Being an Empath
Borrowed this post from Bing in the Library of Inspiration. It wasfrom an article writtenby Sharon Simpson (gotta give credit where credit is due :-D). Nice work Sharon... Thought it'd be another good read for all (especially the new members)
ON BEING AN EMPATH
Part One The Difficulties
Empathy: the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts and experience of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also: the capacity for this. - Merriam-Webster dictionary
Most people have the ability to be empathic to some degree. As an empath, however, your capacity for empathy is significantly greater than the average person - in fact, you are probably highly sensitive to the point of appearing to others to have psychic gifts.
The reality is that you have high emotional resonance, rendering you very sensitive to emotional energy. Everything has an energetic vibration which the empath picks up, just like an antenna picks up frequencies. This means you are able to detect and amplify the subtlest of changes which would bypass most people essentially, you are the person who walks into a room and immediately picks up 'the vibes' (vibrations), be they positive or negative.
You will also be able to 'feel' the emotions of people around you - and the danger here, if you're still unaware of your increased empathy, is that you can end up believing that these emotions are your own. Before I recognised this phenomenon, I would actively seek out - or even create issues, to pin these rogue feelings onto something concrete - "Hmmm, I seem to be feeling a bit low today, I wonder why that is? Maybe I'm unhappy about my relationship/career/friends/family/ cat?" After all, if youre feeling so bad, surely there must be a reason? There is, of course, but often the only reason is your high level of empathy.
ITS NOT EASY BEING EMPATHIC
Your high emotional resonance can also make it difficult for you to spend time in an urban, or indeed any over-populated environment. If you ever find yourself caught up in a crowd, you are likely to be surrounded by emotions such as excitement, confusion, anxiety and anger, resulting in you suddenly expressing these same feelings for no obvious reason. You may also find that the energy which builds up when you've spent some time amongst a huge throng of people is so overwhelming that you end up feeling physically ill headaches, giddiness, nausea and high blood pressure are not unusual symptoms for the empath swamped with excessive emotional energy. This is why many of us prefer to live in a rural environment - the energy in a built-up, heavily populated area is just too much for us.
TELL ME ABOUT YOUR CHILDHOOD
Because we react so strongly to high-intensity environments, we may find others disparagingly labelling us as 'oversensitive'. In fact, until you learn how to protect yourself from such bombardment, that's exactly what you are. However, this is of little comfort when you don't feel accepted or understood by those you love and who love you, or when people dismiss you as being 'just too sensitive'. (I heard this everywhere even one of my school reports remarked that Sharon is sensitive occasionally overly so.)
Those empaths who are lucky enough to have people around them who are aware of their trait will be more likely to have positive self-esteem and accept and express their natural talents and abilities. Their sensitivity will be embraced and as a consequence, these empaths will grow up to use their empathic gifts confidently and wisely. Unfortunately, in our current society the most likely scenario is that the child will be chastised, mocked and exploited for their sensitivity, and bullied and pushed in directions which please others rather than themselves. The inevitable result of this, of course, is chronic low self-esteem. These empaths will then either rebel and become one of society's drop-outs or misfits not always a bad thing if this means they stay in touch with their creativity or over conform and become yet another of societys depressed drones. I recently had a dream that I was one of the few real humans left in a world populated by zombies. As I spent many unhappy years actually being one of the zombies myself, doing what was expected of me rather than what was best for me, the dream was much more uplifting than it perhaps sounds.
BEST DAYS OF YOUR LIFE?
As an empath, adolescence can be a particularly difficult time in your life. Already dealing with your own rollercoaster of emotions, if you attended (or still attend) one of the average high schools within the Western world's education system, you are also surrounded by anything up to 1500 other young people, all wrestling with over-energised hormones and a maelstrom of unfamiliar feelings. Youre also in for a rude awakening, as you realise through bitter experience that not all people are as thoughtful and well-mannered as you are.
I personally found the first few years at secondary school so traumatic, that to this day I refer to it as doing my time. I struggled to grasp the social rituals and game playing which occurs in friendships between little girls, and instead naively believed that others valued friendship in the same way I did. I therefore failed to understand that you were meant to switch best friends at least once a week, and was genuinely devastated when the friend of my choice fell out with me in my first year. (The unaware empath is always heartbroken when their friendship is abused or betrayed.)
