Empathy is the ability to feel and understand other people's feelings, emotions, and desires as if they were your own. A user of this ability can feel exactly what another person is feeling, and for the same reasons, without direct contact with them. Beings with the power of empathy are often referred to as Empaths.
The most basic level of empathy involves feeling what other people are feeling, either automatically or by focusing on them. The former usually occurs when the user encounters strong emotions or is new to the power. Users can also understand and interpret the reason or truth behind certain emotions, often instantly, thereby gaining some insight into what others are thinking, physical sensations (touch, pain, medical effects, sexual arousal etc) or their desires. However, this is not always the case. Occasionally, users may find it difficult or even impossible to determine the cause of certain emotions without being told or directly seeing what prompted it.
For example, shortly after Prue Halliwell accidentally acquired this ability, she visited the dentist and began to feel the emotions of those around her. In particular, she started laughing uncontrollably, but could not figure out why, until she saw that the person she was channeling was given laughing gas. Another example would be the time Phoebe felt Chris's love for Bianca; Phoebe was able to sense that Bianca had broken his heart but not how it happened, until she saw him holding an engagement ring.
Stronger forms of Empathy can be used to channel emotions from any being that can produce them (for example; animals and spirits). Users can use it locate a person, verify a person's existence by sensing their emotions, be alerted to nearby disasters by picking up on the volume of the victims' emotions and pain, and can even become able to use the power as a lie detector. Empathy can also be used to shoulder the emotions of broken spirits, such as Will o' the Wisps, allowing them to cross over. Due to clones not having real emotions, the original can be identified through the use of empathy.
Empathy at this level also involves channeling emotions across great distances. It's rare, but another aspect of empathy is being able to experience verbal feedback when channeling heightened emotions across great distances, thus allowing the user to psychically hear the being(s) they are channeling speak.
- "I just wish I knew how to turn it on and off. I feel like I'm at the mercy of everyone else's feelings and it sucks. "
- —Phoebe expressing her frustration.[src]
The power may initially be hard to switch off and as such, can cause inexperienced users to act on the emotions as if they were their own or become overwhelmed, but meditation and practice will solve this problem. Additionally, Empathy can only be handled by beings that are meant to have the power. When others gain this power, it will eventually overwhelm them, which can drive them insane and even kill them.
This gift is very rare and is an innate ability for some beings, such as Empaths, future-empaths (aka mortals who can feel what other people feel) and Cupids. Although, Cupids cannot feel the whole spectrum of emotions, as they are messengers of love, not prue Empaths. Their empathy is limited to feelings of love and emotions that are tied to love, such as heartbreak, hate, etc. Whether, Cupids ever struggled to control their power is not known.
Phoebe Halliwell developed this power in her late twenties, and is one of the strongest form of Empathy possessed by any being. At first, she struggled to control her new power, which caused considerable problems, as after encountering the emotions of others she would sometimes act on their whims; for example, once when an employee felt extremely angry at Elise, Phoebe was overwhelmed by his anger that she physically assualted her. When she reunited with Jason, she channeled his lust which resulted in the two having sex in his office.
However, her proficiency has noticeably increased overtime. She can now channel other people's emotions without being overwhelmed and can accurately interpret and understand them. As such, beings with malevolent intent are usually worried when they are around her, afraid she will find out any secrets that they are trying to keep hidden. Sometimes, Phoebe can channel emotion across a city wide distance and in between dimensions.
One memorable user of this power was Mitzy Stillman. Mitzy gained this ability temporarily when she stole Phoebe's identity and powers. Mitzy's empathy power let her realize how much Mabel hated both her and her younger sister, however, the power also gave her headaches.
Another memorable user of this power was Prue Halliwell. She gained the power for a few hours in 2000 when the spell she casted to remove the power from Vinceres backfired and made her an empath. Her empathic ability allowed her to channel emotions from miles away and listen in on the arguments people were having all over the city by picking up on the intense emotion behind the angry words people were shouting at each other.
Empathy and Different Planes/Realities
Empathy is one of the very few powers that is capable of stretching through different planes of existence and alternate realities. Phoebe first revealed this while in one of Gith's emotion/desire fueled realities and used her power to tap intoPiper's emotions, sensing her sister's fear even though she was in a different reality. Once this connection was made, Phoebe and Paige were able to use their combined desires in order to shift themselves through Gith's realities and transport themselves to Piper.
Phoebe later showed this aspect of her power again when Piper and Leo were trapped in the Ghostly Plane. Phoebe was able to sense Piper's presence and even feel her pain when she was injured. Since Piper is the common denominator in both these examples, it is possible that Phoebe's power was amplified in both cases by the strength of her sisterly love.
Insanity and Demons
The power of Empathy can drive a being insane if they are not destined to have it. However, demons can never gain this power naturally, due to the fact that they cannot handle human emotions. It would destroy them or drive them insane, as it drove the demon Vinceres almost insane, but shortly after it was taken away, he returned to normal.
Prue accidentally took this power from Vinceres through the use of a spell. Although she was fine with it at first, eventually, as its range expanded, she was unable to control it developing to the point where she was constantly taking in the emotions of the entire city of San Francisco. However, with Father Thomas's help, she was able to handle the power. It left her immediately after she destroyed Vinceres with it as she was never meant to have it.
