I’ve been told my close friends that I am an empath and that I have too much empathy for people and their situations. I recently started to watch a lot of Instagram videos which talk about empaths and narcissistic personality types. And the more I watched them, the more I felt being an empath was inherently a bad idea.
The empathy apparently developed because I had to be hyper vigilant when I was a child around erratic adults. Sometimes I feel it is something that developed in me because I’ve worked as a journalist and have been exposed to a lot of crime and violence. My job involves going deep into motivation and circumstances which create a situation. It is always about searching for understanding. So yes, obviously, I totally understand why the woman murdered her abusive husband.
I understand frustration and anger in people because I am no stranger to it myself. Who isn’t. As a journalist, I am required to go to the truth of the matter and that means I have to be honest myself. As an editor I have to hold myself to a very high standard of honesty. This also means emotional honesty. So whenever I encounter anyone with a problem or an ugly feeling, if I am honest, I have to always admit I probably have felt it myself. This significantly reduces my tendency to judge people.
The empathy can, however, work against you if you are constantly making excuses for bad behaviour from other people especially when it hurts you. You make excuses or explain away terrible things people do and say to you because you are an empath and understand where they are coming from. I am constantly struggling to prevent this from happening.
My closest friends warn me that I am sometimes too empathetic. So I had honestly started to feel really bad about it, as if it was a weakness. I used to pride myself for being able to walk around in someone’s skin, as the character Atticus Finch in Harper Lee’s classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird taught his daughter Scout. I also believe that it was part of our training as Muslims to forgive people who have slighted us, to be able to understand suffering. But then I began to doubt myself.
I was just trawling through Twitter when I found a post shared by my favourite linguist, Steven Pinker.
To my amazement, a study by the University of Cambridge in 57 countries with 300,000 people has proven that: “Females, on average, are better than males at putting themselves in others’ shoes and imagining what the other person is thinking or feeling.”
I felt like sharing this with the friends (male ones) who extolled thinking over feeling and used to shame me for being too empathetic. It turns out, women do tend have this ability. I started to feel a little less weird about being empathetic.
The University of Cambridge has also put together an online test on your brain type, which, as you can imagine, I promptly took:
These are my brain type results:
Your Empathy score (EQ): 16
Most females score 6 to 16. Most males score 4 to 15. If you score 0 to 4 you are low on empathy, and if you score 16 to 20 you score high on empathy.
Your Systemizing score (SQ): 12
Most females score 2 to 9. Most males score 3 to 11. If you score 0 to 3 you are low in your systemizing drive, and if you score 12 to 20, you are high on your systemizing drive.
Your brain type classification: Type B
33% of people are classified as Type E (their EQ score is greater than their SQ score). 33% are classified as Type S (their SQ is greater than their EQ). 30% are classified as Type B for balanced (their EQ and SQ are relatively equal). 2% of people are classified as Extreme Type E (EQ is much greater than SQ). 2% of people are classified as Extreme Type S (SQ is much greater than EQ).
What are brain types?
Most people can be categorized into 1 of 5 cognitive ‘brain types’. Your brain type is an indication of how you score on two important dimensions of the mind: empathy and systemizing.
Empathy is the ability to understand another person’s thoughts and feelings and to respond to these with an appropriate emotion. Systemizing is the ability to identify lawful patterns in the world, and the drive to analyse or construct systems.
If you are Type E (empathizing) this means your drive to empathize is greater than your drive to systemize. If you are Type S (systemizing), this means your drive to systemize is greater than your drive to empathize. Those with a Type B (balanced) brain type have relatively equal drives to empathize and systemize. Extreme Type E are people who are super-empathic whilst their systemizing is intact or even below average. Extreme Type S are people who are hyper-systemizers whilst their empathy is intact or even below average.
On average, more men than women have a Type S brain type and more women than men have a Type E brain type. It is suggested that these brain types are caused by genetic and prenatal hormonal levels (2,3), as well as by environmental factors.
Score Calculation. Your brain type was calculated based on your responses to 10-item versions of the Empathy Quotient (EQ) (1, 4) and Systemizing Quotient-Revised (SQ-R) (1, 5). These two scores together provide an indication of your ‘brain type’.
My AQ Results
Your AQ score: 4
Most non-autistic people score 1 to 5. Most autistic people score 6 to 10.
What is the AQ?
Autistic traits fall on a spectrum and can be observed in the entire population. Autistic traits can be measured with the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ). The AQ is not a diagnostic tool, but rather measures autistic traits in the general population and in autistic people. If you have concerns that predate completing the AQ-10, and you score 6 or above, you may want to consider asking your family doctor to be referred for a specialist diagnostic assessment.