For the past three days I’ve wanted to review my copy editor’s suggestions and revise my novel, but something has been getting in the way. It took me a while to identify what that was. Then this morning I received a call from a friend, and the core of our conversation lead me to realize that I not only was empathizing with her, but also that I unconsciously had taken on her emotional distress prior to her telling me about it. So what is the difference between being empathic and being an empath?
The Oxford Dictionaries define empathy as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” Merriam-Webster defines empathy as ” the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another . . . without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.” In other words, empathy is the capacity to feel what another person is experiencing from their vantage point rather than exclusively from our own.
Empathy is sometimes confused with sympathy. Unlike sympathy, which is the ability to acknowledge another’s emotional state and then offer reassurance and comfort, empathy derives from having had the same/similar experience or the capacity to put oneself in another’s shoes.
It’s interesting to note here that, although speculative, some researchers have attributed our capacity to react to and reproduce others’ expressed emotions to the existence of mirror neurons in the brain. Following this line of thought, unless one is sociopathic, i.e., has malfunctioning mirror neurons, we all have the capacity for empathy or to be empathic.
So what’s the difference between being empathic and being an empath? I’m going to speak from my own experience rather than cite the “experts,” because I’ve discovered that there really is no such thing as an expert on this subject.
As stated above, most of us have the ability to be empathic, to understand and share the feelings of another. But most of us don’t naturally absorb those feelings and become overwhelmed by them. In my opinion, empaths are born, not made. I feel within me a highly sensitive antenna that picks up energy from the world around me, either near or at a distance. Some argue that an empath picks up energy/emotions from those nearer them, while a clairsentient will pick up energy/emotions from those either near or at a distance. Within my experience, these two terms are one and the same, and my reference to them in this post is as being an empath.
For me, being an empath is being a reflection of the world around me. And this is often overwhelming. I feel the joy and anguish of other beings within a heightened sense of awareness. Add my own feelings to the mix, and I can easily become incapacitated. My lifelong way of dealing with this has been to immediately express what I’m feeling, be it positive or negative, in order to prevent implosion. As a child and young adult, my expressions were usually outbursts and weren’t always appropriate or tactful.
On many occasions throughout my life, I’ve found myself feeling an intense emotion without relative cause. Over the years I’ve learned to look at those around me in order to identify the source of the energy. If no source is apparent, then I point my antenna toward those I love and care about who live at a distance.
On other occasions I’ll pick up energy from someone who is immediately identifiable, and then get in touch with that person. Sometimes I can read the specifics of the energy and know exactly what is going on, while other times I sense a positive or negative influence or change occurring within that person’s life.
There have been innumerable times when I’ve assumed the signs and symptoms of a friend’s physical ailment, and it has always been prior to learning of that person’s condition. But once I learned the specifics, my symptoms disappeared within a day or so.
Being an empath is both rewarding and challenging. The challenge has been to learn how not to be a sponge and how to quickly identify when the energy perceived and the emotions felt are not mine. I’m still learning and am not always successful.
One thing I have learned is that empaths frequently assume an addiction as a coping mechanism for unidentified and overwhelming emotions and sensations. I’ve fallen prey to this many times, but each time it occurs, I’m able to catch myself sooner rather than later and put an end to the addiction.
Another phenomenon that threw me for the proverbial loop when I first became aware of it was receiving messages for others. I don’t know the source of the messages, but I know that they’re benign and benevolent. And they often arrive with a sense of urgency attached. In order to relay the message to the person intended, I have to get out of my own way — step aside from ego — and allow the information to flow. I have no idea beforehand what will be spoken; I hear the message at the same time as the intended recipient. But I always have a very strong sense that the message will benefit. Some people refer to this phenomenon as channeling. I prefer to think of it as translating. I have never felt anything malevolent pass through me. Should this ever occur, I would short-circuit the energy and run it through to the ground.
Picking up another’s energy is not something that can be done on demand. I’ve had people ask me to tell them what they were thinking. Perhaps clairvoyants can do this, but that’s not an ability I claim. Nor do I want it. Coping with the myriad challenges of being an empath is quite enough.
Now that I’ve put my thoughts to paper, so to speak, perhaps I can move on to the business of editing my novel! As always, your comments are most welcome.
Until the next time, my friends… Namaste ❤