Today I listened to an episode of This American Life from May 2011 called, “The Psychopath Test” which explored the science and history behind defining psychopathy and labeling certain individuals as certified psychopaths. A psychopath is defined as a person who cannot feel emotions such as empathy, remorse, or love, and is often aggressive, manipulative, and prone to boredom and deceit.
Most of us are familiar with the idea of a psychopath and probably have recognized signs of psychopathic behavior in others before – so that got me thinking, what is the opposite of a psychopath?
Is it a “regular” human who simply feels the standard range of emotions, or is there an extreme version on the opposite side of the psychopathic spectrum where some people experience the opposite personality traits and behaviors as a psychopath. It sounds silly, but are there people who are TOO empathetic, TOO remorseful, or TOO loving?
Like all psychological issues (and physiological, thanks to WebMD) I assumed that Google would be a profound source of knowledge – and indeed I discovered that some describe empathy as a scale and label those at the opposite side of psychopaths as “empaths.” The site Sustainable Man describes empaths as having,
“…heightened emotions, a comprehensive understanding of the broad scope of emotions, feel a strong desire to give to others, excellent communication abilities, pre-cognition, and a tendency to feel the emotions of others intuitively.In short, an empath feels everything.”
Perhaps we should take this with a grain of salt (since it is a quote from an article featuring a picture of a Husky cuddling with a man as he floats in a body of water, with a Hallmark-like quote juxtaposed in the corner…) – but considering the existence of empaths resonates with me. To think that could be veritable psychopaths walking the same streets that we do, without the existence of an equally extreme converse group of people is a terrifying thought. And while empaths obviously sound like much more pleasant and safe people to encounter compared to psychopaths, their condition still seems like an ultimately undesirable psychological and personality disorder as well. I imagine that being an empath is a similar experience to what Professor Xavier feels when the thoughts of thousands of people echo all at once throughout his head due to his strong telepathic powers. For those less comic book-inclined, I imagine that an empath cannot function because there is far too much emotional stimulus on a daily basis; I envision someone who spends half the day wallowing in unending pain and sorrow and the other half relishing life’s limitless love and joy.
An empath is on a constant, perpetual roller coaster of emotions while a psychopath stands completely stationary outside the amusement park gates.