My lack of guile seriously affected my friendships for the next three years, and I ended up spending most of that time hiding away in a corner with a book, wistfully escaping into the fantasy worlds of my novels. Unfortunately, being alone and obviously sensitive also made me an obvious target for bullies as my high sensitivity usually provoked a physical and emotional expression of my pain. I was also less likely to fight back due to a genuine aversion to conflict, particularly of a violent nature, and my natural inclination towards peaceful and harmonious relations.
My daughter is also highly empathic and as soon as she began to have regular social interaction with her peer group, she demonstrated a reluctance to defend herself when other children were mean to her - "I don't want to hurt their feelings". Thanks to my own experiences, I've had the foresight to teach her basic assertiveness skills from the age of three, the gist of my advice being: Don't worry about people liking you just make sure they respect you. If people respect you, chances are they'll also like you, but if for some reason they dont like you most probably due to a projection of their own insecurities if you have their (albeit grudging) respect, then they'll simply stay out of your way.
HANDLING SOCIAL INTERACTION
Because of my experiences at school, in my late teens and early twenties I mostly avoided female friendships, preferring to have simpler male friendships minus the bitchiness and games. I was much happier being around people who appreciated me and did not diminish me in any way for who I was. As the years go by, I've become even more selective about my friendships - I have a handful of close friends (men and women), and am not afraid to ditch any relationships which are detrimental to my well-being.
The aware empath also learns how to avoid negative people and sniff out those bad apples by following their intuition. Experience has taught me to always go with my first impression never ignore that gut feeling! If I've ever made the mistake of giving the benefit of the doubt to characters who initially strike me as dubious, Ive always been badly burned as a result.
Another distressing social problem empaths can have is people taking an instant dislike to you, apropos of nothing. This is often because as empaths we have very light energy, which naturally repels those people with darker energy. Until you learn not to take this personally and understand that the problem lies with the other person and not you, it can be very hurtful to be on the receiving end of undeserved contempt. Some people are also intimidated by the intensity involved in a relationship with you as not everyone want to explore their inner self - a natural tendency for you - so this can sometimes frighten people away for what seems like no obvious reason. Ever had a friendship which seemed to be going just fine then suddenly the other person stops returning your calls? Chances are that person just couldnt handle the manifestations of your gift.
Dealing with other people's sexual energy can lead to some serious difficulties for the unaware empath. This can be particularly tough during adolescence as not only are you surrounded by people whose hormones are going crazy, resulting in you being energetically overwhelmed by a multitude of unrestrained libidos, you are likely to still be somewhat unworldly. Your vulnerability and naivety coupled with your compassion and sensitivity can make you an unwitting target for all manner of sexual predators - female empaths in particular can suffer real trauma due to abuse of their sexual boundaries. As unaware empaths are also more likely to use drink or drugs for Dutch courage and to lessen the impact of excessive stimuli in social situations, you can see how the combination of all these factors can be a recipe for disaster.
ENERGY VAMPIRES AND THE LAME DUCK SYNDROME
Until you become aware that you are an empath and learn how to protect yourself, you will find yourself being leeched on by energy vampires due to your natural compassion. Even strangers will be drawn to you, as people intuitively feel that you will empathise and offer support without judging them, so seek you out for advice or simply to vent. Equally, you seem to naturally gravitate towards people in pain. Unfortunately this can result in you being a constant victim of the lame duck syndrome, collecting all manner of troubled folk who youve shown some compassion for.
THE SHY LONER
In an attempt to resolve their social difficulties, some empaths become withdrawn and quiet, in some cases to the point of completely isolating themselves and becoming a loner or a recluse. Others become depressed or anxious, maybe even developing social phobias to (subconsciously) give them a valid excuse for avoiding social activities. I've been very shy at certain stages in my life, though only people who genuinely resonate with me recognise this trait in me, as I have learned to disguise it very well and not always in the healthiest of ways. As I mentioned previously, a number of empaths sadly deal with their shyness by hiding behind drugs or alcohol, which can ultimately create more problems than it actually solves.
