The Journal of Molecular Psychiatry: The Genetics of Empathy

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The New Science of Empathy and Empaths

Do we have an empathy gene? The genetics of empathy is fascinating. As a psychiatrist and an empath, I am fascinated by how the phenomenon of empathy works. I feel passionately that empathy is the medicine the world needs right now.

   What is empathy?

Empathy is when we reach our hearts out to others and put ourselves in their shoes. However, being an empath goes even farther. Like many of my patients and myself, empaths are people who’re high on the empathic spectrum and actually feel what is happening in others in their own bodies. As a result, empaths can have incredible compassion for people–but they often get exhausted from feeling “too much” unless they develop strategies to safeguard their sensitivities and develop healthy boundaries.

 The Science of Empathy

In my book, “The Empath’s Survival Guide” I discuss five intriguing scientific explanations of empathy and empaths. They are the mirror neuron system, electromagnetic fields, emotional contagion, increased dopamine sensitivity, and synesthesia. These along with the new research in genetics will help us more deeply understand the power of empathy so we can utilize and honor it in our lives.

The Dali Lama says, “Empathy is the most precious human quality.” During stressful times, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Even so, empathy is the quality that will get us through. It will enable us to respect one another, even if we disagree. Empathy doesn’t make you a sentimental softy without discernment. It allows you to keep your heart open to foster tolerance and understanding. It might not always be effective in getting through to people and creating peace but I think it’s the best chance we have.

Judith Orloff, MD is the New York Times best-selling author of The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People. Dr. Orloff is a psychiatrist, an empath, and is on the UCLA Psychiatric Clinical Faculty. She synthesizes the pearls of traditional medicine with cutting edge knowledge of intuition, energy, and spirituality. Dr. Orloff also specializes in treating empaths and highly sensitive people in her private practice. Dr. Orloff’s work has been featured on The Today Show, CNN, Oprah Magazine, the New York Times and USA Today. Dr. Orloff has spoken at Google-LA and has a TEDX talk with over half a million views. Her other books are Emotional Freedom, The Power of Surrender, Second Sight, Positive Energy, and Guide to Intuitive Healing. Explore more information about empaths and intuition on www.drjudithorloff.com.