Empathy and compassion are highly desirable traits in others; you could make the argument that the world would be a much better place if there were more of these around. While being empathetic means you can relate to another’s experience, a true empath is one who can literally feel others’ emotions and physical sensations.
There are two types of empaths: cognitive and affected (or “emotional” empath). Cognitive empaths can perceive and understand the emotions in others; affected empaths feel others’ emotions.
Before you say “that’s a lot of nonsense”, there is scientific evidence to support the perceptions of being an empath.
For example, a study at Monash University examined the brains of empaths. Researchers found that there are differences in grey matter density in certain areas of empaths’ brains.
The differences were so conspicuous, they were able to distinguish between those with cognitive empathy (denser grey matter in the midcingulate cortex and adjacent dorsomedial prefrontal cortex) and those with affected empathy (denser grey matter in the insula cortex).
“Taken together, these results provide validation for empathy being a multi-component construct, suggesting that affective and cognitive empathy are differentially represented in brain morphometry as well as providing convergent evidence for empathy being represented by different neural and structural correlates.” (1)
Furthermore, a 2014 study looked at neural activity in empaths’ brains using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). In response to controlled stimuli, areas of subjects’ brains involved in awareness, attention, action planning, integration of sensory information, emotional understanding, and empathy became highly activated. (2)