POTENTIAL HEALTH PROBLEMS
When you are unaware of your trait, you can become swamped by emotions, mostly those of other people. Society soon makes it clear that expressing emotions is bad, so consequently you have no suitable channel or outlet for the excessive emotional energy youre carrying. The potential outcome of this blocked energy is that you could become emotionally unstable (acting out past pains over and over with just a change of the central cast now and again, to try and shift the blockage) or at worst, you could end up having a mental breakdown. Its easy to see why an unaware empath, battling their way through life, may be tempted to take an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) such as Prozac, to reduce their arousal levels for a while and give themselves a break. (See Elaine Arons book The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Survive and Thrive When the Wor... for more on this theres a whole chapter about the pros and cons towards the end).
Medicating yourself works to a point but the downside is that as well as losing the negative aspects of your sensitivity, you also lose some of the positive ones (which are worth it, believe me). For this reason, I believe its best used either as a short-term solution until you come to terms with your trait and learn how to handle it, or as an emergency treatment, for no longer than six months, if life conspires against you and it all becomes too much.
Some empaths put on weight to use as a 'buffer' between themselves and the world. I found that when I felt depressed and trapped (for example, when in a dull relationship or job) I put too much weight on, but if under extreme stress - if suddenly thrust into a high-intensity environment or situation, be it personally or professionally - it dropped off me extremely rapidly. This yo-yoing of my weight was not good for my health, but ultimately gave me another impetus for learning more about how to handle being an empath. You may also find yourself suffering from other physical manifestations diseases and disorders - as blocked emotional energy tries to find an outlet through your body. (You can read more about this, and get links to relevant books, in the mind/body connection articles featured in the Empathic Guidance blog).
You are probably more physically sensitive than others too, and may find yourself having allergic reactions to anything and everything cosmetic products, chemicals in food, detergents, pollen, dust, fur etc resulting in symptoms such as sneezing, asthma, hives and stomach problems. This physical sensitivity means you may also feel other peoples physical pain, as well as the emotional stuff, particularly if you have a close connection. On more than one occasion, Ive gone to collect my daughter from somewhere and the minute she is in my presence, I will suddenly get a strange ache in my stomach or my head - only for her to tell me that she's not been feeling so well and has a stomach/headache.
THE WEIGHT OF THE WORLD
Our empathy is not just limited to those around us its also global. The empath can hardly bear to watch violence and will weep for the pain and suffering in the world. Your high level of compassion means that you probably find it impossible to comprehend the cruelty, ignorance and narrow minded attitudes of others. I remember my dad telling me as a child that Pete Duel, who I loved to watch in the 70s TV show 'Alias Smith and Jones', had killed himself because 'he took the weight of the world on his shoulders', and as I grew up I began to realise why I had been strangely drawn to this man, as I too experienced some of the pain Pete must have felt. (Petes story is a tragic testament to the life of an unaware empath. You can read more here and here.)
My advice to those of you who also know this feeling only too well is do your best to avoid news programmes until you can handle it - I did this for a while whilst developing my inner strength and now limit myself to a quick scan of the headlines which automatically pop up on my homepage and occasionally reading The Guardian. Even then, I tend to stick to the stories which relate to my work or my life in some way. Empaths also prefer not to watch violent or gory films - though on occasion you may enjoy a psychological thriller. I liked Hitchcocks Psycho even though it scared me half to death, because (aged 15) I thought the plot twist was clever and weird. Empaths enjoy anything that involves creative or lateral thinking.
Fortunately, more and more people are gaining self-awareness about their gift and are learning how to heal their wounds and nurture themselves. The empath often becomes aware after a number of strange experiences, which can suddenly launch them into an awakening period and provide the impetus for a journey of self-discovery. Often this experience can be dramatic, life-altering and very memorable for you throughout your life.
For me, the turning-point was unexpectedly losing my full-time job (albeit one I was thoroughly miserable in) on 10 April 1995. After the initial ego panic about how I would survive, I decided to take some time out to find out what I really wanted. Following a series of weird but wonderful synchronicities, I realised I had to stop working in meaningless jobs for the sake of earning a living and fulfilling someone elses work ethic, and find out what really fulfilled me. I began to listen to my inner guidance's urge to seek awareness, balance and authenticity and thus started my journey on the holistic path. And as Ive discovered, when you feel centred and whole, you gain the inner freedom to utilise and explore the positive aspects of being an empath.
