Personally, I don't believe in 'empaths.' Rather, I believe that everyone is an 'empath' by the definition given.
Behavioral studies conducted on mice by the University of Chicago recently show that even they perform selfless acts when their fellow mice are in peril. As we do not conventionally think of mice as being 'reasoning' creatures, it follows that this altruism is hardwired into their DNA ... and presumably, ours as well.
To examine the opposite end of the spectrum, people diagnosed with sociopathy - a mental disorder marked by the inability to experience 'empathy' - lends further credence to this claim. Possessing empathy is such a universal trait that lacking it constitutes a mental disorder!
If someone can completely lack empathy, then most people occupy varying points on an 'empathetic spectrum.' People lauded as 'empaths' are just higher on this scale towards 'total altruism,' meaning they are better at sharing the sensations and emotions of others than most.
However, the capacity is within each and every one of us. And though empathy has biological roots, there is a component of practice and personal growth that contributes to its flourishing. In other words, it can also be learned ... and perhaps even taught.
Do any empaths have some insight? Perhaps I'm thinking about it all wrong.