An Excerpt from The Empath's Survival Guide
Are You an Empath? Introduction to Empathy
I’m so passionate about this topic both professionally and personally because I’ve had to develop specific strategies to manage the challenges of being an empath myself. These allow me to protect my sensitivities so I can maximize their benefits--and there are so many! I want to share with you how to become a balanced, empowered, and happy empath. To thrive, you must learn ways to avoid taking on the energy, symptoms, and stress of others. I also want to educate your loved ones and peers--family, coworkers, bosses, parents, and romantic partners--on how best to support and communicate with you. In this book, I will show you how to accomplish these goals.
I offer The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People as a resource for kindred sensitive souls to find understanding and acceptance in a world that’s often coarse, heartless, and disdainful of sensitivity. In it, I challenge the status quo and create a new normal for how to view sensitivity. Through this book, its companion audio program, and my workshops for empaths, I want to create a community of support so that you can find your tribe, be authentic, and shine. Welcome to a circle of love! My message to you is one of hope and acceptance. On the empath journey, I encourage you to embrace your gifts and manifest your full power.
What Is an Empath?
Empaths have an extremely sensitive neurological system. We don’t have the same filters that other people do to block out stimulation. As a consequence, we absorb into our own bodies both the positive and stressful energies around us. We are so sensitive it’s like holding something in a hand that has 50 fingers instead of five. We are truly super-responders.
Research shows that high sensitivity affects approximately 20 percent of the population. Empaths have often been labeled as “overly sensitive” as children and adults and told to “get a thicker skin.” We are shamed for our sensitivities rather than supported. We may experience chronic exhaustion and want to retreat from the world because it often feels so overwhelming. But at this point in my life, I wouldn’t give up being an empath for anything. It lets me sense the secrets of the universe and know passion beyond my wildest dreams.
However, my empathic abilities haven’t always felt this incredible to me.
Growing Up as an Empath
Like many empathic children, I never fit in. In fact, I felt like an alien on earth waiting to be transported to my real home in the stars. I remember sitting in my front yard looking up at the universe and hoping that a spaceship would take me home. I was an only child, so I spent a lot of time by myself. I had no one to relate to who could understand my sensitivities. No one seemed to be like me. My parents, who were both physicians--I come from a family of 25 physicians--said, “Sweetheart, toughen up; get a thicker skin,” which I didn’t want or even know how to do. I couldn’t go to crowded malls or parties. I’d walk in feeling fine and walk out exhausted, dizzy, anxious or suffered from some ache or pain I hadn’t had before.
What I didn’t know back then was that everyone has a subtle energy field surrounding their body, a subtle radiant light that penetrates and extends beyond it a distance of inches or even feet. These fields communicate information such as emotions and physical well-being or distress. When we are in crowded places, the energy fields of others overlap with ours. I picked up all of these intense sensations, but I had absolutely no idea what they were or how to interpret them. I just felt anxious and tired in crowds. And, most of all, I wanted to escape.
As a teenager in Los Angeles, I got heavily involved with drugs to block out my sensitivities. (I’m not recommending this to you!) Then, with my empathy numbed, I could cope. I was able to attend parties and hang out at shopping malls just like my friends and would feel fine. What a relief that was! In my memoir Second Sight, I write about how I turned to drugs to shut o
ff my intuition and empathic abilities. But after a near tragic car accident during which I went over a 1,500-foot cliff in Topanga Canyon at 3AM in a tiny Austin Mini-Cooper, my parents were scared to death and sent me to a psychiatrist.
Naturally, I fought him the whole way. But, in fact, this angel in human form was the first person to help me realize that to become whole, I had to embrace my sensitivities, not run from them. This was the start of my healing and self-acceptance as an empath. Since I was so frightened by my childhood empathic and intuitive experiences, part of my evolution as a physician and woman has been to learn to embrace these abilities. They are precious and need to be nurtured and supported. That’s why I specialize in helping empaths in my psychiatric practice and workshops.
Yes, we empaths can flourish! Empathy is the medicine the world needs.
The Empath Experience
Now let’s explore in more detail the empath experience. See if you relate personally or have a loved one or colleague who qualifies as an empath.
First, what is the difference between ordinary empathy and being an empath? Ordinary empathy means our heart goes out to another person when they are going through a difficult period. It also means that we can be happy for others during their times of joy. Being an empath, though, we actually sense other people’s emotions, energy, and physical symptoms in our bodies without the usual filters that most people have. We can experience other people’s sorrow and also their joy. We are super-sensitive to other’s tone of voice and body movements. We can hear what they don’t say in words but communicate nonverbally and through silence. Empaths feel things first, then think, which is the opposite of how most people function in our over-intellectualized society. There is no membrane that separates us from the world. This makes us very different from other people who have their defenses up almost from the time they were born.
Empaths share all the traits of what Dr. Elaine Aron has called “Highly Sensitive People,” or HSPs. These include a low threshold for stimulation, the need for alone time, sensitivity to light sound, and smell, plus an aversion to large groups. It also takes highly sensitive people longer to wind down after a busy day since their system’s ability to transition from high stimulation to being quiet is slower. Empaths share a highly sensitive person’s love of nature and quiet environments.
However, empaths take the experience of the highly sensitive person much further. We can sense subtle energy, which is called shakti or prana in Eastern healing traditions, and absorb it into our own bodies. Highly sensitive people don’t typically do that. This capacity allows us to experience the energies around us in extremely deep ways. Since everything is made of subtle energy, including emotions and physical sensations, we energetically internalize the feelings and pain of others. We often have trouble distinguishing someone else’s discomfort from our own. Also, some empaths have profound spiritual and intuitive experiences which aren’t usually associated with highly sensitive people. Some are able to communicate with animals, nature, and their inner guides. But being a highly sensitive person and an empath are not mutually exclusive: you can be both at the same time.
To determine if you are an empath, see if you relate to one or more of these types.
General Types of Empaths
1. Physical Empaths
You are especially attuned to other people’s physical symptoms and tend to absorb them into your body. You also can become energized by someone’s sense of well-being.
2. Emotional Empaths
You mainly pick up other people’s emotions and can become a sponge for their feelings, both happy and sad.
3. Intuitive Empaths
You experience extraordinary perceptions such as intuition, telepathy, messages in dreams, animal and plant communication, as well as contact with the Other Side. The types of these empaths include: Empaths have diverse and beautifully nuanced sensitivities. You may be one or more of the above types. In future chapters, I’ll also discuss specific kinds of physical and emotional empaths such as food empaths (who are attuned to the energy of foods) and relationship and sexual empaths (who are attuned to their partner’s and friend’s moods, sensuality, and physical health). As you learn to identify your special talents, they can enrich your life and you can use them for the good of others.