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The Gift of Empathy


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Empathic Hands
“…for there is nothing heavier than compassion. Not even one's own pain weighs so heavy as the pain one feels with someone, for someone, a pain intensified by the imagination and prolonged by a hundred echoes.”
Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being


Yesterday, when speaking to a client, I had a surprising revelation. I realized that one of the most important things I do as a hypnotherapist is get empaths to see their empathic abilities as gifts.



What is an empath?


There's a lot of talk today about empaths, particularly in relation to narcissistic relationships. If you want to go down the rabbit hole and never come back, just search up empaths and narcissists on YouTube. It seems that empaths are the only people who can tolerate relationships with card carrying narcissists - and so empaths, who wind up subject to narcissistic abuse, also wind up in therapy.


The word "empath" is not a technical, psychological term, although in my world, sometimes it feels as though it is, since so many people who describe themselves as empaths come in for treatment.


Basically, an empath is a highly sensitive person who is profoundly aware of other people's needs and feelings. They can be highly intuitive. They may have gut feelings about people and situations that often turn out to be true. They may be able to absorb other people’s feelings – if this is the case, some may literally feel what the people around them are feeling, while others have their own emotional or physical reactions in relation to those feelings. Some empaths may actually absorb physical sensations that others are feeling. A small subsection is known as "dark empaths;” these are people who use their abilities to manipulate others.


One of the best illustrations I can recall of inexplicable, empathic perception came in the form of some twin boys I knew years ago. I helped with a children's choir. One of the boys sensed, felt and knew everything his brother felt, even when they were not in the same room. He would start crying and say things like, "My brother is upset that the teacher hasn’t called on him.” They knew if the other was hungry or itchy.


While this trait is admittedly adorable in children, one can easily see how such sensitivity in an adult could be an issue. For example, what if, as adults, the twins ultimately lived in different cities, and one of them felt what the other was feeling at inappropriate times. No doubt, as they grew up, such sensitive twins would learn to suppress their feelings – or even ignore them, and that might be very harmful to their psyche. They may be tempted to doubt other parts of their reality as well.


In general, empaths have a heightened sense of empathy, are easily emotionally drained, have an increased sensitivity to criticism, avoid conflict, have a lack of boundaries, and may isolate themselves. They feel different from others, need lots of alone time to regroup, and may work in nurturing roles. They prefer one on one or small groups. They experience heightened senses, and they may have a history of trauma.



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What is heightened sensitivity?


How and why each empath experiences the world as they do is, of course, highly individual. Trauma may not necessarily be part of the picture. But the theory about trauma is that, if a child is living in an emotionally or physically, abusive environment, they naturally develop “spider senses" to protect them from the abuse. They become very good at reading faces, for example. This kind of sensitivity rises from the sympathetic nervous system being left in “on” mode. These empaths are always looking and sensing because they are sure trouble lurks around the corner. However, other kinds of empaths experience some innate heightened sensitivity – like a high IQ - which may not have anything to do with trauma. For example, a genius child who understands the meanings of words beyond his years could be traumatized from conversations or books that he is not emotionally ready to understand.


Some people simply have the ability to sense and feel beyond their own physical experience. I've had several clients who experience what might be called prophetic dreams, in which they connect with a friend or loved one who may be on the other side of the world, only to discover later that the dream predicted the future or accurately describe a situation of which the client had no knowledge.


One of my mentors told me once that I was so sensitive, I could feel what was happening in the cars around me on the freeway. I disagree, but I've noticed that I can turn on and off my sensitivities. I turn them on in the office because they serve me there. I try to turn them off when I'm driving.



What is the gift?


Simply on the surface, empaths are more tolerant and open-minded. They are often more creative and artistic. In the right relationship, there are deeply caring and responsive partners. But the gift is actually more than that. If empaths can recognize that the initiation of these feelings actually comes from outside of themselves, then they can learn to recognize what these sensory experiences are showing them. They can use this information to heal others, as well as to protect themselves. As an empath myself, I have found that if I can live with the discomfort, it dissipates on its own and the root situation actually improves.


The trouble is that the people around empaths often distrust or resent those feelings, so that makes the empath feel different and isolated. Another trouble is that the sensations might be uncomfortable or painful. The temptation to suppress them or even run away from them is understandable. Having these unsought-after experiences creates a sense of lack of control - that anything could happen at any time. It also means fundamentally that there are no boundaries between the empath and the subject of the feelings. This can lead to codependent relationships, in which the empath wants the partner to fix themselves simply to give the empath a break from these sensations.



How can Hypnotherapy help?


Of course, the mode of treatment depends entirely on the individual and the cause of the empathic abilities. But hypnotherapy can help in many ways. First of all, if there was trauma, hypnotherapy can neutralize the client’s relationship to trauma. Second, it can help the empath begin to recognize what feelings are coming from outside the body, and which ones come from inside. In my own journey, I created an imaginary force field, and after a while, I could feel quite literally when something broke through it. We are not talking hard-core science here; we are talking about the subconscious and the perception that I wasn't protected. Once I lived with a solid feeling of protection, I could feel when that protection flagged. Third, hypnotherapy can help clients accept the reality of their experiences and begin to process them. A client with prophetic dreams, for example, can discover what they mean in hypnosis, and over time learn to analyze dreams on their own. Lastly, hypnotherapy can help clients engage more happily with their own body, and so appreciate their experience on this earth.


I truly believe that if the majority of empaths took their gifts seriously, the world would be a much happier and more beautiful place.



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