A while ago I was reading a book on the art of Reiki (The Art of Psychic Reiki by Lisa Campion). As a relatively new Reiki practitioner I continue to learn and practice to better understand this new (for me) way of healing.
Early in the book it talks about empathy and developing your intuition.
It goes on to help you determine if you may be an “empath” and defines it, in part, as “Empaths are emotionally and physically sensitive to others. … [T]hey are psychic sponges who suck up the emotions and physical feelings of everyone around them. … [T]hey feel it as if it’s their feeling”.
Sound familiar? I’ve met at least a few dozen people over the past handful of years who would have their hands raised high in the air.
The book goes on to provide a checklist of “signs you may be an empath” to help reaffirm this truly is a gift or ability you possess. Or, depending on who you ask, a curse due to the difficulty it can create.
I found the checklist interesting. Do any of the following resonate with you…
~Experience other peoples feelings as if they were your own? Or difficulty discerning whether the feelings they experience are their own or belong to someone else?
~Experience anxiety, depression, or addiction (substance or behavioral)?
~Very sensitive to other peoples emotions as a child? Very attuned to what was going on emotionally in the family?
~Difficulty saying no? Often feeling “sucked dry” by others?
~Tend to be an introvert? Dislike or feel overwhelmed by crowds?
~Feel called to work in healing, helping, or service work?
~Sensitivity to your physical environment?
~Prefer to be alone, in nature, or around animals more so than around people?
~Struggled with an autoimmune disorder or fibromyalgia?
~Feel the presence of spirits around you?
~Experience fatigue, emotional overwhelm, or health problems?
I’m not sure about you, but they definitely resonate with me. Or, at least, have in the past. Some are still true.
As I read through this I felt like I was reading a checklist of symptoms of someone who experienced early childhood wounding. Or, what you might consider a “trauma response”.
As a trauma therapist specializing in working with survivors of childhood abuse, a significant majority of my clients would check almost EVERY one of these with the exception of feeling the presence of spirits. Though not unheard of for children who’ve lost someone close early in life.
This is also true for those who did not experience “abuse” but other types of childhood wounding (dysfunctional or chaotic environments, parental mental health or addiction issues, no sense of stability, etc).
Children who have these types of experiences naturally develop a deep sense of empathy. In some ways, it’s a matter of survival… sometimes literal survival, always emotional survival.
This level of empathy developed at a young age makes it impossible to identify, within ourselves, healthy boundaries… an understanding of where you end and I begin. (This changes with healing the original wounding)
I want to be clear, I’m not trying to suggest here that you or the empath you know is not actually an empath, nor that empaths aren't real with true abilities. Being an empath or identifying an empath is not my area of expertise.
My area of expertise is identifying and understanding the impact of emotional wounding. And, I see it everywhere.
I see it in my friends when they are afraid to speak or share their struggle… or shame. Or in their denial of either.
I see it in social media posts as people hide behind a facade of “having it all together” or defining themselves with labels that don’t align, leaving them feeling like a fraud and on the search for the next coach, program, or mastermind that will help them live their purpose.
I see it in relationship struggles… romantic, family, and friendships.
I see it in the continuous desire to “reinvent” ourselves or our lives, careers, and businesses.
I see it in the statistics of millions of people who struggle with symptoms of depression and anxiety who’ve accepted it as a part of life.
These patterns and experiences are all part of the residual impact of unhealed wounds.
We cannot heal what we deny is wounded. And, we live in a society that has not cultivated the desire, patience… or self-compassion to look inward and honor the places within us that have been wounded.
So, we focus on the more easily accessible… and acceptable things to “heal” and treat symptoms instead of getting at the root cause.
Denial of wounding, emotional pain, and struggle is a powerful and effective way of coping when you don’t have the ability or access to resources to help heal.
However, denial also keeps us from being able to connect to the truth of what needs healing.
There is no shame in being wounded. There is no shame in struggle. We are all wounded in some way and struggle is inherent in being human. There is a reason we were given the ability to have emotion.
If you identify with any of the struggles listed above or see yourself in the empath checklist, please take a moment to connect within and, with curiosity, ask yourself where in your life experience may you still feel some hurt, disappointment or confusion. Then, from a place of self-compassion choose the path for healing that best suits you and the type of wounding you’ve experienced.
(If you’ve experienced childhood trauma or other significant childhood wounding, sexual assault or domestic violence as an adult, or currently struggle with any addictive behaviors I would encourage an experienced psychotherapist.)
When each of us is able to connect within and do the work of healing what has yet to be acknowledged we not only change us, but we change our relationships. As our relationships change, our families heal. As our families heal, we change our communities. As our communities become a place to honor the totality of the truth of who we are… wounds, struggles, dreams, desires, and joy we change our connection to our sisters and brothers, our nations, and our planet.