Why do people become empaths?
Is it temperament?
Neglectful or supportive parental upbringing?
As a psychiatrist and an empath, I’ve found that these are four main factors which can contribute to heightening one’s sensitivities. Here’s how:
Reason 1: Temperament.
Some babies enter the world with more sensitivity than others—an inborn temperament. You can see it when they come out of the womb. They’re much more responsive to light, smells, touch, movement, temperature, and sound. These infants seem to be empaths from the start.
Reason 2: Genetics.
From what I’ve observed with my patients, some forms of sensitivity may be genetically transmitted. Highly sensitive children can come from mothers and fathers with the same inborn traits. Therefore, it is possible that sensitivity can also be genetically transmitted through families.
Reason 3: Trauma.
Childhood neglect or abuse can affect our sensitivity levels as an adult. A portion of empaths I’ve treated have experienced early trauma, such as emotional or physical abuse, or were raised by alcoholic, depressed, or narcissistic parents. This could potentially wear down the usual healthy defenses that a child with nurturing parents develops. As a result of their upbringing, these empaths typically don’t feel “seen” by their families, and feel invisible in the greater world that doesn’t value sensitivity.
Reason 4: Supportive Parenting.
On the other hand, positive parenting can help sensitive children develop and honor their gifts. Parents are powerful role models for all children, especially sensitive ones.
In each of these cases, empaths haven’t learned how to defend against stress in the same way others do. We’re different in that respect. A noxious stimulus, such as angry people, crowds, noise, or bright lights can agitate us since our threshold for sensory overload is extremely low.
But healing is possible for all sensitive people. Even if we’ve experienced early trauma or been raised by abusive or narcissistic parents, it’s important that we learn to feel safe enough to embrace our sensitivities now. Part of this involves learning to set healthy boundaries with others and choosing mindful people in our circle who can support our sensitivities.
In addition, protection and centering techniques and meditations can help to strengthen our core so we can be both strong and sensitive, and so that we can feel safe and secure as empaths. The goal is for empaths to be empowered and use our sensitivities to not only be loving toward ourselves and those around us, but also to create more love in the world.
Adapted from The Empath’s Survival Guide by Judith Orloff, MD
Author: Judith Orloff, MD
Editor: Nicole Cameron
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