Empathy is the special ability that allows an elf to sense or feel others emotions as if they were their own. Most Empaths need physical contact in order to sense emotion. The basic act of sensing emotions is instantaneous for Empaths; learning to leave emotions alone is part of their training. However, translating the emotions they are sensing takes lots of concentration and practice.
Empaths are often capable of sensing a person's lies due to the amount of subsequent guilt the person feels. Councillor Oralie's ability as an empath is often used to judge whether people are telling the truth or not. For example, during Sophie's first tribunal in Keeper of the Lost Cities, Oralie sensed that Sophie was "confused... but not lying."
However, their senses can be deceived. If an Empath feels strong emotions towards someone, such as powerful love or disdain, then they may not be able to pick up on the lies they tell. This is how Lady Gisela was able to lie for years to Lord Cassius and Keefe Sencen, despite them both being strong Empaths.
Keefe has the ability to send a "blue breeze" into Sophie's mind to calm her down and has done so on several occasions. The first time he did so was when Sophie attempted to inflict on King Dimitar in the sixth book. After taking her gloves and crush cuffs off, he was able to "[sync] into [her] emotional center" and intuitively knew how to shift her emotions a different way. However, this ability could only be used when Keefe was enhanced by Sophie, and was able to read her feelings more clearly to see how they might be affected. Whether he can do it without this is unknown.
While most Empaths need physical contact to detect and interpret emotions, this is not the case if an Empath is particularly powerful or if a person's emotions are particularly strong. Most Empaths can feel at least some of Sophie's emotions without physical contact, as Sophie's emotions are stronger than most; this may be due to her tweaked genetics or to her human upbringing. Most Empaths can sense human emotions without physical contact, similar to how a Telepath can detect human thoughts without blocking. While many special abilities are blocked by force fields, this is not the case with Empathy; Councillor Oralie is able to detect Gethen's desperation for information about the Peace Summit through a force field in Lodestar.
Detecting Empaths' Lies
When an Empath lies, their heart skips three beats–one for guilt, one for fear, and one like a held breath, waiting to see if somebody will catch them. This physical reaction happens to all Empaths and is instinctive and unavoidable. This is how Sophie was able to tell Councillor Oralie was lying about not being her biological mother in Legacy.
Keefe tells Sophie that for stronger Empaths, there is a risk that the mind's natural reaction for when extreme levels of emotion are experienced is to shut down. Because every emotion is intense for an Empath, if they are not careful they can end up going "numb." When an Empath goes numb, they have a hard time distinguishing between the feeling they get from an emotion and what that emotion actually is. For a regular Empath, a person's rush of anger feels equivalent to extreme excitement or euphoria–both release adrenaline and usually result in elevated heart rate or bursts of shivers. The difference is only noticeable when the Empath realizes why they are feeling these emotions. A numb Empath would not be able to distinguish between these feelings. Their own emotions would stay the same whether they hugged someone or punched them in the face. Keefe speculates that this is what happened to Vespera.
- Marella always wanted to manifest as an Empath, so she could help her mother, Caprise Redek, with her mood swings.
“My empathy mentor warned me when she saw how strong my empathy was - that there's a risk that comes with feeling too much and not having the right training. Our mind's natural reaction is to shut down when things get too intense - but everything is intense for an Empath. So if you're not careful, you can end up going . . . numb. You'll still feel what other's feel. But you won't feel anything yourself. And it can mess you up, since emotions overlap when you don't know all the thoughts are memories that triggered them. So, like, the rush that comes with anger? It's actually not that different than what I feel when someone's super giddy - in its basest essence, at least. They both give a burst of adrenaline. They both make the heart race and cause shivers. You only notice the bigger differences when you take the time to figure out why you're feeling it.”