If you’re reading this it’s likely that you (like so many of us) think of yourself as an empath.
And that will likely be because:
1) someone else has told us that this must be why we’re so incredibly sensitive, or
2) we’ve been searching for reasons why we struggle so much in the company of others, or in busy environments, and this is what we’ve come up with.
So I’m here to say to all those who, just like me, have begun to believe the hype: “Not necessarily!”
Or better still, “Wrong!”
I want to share with each one of us who has come to believe it’s us that’s got it wrong a little of the knowledge that, as a psychotherapist and energy worker, I carry around in my pocket. I want to talk about scapegoating and responsibility. I’m not going to pull any punches here.
If by any chance you’re not reading this because you believe you’re an empath, but simply because you’re curious, that’s great! You’re going to look at things through slightly different eyes and this will help you too!
So, let’s start at the beginning and put a so-called empath into a room full of fellow human beings who’ve come along to an ‘Introduction to Mindfulness Day’. Let’s call the empath ‘Steve’.
It’s all going great at the beginning. The guy leading the group through the day comes across as easy, calm and grounded. He talks about mindfulness as a tool, a meditation practice. Something that’s going to help everyone manage their stress or distress better by learning to not engage with their thoughts, but rather by learning to let them just come and go.
So far so good. It all appears to make perfect sense.
However, as Steve sits on the floor, legs tucked beneath him, he begins to detect the ripples going around the room. It’s the old familiar sensations beginning. He can feel tension in his back and his hips, butterflies in his stomach, and he notices that his head becomes dizzy now and then as he tries to listen to the trainer’s words.
He looks around the room. Most people (there are about twenty people seated in a circle) are looking extremely calm and relaxed. One or two are clearly tense or fidgeting but generally, everything on the surface looks fine.
Then Steve catches the eyes of someone sitting over the other side, a young woman who is looking like she’s in pain and on alert, watchful. He recognises her as a fellow empath and smiles. They exchange knowing glances. They’ve both been here before a million times. And, just like every other time, they’d hoped this time might be different. They’d hoped they might have grown thicker skins, firmer boundaries. They’re convinced (because that’s what all the hype about empaths tells them) that it’s completely their fault, that there’s something wrong with them—that they’re just too sensitive.
And the rest of the world is happy for it to stay that way. Scapegoating has always been an extremely effective and convenient way of denying personal responsibility.
However, what’s actually going on is way more complicated than simply Steve being too sensitive. Truth be told, Steve is probably one of the most tuned-in, grounded and aware people in this room. Why? Because Steve knows what he’s experiencing in his body. Steve is emotionally aware.
And everyone else in that room is busy pushing all their feelings away. It’s everyone else’s split off feelings that Steve—along with the young woman over on the other side of the room—is picking up. That’s the pain in his back and hips, the waves of anxiety that keep crashing through him, the dizziness and fog that keeps assaulting his head and his ability to think.
Before anyone gets a little annoyed by my saying that, or begins to feel a bit offended or defensive about the implications of what I’ve just said, let me say that no-one’s doing this on purpose. No-one’s deciding to do this.
It’s what our psyche does when it’s learned, over time, to detect that there are things we believe are too dangerous to feel. The fear centre in our brain detects their presence way before we even become vaguely aware of them and employs any one of a number of ways of ensuring that we continue to remain unaware.
These are just a few of the more common ones:
1. Denial—these things are not true.
2. Suppression—these things must be locked away in the unconscious.
3. Splitting—things are ‘good or ‘bad.’ Keep the ‘good’ and deny the ‘bad’.
4. Projection—these things don’t belong to me, they’re what the ‘other’ person (or ‘people’) is feeling or thinking, not me.
5. Rationalisation—if I think about these things differently, I can make them feel differently.
6. Intellectualisation—if I distance myself from my feelings by turning them into intellectual concepts, they won’t exist anymore.
7. Displacement—I can’t allow myself to feel this towards you, so I’ll feel it or express it towards someone else instead!
8. Regression—Being a grown-up right now is too hard, so I’m going to revert back to a younger version of me and live there for a while!
9. Sublimation—I’ll channel my feelings into an activity so I don’t feel them.
10. Reaction-Formation—every time I feel this particular feeling, I’ll deny it by making myself feel or behave in the opposite way.
And that’s what everyone in that room is doing. No exceptions! Everyone. These are newbies remember? They haven’t done ‘the work’ of getting to know themselves in order to become aware yet!
And because Steve grew up in a family who didn’t do feelings—his mum was very anxious and couldn’t manage her own feelings let alone Steve’s while his dad was a cold, logical man who didn’t do feelings either—he became ‘the container’ for everyone else’s emotions.
You have no idea how many families, unwittingly and unknowingly, use one of the children in this way. And that child, who’s learned to become the sponge that soaks up what everyone else is feeling, is the adult who becomes what we call an empath.
So, about responsibility…
Well, the empath certainly has to take some responsibility for learning to do things differently. Ideally, Steve will learn to transmute the emotions he’s picking up from everyone around him into something else more manageable. The day will come when Steve will be able to sit in a room like this, breathe in the emotions everyone is busy pushing away, hold them in a sacred space inside him where they’ll no longer cause him physical pain—breathe love and compassion into them—and then breathe that back out into the world transformed. Steve’s a lightworker serving his apprenticeship!
However, there’s another set of responsibilities here too. They, of course, belong to every single person who is busy trying to live in their head instead of in the heart.
When we live in the head, we defend against feeling and we leave it to Steve and others like him to keep cleaning up our emotional debris. When we live in the heart, we live as whole, joined up, emotionally aware and fully-conscious human beings. We allow ourselves to be the perfectly imperfect beings of light and love and power, having the adventure of a complete human experience, that we incarnated here to be!
How about we give it a go!
What if it turned out to be simply amazing?
How to Stop Absorbing Other People’s Stress: 9 Strategies for Empaths.
Author: Janny Juddly
Editor: Sarah Kolkka
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