In part two, Ill offer some tips on how to nurture yourself and make the most of your trait for those of you who identify with being an empath, and discuss the delights of being a highly empathic person.
ON BEING AN EMPATH
Part Two The Delights
Empathy: the state of identification of personalities in which one person feels into the other as temporarily to lose his or her own identity. It is in this profound and somewhat mysterious process of empathy that understanding, influence, and the other significant relations between persons take place. - Rollo May
In part one of On Being An Empath we examined the difficulties of being an empath. In this second part, well now explore how to take care of yourself once youve recognised youre an empath, and the delights which being an empath can bring.
TAKE GOOD CARE OF YOURSELF
Now youve recognised that youre an empath, the most important change you can make is to take care of yourself by minimising the number of negative influences in your life. As discussed in part one, as an empath you are susceptible to the detrimental effects of negative energy, whether its surrounding energy or your own.
This susceptibility affects your life in a number of ways. Firstly, you will be unable to tolerate an unhealthy relationship at any level. Some people are able to exist in such a relationship for many years, perhaps by operating as though it were simply a business arrangement, but as an empath you are unable to do this. Indeed, if you do attempt to follow this course of action, you will end up becoming physically, emotionally or mentally sick I have know more than one empath who has become suicidal when stuck in a loveless marriage. I have also known other empaths who have ended up becoming completely numb unable to cope with the negative energy, they simply cut themselves off from ALL energy and feel nothing at all. What a horrible (non) existence. Consequently, the aware empath would rather remain single than be in a negative relationship.
You will also be unable to tolerate work which is meaningless what Barry Jaeger in Making Work Work for the Highly Sensitive Person calls Drudgery. Though many people are able to tolerate a dull job purely for the money, you are not one of them and if you make such a sacrifice, you will ultimately pay for it with your emotional, spiritual and physical health. The aware empath values their time, their well-being and meaningful work far more than they value money and consumer goods. Sadly, our society revolves around the masculine principles of economics whilst the more feminine attribute of empathy is often derided and neglected. And whoever dreamt up the work ethic certainly did not have people like us in mind and was definitely not an empath.
The empaths preference for meaningful work means that you will find many of us working in creative fields - the writer, the musician and the artist will often have this trait to some degree. Creativity is food for the soul for the empath and I personally find it vital to my well-being to use creativity in my work. Ive done many jobs over the years but this is the only work Ive truly enjoyed even the more stressful and tedious aspects are easier to cope with when your work means something more to you than just a way of paying the bills.
As an empath, you will also benefit from periods of solitude to recuperate after any energy bombardment. In part one I discussed the difficulties for the empath of being in an urban environment. As Ive got older (and empaths often become more sensitive to energies the older they become) I find that if I spend the day in a nearby town, I can only last a few hours before I have to get the hell out of there.
I also used to have what I call brain in the jar moments. Before I recognised my trait, I would spend too much time amongst other people and become so overwhelmed, that it literally felt as if my head would explode. I would also find myself becoming overwhelmed by stressful situations or issues in my life. Whenever I felt like this, I would comment that I wished I could take my brain out of my head and put it in a jar, as a way of giving myself a break. At some subconscious level, obviously I knew what I needed complete and utter sensory rest.
Fortunately I eventually recognised this need so I now make sure that I regularly recharge my own energy by spending time alone, meeting my need for time to contemplate, read, write and generally take care of myself and my brain in the jar moments no longer occur. I also realised that, for the same reasons, empaths need more sleep than most people. If you have commitments such as work and family, this can be easier said than done, but at least try and take half an hour to nap or lie in a dark, quiet room during the course of the day to revitalise yourself. Some empaths are so unable to cope with energy onslaughts that they become recluses or hermits, but for most of us there is no need to go to this extreme, although time spent in retreat for a few days can be a positive thing now and again. This can be particularly useful for urban empaths, as time out in a tranquil rural environment can really give you a boost as well as indulge your passion for nature, which occurs naturally for many empaths.
