Here’s an alternative perspective.
I wouldn’t call myself an “empath” nor I would I say I have overactive empathy.
I do, however, possess the ability to “understand” one’s feelings, where it came from, and what is the antidote. But I do not feel the same feelings as the sufferer. I don’t even feel “sad” for them. But I understand, maybe even sympathize. (By the way, I couldn’t really resonate with Blake’s Love without Understanding at first reading, but just as I’ve written the past few sentences, it suddenly clicked. I’m fucking scared that everything he’s written, especially about INFJs, are more or less becoming revealed to be true in the past 2 years or so. I guess it takes some life experience to understand the INFJ self more fully…Or has his words shaped my character in some sort of way, a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy? )
Anyways. The truth is, I am selfish deep down. I care most about my own feelings. Not others. And generally it is clear to me what are my own feelings versus others. Others’ opinions do not affect my own. For example, people crying do not make me cry. I often feel detached, like an observer watching other people get emotional…I remember those days when everybody in the room would cry because of, e.g. parting of ways. I’d just watch and not feel a single thing, wondering why the hell people are being so dramatic. Or in church when everybody as a group would get so stirred by “the spirit” and cry their hearts out together as they lift their hands to God…Really? I was left completely unaffected by the group synergy of pent-up emotions.
If I’m affected by another’s emotions, there must be a clear link to my own. Otherwise, I remain pretty stone cold. Perhaps I’m painting myself to be some sort of sociopath. Just to make it clear, I’m not.
But I’m not emotionless. I’m very sensitive and emotional. I am, indeed, receptive to the environment. But just how so is a bit more subtle than directly feeling other’s specific pain and emotions. It’s more like this haze, or cloud of very vague emotions I feel from a GROUP, rather than from a specific set of people. A general aura of anxiety, insecurity, and desperation is what I’m really affected by. And quite often, it would be hard for me to even notice I’ve picked up on this vague haze of emotions. The only feeling I’d get is this feeling of being weighed down, a bit trapped. But it’s an incredibly subtle feeling and requires a bit of awareness.
Also, I’m probably even MORE affected by the emotional environment presented by art than real people/situations themselves. Most people’s emotions don’t affect me, because they seem too…shallow? Even if they have a real basis for it. Like a loved one deceased, that sort of thing. I don’t feel these things and they don’t affect me. But when I see a fictional character wandering around the world, lost, I would be tortured for days, weeks, months even. Existential angst is what affects me most. Tragedy. And broader, more general conflicts faced by the whole of humanity, such as the essential nature behind man-woman relationships, system vs. man, that sort of thing. Cyclical struggles, too.
Music, in particular, deeply affects me. Once I truly give in to the inner psychology of the artist, I begin to lose my sense of self. I have to be careful. Music is a great source of inspiration…and torture. If I don’t do anything about the flood of emotions, I literally sink. Which is why I try to avoid it as much as possible when I need to focus. But not all types of music do this to me. SFish music does not affect me. More feel good. The emotions behind SFish music tend to pinpoint to specific events, specific things, than something more general which is what tends to affect me.