Whitelighters and Charges
- "I don't know. Feels like a witch is being hurt. I can feel her pain."
- —Leo to Natalie and the sisters.[src]
The connection Whitelighters share with their charges has a limited aspect of empathy; they are connected to their charges on a physical level, and will automatically feel what their charges feel, but only when a charge is hurt and is in pain. In special circumstances, a whitelighter may feel the pain of a another whitelighter's charge. Natalie and Leo have both done this; they felt the pain of witch who wasn't their charge because the Elders had recalled all whitelighters from earth and they were the only two earthbound whitelighters.
When triggered, this connection may cause a whitelighter to double over in pain, as they are feeling the some pain as the charge in question. Since this connection cannot be switched off, in extreme cases of agony, the whitelighter may be compelled to rush to the charge's aid, regardless of the danger that awaits them. However, a whitelighter with a strong will can endure the pain and not be ruled by it.
It is important to note that even with this aspect, Whitelighters are still not considered empathic beings.
Branches of Empathy
Empathy can be used to manipulate emotions and various elements connected to emotions. However, only a few beings are known to be capable of using any of these aspects. It should be noted that, whilst so far no user has ever demonstrated empathy in its totality, certain users can control more than one branch.
A branch of Empathy that is centered around manipulating other people's emotions. A practitioner of superior psychic abilities, such as Phoebe Halliwell, can channel their own emotions or those of other people — whether it be their enemy's, their enemy's victims or a mixture of both — and project, reflect or amplify those same emotions through the hands in the form of two tiny electricity bolts.
A branch of Empathy which is concerned with augmenting the user's powers. Augmentation can also happen automatically if the user cannot control their empathy power. As all magical powers are connected with emotions, the more emotions they channel in, the more powerful they become. But if the user cannot control their power of empathy, their enhanced powers can be destructive and dangerous to oneself and others. Prue Halliwell became the only known example of this when she temporarily became an Empath and enhanced her telekinetic and astral projection powers.
Empathic Channeling and Replicating
Arguably the two most powerful extensions of Empathy. Due to the fact that all magical powers are tied to the user's emotions, both work by feeling the same emotion that others feel. The only example of this is Phoebe Halliwell, because Phoebe can feel the emotions of others, her empathy allows her to counteract and replicate the powers of other beings.
Empathic Power Resistance
A branch of Empathy which protects the user from magical injury; however, this branch only works in combination with Power Channeling and Replication: for example, channeling the power of another makes one resistant to said power, when it is used against them. In Phoebe Halliwell's case, her body's resilience is extended to an even greater degree, allowing her to withstand the powers she replicates from others, when they are used against her.
Empathic Power Granting
The possessor can transfer their power into another being through a touch. Depending on the receiver: for example; a demon, this power can act as a curse, forcing the demon to feel the pain he or she inflicts.
The only known Empath to have ever done this was Father Thomas. In 1996, when he was attacked by the demon Vinceres, he placed his hands on the demon's chest and transferred his empathy powers to him. Father Thomas knew the power would make the demon insane and unable to set one foot outside and thus not being able to kill.
A branch of Empathy that is centered around guiding mortals (for example, someone who practices this aspect can ease human suffering by using their intimate knowledge of what the other person is feeling or has gone through, and then offering them advice and comfort) and healing emotional wounds, akin to Whitelighters healing physical wounds.
Phoebe, as an advice columnist, uses her gift to help the people who write to her. She answers their letters through her column, giving them helpful advice. During an encounter will a Will o' the Wisp, Phoebe showcased a form of empathic healing, when she took the pain of the wisp and allow it to cross over.
Aside from counseling, Father Thomas also healed the emotional anguish of his parishioners with his hands.
List of beings who use(d) Empathy
- Original power
- Through spell, power granting, etc.
- Phoebe claimed that her Empathy could be an advancement of her Premonition power. This was a logical conclusion, since she could often feel what the people in her visions felt, and all her powers share a connection.
- Empathy is the first formidable power Phoebe developed, Psychic Reflection being the second.
- Empathy can be blocked if the user feels conflicted. It happened when Phoebe tried to read Enola and possibly when she tried to read Cal Greene. This type of blockage is common with psychic powers as it also happens with a power like Premonition.
- Two sound effects were used for Phoebe's Empathy. A light jingle sound was usually used, however, in Used Karma, a much louder ringing sound is used when she uses it to channel powers.
- Phoebe has been unable to read just four beings; Mordaunt, an evil sorcerer, Jinny, a genie (she found a way to not only trick Phoebe but the Book of Shadows as well), Cal Greene, when she first met him, and Paige, when her spirit was separated from her body.
- Chris revealed that there is a potion that can block an Empath from reading people's emotions. The effects of the potion is temporary, and is hard to make, since it requires a Kotochul Egg, which can only be found in Swamp Land.
- A witch can use a spell to extract this power from someone: To Relinquish an Empath's Power. If physical contact is made while the spell is cast, the power will transfer to the spell caster.