in the role of counselor or advisor; it is not energy reading in the role of psychic or empath.

By the way, there have been in recent years different people who claim to have coined the term ‘empath’ and ‘empathy’, but this not true. The English word ‘empathy’ was coined in 1909 by the Brtitish psychologist Edward B. Titchener, in an attempt to translate the German word einfühlungsvermögen, which was a new concept being explored at the end of 19th century, mainly by German philosopher Theodor Lipps. The ‘empath’ concept is also nothing new and actually has its roots in science fiction. It can, for example, be traced back as far as December 6, 1968, to the broadcast of the third season episode of the television series Star Trek: The Original Series. The title of that episode was The Empath and featured a female character by the name of “Gem” who is an empath with a special ability to heal others.


Empathic ability (or clairempathy) is a form of clairsentience. The term ‘sentience’ refers to awareness, or consciousness of a sensation or a feeling. Sentience does not involve thought, or logic, or reason, as one would find in normal empathy, when you would use reason, logic and your personal memories to consider how the other person must be feeling. The emphasis in clairsentience is on feeling or sensing, instead of rational thinking.

Clairsentience therefore means ‘clear sensing’ or ‘clear feeling’. It is the ability to perceive extra-sensory information about people, places or objects, by sensing it energetically. It is energy perception experienced as a tactile, physical sensation or an emotional feeling. Clairsentience is the foundation for all other psychic sensitivities. It is often the first psychic ability to surface in children, and normally it is also the first psychic sense to be experienced by adults who develop their extra-sensory abilities later in life. In fact, I have never heard of a psychic or a medium who does not have some form of clairsentient ability, or who does not somehow use clairsentience in their work.

Clairsentience typically manifests in four major ways that are all interlinked and interdependent, and differs from person to person:

Clairempathy – extra-sensory perception of emotional energy from the past, present and future.

Intuition – ‘gut feeling’, ‘hunch’, instinct, premonition, precognition

Somatic energy perception – physical sensations and symptoms, often experienced by mediums and medical intuitives, including pain, nausea, vertigo, fever, congestion, tickling, chills, goose bumps, sensations of being touched, temperature changes, and hair standing on end.

Clairtangency (psychometry) – the ability to touch an object and read its energy imprints, which can be emotions of the person who owns the object, or past, present, future information associated with the object’s owner. When a psychic is doing psychometry, she is applying her ‘clairtangent ability’ or using clairtangency (clear touch). For example, energy healers and medical intuitives often have the ability to scan a person’s body with their hands to read symptomatic energy. Psychometry is also used by psychic investigators in forensic work, such as murders and kidnappings, by reading crime scenes or objects belonging to victims and suspects.


The final important distinction that must be made in this context is the difference between the Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) and the Empath, which is my main concern when it comes to the misuse of the term ‘empathy’.

A Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) has the innate trait known as ‘high psychological sensitivity’. According to experts the highly sensitive individual processes sensory data much more intensely and thoroughly, due to biological differences in their nervous system. The term Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) was coined by Dr. Elaine N. Aron in 1996, and it has been gaining popularity ever since, mainly because it presents the Highly Sensitive Person in a much more positive light. Sadly, HSPs are now increasingly being coerced to believe that they are psychic, which may be undoing some of the wonderful work people like Dr. Aron have been doing.

Being an HSP is often confused with shyness, introversion, social anxiety or fearfulness. HSPs are therefore often misunderstood by parents, teachers and the community, while this trait is actually quite normal. It is believed that one in every five people are highly sensitive, which means that it is not a disorder. The trait is actually found in many animals too and it is believed to be a survival strategy of being observant before acting. According to Dr. Aron, “the opposite of a Highly Sensitive Person is a person who takes many risks”, in other words someone who “acts without reflecting very much”.

The brain of the HSP has been found to actually work slightly differently, making them more aware than others of subtleties in their environment, and noticing more things when they interact with other people. The HSP is also easily overwhelmed and over stimulated when situations become too intense or confusing. The HSP trait is not a new discovery, but it is still misunderstood. HSPs are often told that they must ‘man up’ or to ‘not be so sensitive’.

It is unfortunate that many HSPs are not aware of their true nature and are not gaining access to accurate self-help information and professional support, because they have been told by well-meaning, but misguided spiritual workers that they are ‘empaths’ or ‘sensitives’ or ‘intuitives’. Sure, some HSPs just so happen to also be psychic, but this is not as common as some would have us believe.

The popular myth about psychological sensitivity, and its uncritical association with psychic ability, is a tragic state of affairs, because many HSPs continue to misjudge their own personalities and sometimes they really struggle in life, because they do not have an accurate understanding of what makes them tick. Instead of receiving the support, guidance and sense of belonging that will allow them to thrive as HSP, they are being misdirected and taken advantage of by people who sell psychic development books, courses and healing sessions; not to mention the trauma and confusion highly sensitive children experience due to the misinformation being fed to their parents. Imagine having an excited ‘psychic stage mom’ breathing down your neck, pressuring you to act more ‘esoterically’ or ‘other-worldly’, because she read on some website that you are a highly gifted little psychic empath in the making, when in reality you are just a shy, sensitive kid who does not like noisy people and chaotic environments, and you just like to check things out carefully before you take any action.

Don’t just accept someone else’s misguided assumption that you are an empath, or that your sensitive nature is due to your innate psychic ability. It could save you a lot of frustration, confusion and disillusionment, and may prevent you from wasting precious time and resources looking for spiritual or paranormal answers to something that is a perfectly natural trait in about 15 to 20% of the general population. Not every emotionally intuitive or socially sensitive person is required to ‘report for psychic duty’. Don’t miss your true soul purpose and life calling because of the misconstrued ideas others have about extra-sensory perception and psychic ability. If you suspect that you may be a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), start by taking Dr. Aron’s self-test on her website.

*** By the way, there may actually be some reason for alarm concerning the declining levels of empathy in our society. According to recent research at the University of Michigan the empathy levels of college students have dropped significantly since the 1980’s, with an especially dramatic decline over the past decade. To make matters worse, during this same period levels of narcissism among college students has reached new heights, according to research at San Diego State University. One possible reason for this decline may be our increased social isolation, and the growing dehumanization of people due to technology. You only have to read some of the really cruel and callous comments some young people post on social networking and video sharing sites to find the necessary evidence. Maybe empathy will one day really become a rare gift in a merciless world devoid of any compassion for others.

Throughout the world, teachers, sociologists, policymakers and parents are discovering that empathy may be the single most important quality that must be nurtured to give peace a fighting chance ~ Arundhati Ray

© 2011 Anthon St Maarten

Author's Bio: 

Anthon St Maarten is an international psychic advisor, intuitive consultant, clairvoyant medium and destiny coach. He is also an inspirational speaker, metaphysical teacher and presenter of spiritual self-help seminars, courses and workshops, as well as an author and radio presenter. For further information visit Anthon's website at