Finding a pastime which absorbs you is also a good way of giving yourself a break. My personal favourite used to be jigsaws youll find that geeky pastimes like model-making or stamp collecting are particularly good for this, as are creative pursuits such as gardening, painting, sculpting, or cookery. So long as it takes you out of your conscious mind for a while to give you time to balance your energy, any pastime you choose will do.
Basically then, the rule is to be your own best friend take care of yourself, eat and sleep well and give yourself little treats now and again. Time spent relaxing with a good book in a local friendly coffee shop is my idea of bliss and is a really cheap and simple way to give yourself a lift and recharge your batteries. And remember to talk kindly to yourself empaths tend to analyse everything and can end up being hypercritical of themselves. Whenever you catch yourself judging yourself harshly, ask yourself Would I speak like this to my best friend? Would I tolerate my best friend saying this stuff to me? If not, then perhaps you need to reconsider.
Ultimately, self care is crucial. The more you nurture yourself, the more you will be open to the following benefits of being an empath.
UNIVERSAL KNOWLEDGE TELEPATHY, SYNCHRONICITIES AND DREAMS
Because of your high level of resonance, you will probably be tuned into the universal energies or what Jung called the collective unconscious. This gives you a deep sense of knowing - you just know things despite there being no rational explanation as to how you know as well as a strong feeling of connection, which can lead to the spiritual belief that separation is an illusion and we are all one. This connection and knowing also opens us up to the universal guidance which is contained within these energies, which is why many empaths are natural problem solvers, able to resolve any issue which they put their hearts, souls and minds into.
I mentioned in part one how my daughter and I are so close that as soon as we're in each others energy range, I start to feel her physical symptoms. This energetic connection with others, often referred to as telepathy, is one of the fun aspects of being an empath. As well as those little tricks which many of us do such as thinking about someone just as they call you, or bumping into someone you havent seen in years the day after you thought about them, you may also find yourself connecting energetically with people in other less obvious ways. I find that I often tune into people Im close to through my dreams, perhaps because my mind is more relaxed and therefore more receptive. For instance, if my daughter wakes before me in the morning and reads a book, I often have a dream which reflects the contents of that book in some way. A recent example was a dream I had about Glastonbury music festival one morning shortly before I woke. When I asked P what she had been reading, it turned out that there was a character in her book that had the nick-name Glastonbury! Even more bizarrely, I have even on occasion had the same dream as my daughter or my partner.
I also have prophetic dreams which you can read about in my blog entry The Magical World of Dreams. Empaths are often fascinated by dreams and we are natural dream analysts, due to our ability to see the deeper meaning in things and make lateral links using subtle details. This ability also works in the waking world too and helps us to interpret signs, symbols and archtypes, as well as synchronicities. Aware empaths delight in synchronicities and as our understanding of ourselves and our connection to the universe grows, we find that the universal guidance which appears in the form of synchronicities becomes ever more fluent and clear. You can read more about synchronicities in my blog entry So What Is Synchronicity?
PEOPLE AND OTHER ANIMALS
The aware empath is often described by others as a beacon of light. You will find that people are drawn to you and babies in particular will adore you I often notice little children staring and smiling at me from their pushchairs when Im out and about.
A similar thing can happen with animals. Empaths have a deep connection to animals and love to be around their energies. You may even find you prefer their company to that of people, as you feel animals and their energies - are simpler and don't have an agenda. Perhaps those crazy cat ladies who prefer to live alone surrounded by felines are actually misunderstood empaths.
As an empath, you will also be able to resonate with the emotions of animals and unlike most people, you will view them as sentient beings who should have the same rights as humans. Because of this, many empaths become vegetarian or vegan at some point in their lives.
As far as people go, the empath makes a great friend for life, as we are loyal, warm and, humorous as well as very loving and affectionate. We are also good listeners, who are unembarrassed by strong emotion as well as being pretty much unshockable. However a healthy empath will have no tolerance for drama queens who seek attention through emotional behaviour. Though we are highly expressive about our feelings and ourselves, with the ability to share openly and honestly, we are also natural peacemakers, so prefer calm discussions to overwrought emotional spectacles or aggressive confrontations.
If you befriend an empath, then they will probably be your greatest champion. Empaths recognise your inner potential, so are able to identify your positive attributes and will remind you of your strengths when you forget you have them. (Paradoxically though, they often find it hard to take a compliment themselves.) They may also subtly alert you to any negative patterns in your life in a helpful and non-patronising way, as your empath friend has the ability to sift through all the confusing emotions you are experiencing which may be clouding the issue, to help you achieve clarity and find the root cause of your problem. And should they ever feel angry with you, you can rest assured that they will express this without attacking you personally empaths are not judgmental and they recognise that just because a particular behaviour is bad, it does not mean that the person is bad too.
YOUR BODY SPEAKS YOUR MIND
Being an empath means you have the ability to sense the truth behind someone's facade. You intuitively know when someone is attempting to mask a negative emotion. One theory is that when we are in the presence of an emotion we have personally experienced, we recognise it and feel it within ourselves, due to our high level of internal resonance. The empath is also able to read body language, mostly at a subconscious level you will pick up on things like tone of voice, body movements, the words people choose when they speak, the words they avoid, the logic they use all factors which help you to tune into others and know things about them which other people probably miss. This also makes you very difficult to lie to! Not only are you able to detect a lie, you can also tell whether the intent behind that lie is malicious and selfish, or whether its a white lie, told in an attempt to protect someone else.
Empaths are also highly expressive themselves. They project an incredible amount of energy releasing their emotions, with many gesticulations, and as they are so open about themselves, the empath is usually the person of whom it is said that you can read them like a book. We also delight in using our bodies in a sensual way empaths can literally become lost in music when they dance, their bodies becoming one with the music to create one wonderful mass of flowing, sensual energy.
As you become aware of your empathy, you will recognise more and more how sensitive this makes you to the energies around you. The fact is that as an empath, energy is literally absorbed by you far more easily than more thick-skinned folk (hence the expression) so by increasing your awareness, you will be able to be more selective about which energies you allow yourself to absorb. This also means you will be able to experience a high level of resonance with another, without being overwhelmed by a multitude of outside influences.
When you have achieved this level of balance and awareness, you will find that all your empathic qualities as discussed above your deep inner knowing, your connection to the universal energies and so on - make you a natural healer and counsellor. Indeed, for an empath a good way of sublimating the energy we talked about in part one - which attracts the energy vampires and lame ducks - and drawing boundaries around your own propensity to give of yourself to others, is to channel it into training in a helping or healing profession.
Being counselled by an empath is an amazing and life-changing experience. After just a few hours of conversation, you will feel as if the empath knows you inside out. This is due to the afore-mentioned ability for high emotional resonance, which allows the empath to tune into your energy and emotional state, giving them an uncanny ability to pinpoint what you most need and want. They will also ask the questions others may be afraid to ask if youre willing to face up to some possibly uncomfortable truths about yourself and your life and recognise your negative self-destructive patterns in order to grow and be true to the real you, then working with an empath will change your life. An empath will not shy away from talking about feelings of loss either, and will help you to gain perspective on your issue as well as heal from emotional wounds, past and present.
In addition to helping you to heal, the empath will point out strengths and abilities you perhaps never realised you had. Personal empowerment is very important to the empath so they will always respect your courage and sense of determination to survive and will trust in your ability to heal and take care of yourself. All this creates a very safe environment with a high level of trust and a strong intimacy. The relationship between an empath and their client is more than just a business transaction - an authentic and caring relationship will be formed between you as the empath helps you to be your best self and to live the truth of who that best self is.
Empaths may also find themselves being drawn to other types of healing work directly involving energy, such as Reiki. With our natural ability to tune into the universal energy, learning to channel this energy through ourselves to help others is a path which many empaths naturally gravitate towards. You can read more about Reiki and energy work and my own experiences with this in my three-part Reiki blog.
If you resonate with any of the traits described in part one or part two of On Being An Empath, and would like guidance on how to manage your empathic gift for the benefit of both yourself and others, then please feel free to contact me to arrange a guidance session at email@example.com.