~Understanding Empathy~

By Jenna Avery, CLC,
Life Coach for Sensitive Souls

As a sensitive soul, you are likely to have a high degree of empathy. Empathy is the ability to feel another person’s emotions as if they are your own. In many ways, being empathic is a gift, because it allows you to fully experience, understand, and support others. In other ways, it can feel intrusive, overwhelming, and frustrating to have your personal space “invaded” by other people’s emotions and energies, and sometimes, even their physical symptoms.

Recognizing Empathy
Even if you’re highly sensitive, you may not fully recognize the extent of your empathy yet. To start, try paying attention to how others affect you while staying open to the idea that not all the emotions you’re feeling may be your own. I, personally, have been able to validate my empathic nature first-hand. Although I’d always called myself empathic, it wasn’t until recently that I truly began to understand what that entailed.

I was with a friend who to all outward appearances was in good spirits. But suddenly and abruptly, I found myself lost in a quagmire of negative thinking about my life, my work, and my relationships. I thought: “Wait a minute. Just a minute ago I was feeling fine and uplifted. As soon as my friend sat down, I went into this downward spiral.” And before giving it much more thought, I said to him: “Hey, are you okay? As soon as you sat down I started feeling really depressed.” Being the gracious, open, sensitive soul that he is, he responded with the truth. He and his girlfriend had just ended their relationship only moments before. Although I felt so sorry for him, I was also elated. Here was real and tangible evidence validating my experience! I quickly began to reframe my past experiences of sudden, inexplicable depression that came on from as if from nowhere. It was a huge relief to shift my thinking about it.

Along with other factors like getting overstimulated and having low self-esteem, I think our empathy is part of why many sensitive souls are susceptible to feeling depressed.

Since then, I have put a great deal of effort into understanding and working with my empathic nature. What I’ve found is that we experience emotions that we have an internal resonance with. In other words, we’ve felt the emotions before, so we recognize and feel them within ourselves. Along with other factors like getting overstimulated and having low self-esteem, I think our empathy is part of why many sensitive souls are susceptible to feeling depressed.

Latest Science
Interestingly, in a Science Now program that aired Jan. 25, 2005 on the PBS series Nova, the recent identification of “mirror neurons” was presented. These neurons fire when we move or emote, or see someone else moving or emoting. They can’t tell the difference between us taking action and someone else taking action, which means that we have the experience of doing it ourselves even if we’re just watching. (I guess this is what makes virtual reality a real possibility!) Have you ever watched people dancing, skating, playing sports, or being emotional, and felt as if you were moving or crying yourself? These neurons mean we may be capable of feeling motion and emotions even if we haven’t had a first-hand experience of them ourselves. Further, Nova’s research indicates that we are more likely to resonate with those we’ve already experienced. I can’t help wondering if sensitive souls have more greatly developed or expanded mirror neuron systems.

Psychic Development
Some schools of thought hold that empathy is a form of psychic ability, but my training has led me to believe that empathy is actually a form of having weak boundaries. Clairsentience is the fully developed and highly functioning form of empathy and is a psychic ability. Clairsentience, when it’s working properly, allows us to experience the emotions, energies, and physical sensations of others, without being personally affected by them ourselves. This state is an advanced skill – the ultimate form of empathy. The first step toward harnessing it is learning to balance and manage our empathy.

How Do We Get There?
I teach a number of skills in Phase II of my Embrace Your Essential Self program that focus on developing stronger boundaries, as well as other essential skills for sensitive souls. Here’s a look at some of what I teach to get you started:

* Try flower essences. The yarrows flower essences sold by Flower Essence Services help you be less susceptible to the emotions of others and to differentiate your emotions from others. Different yarrows are available for different states, so be sure to explore. Walnut sold by Bach Flower is great for “protection from outside influences.” I’ve created a custom blend of yarrow, walnut, and purple monkeyflower (for psychic or spiritual discomfort) for myself.

* Use the elements as support. You may want to try using water in your home and workspace to help protect yourself. Water is the element of emotion, and strategically placed bowls of water throughout your space can become repositories for emotional energy. I created a simple tabletop fountain to keep the energy and emotion moving through my space instead of stagnating in it.

* Practice the art of self-defense. Karate, capoeira, kendo, boxing, and tai-chi are a few of the many forms of self-defense training that will help strengthen your energy field and personal power, which are key aspects of strong boundaries. My personal experience with this is that it is very empowering.

* Love yourself. Seems simple to say that, doesn’t it? But self-care and self-respect – along with the ability to protect yourself and the ability to say, “No thanks!” – come from a place of deep self-love. Aren’t you worth it? When you get down to it, aren’t you the most important person in your life? And you deserve to be loved by the most important person in your life!

So next time you experience a sudden emotional shift that seems to come out of the blue, in addition to checking with yourself about what’s going on, take a look and see what might be happening around you. You may be experiencing something that isn’t yours!

Copyright 2004-2011, Jennifer Avery, All rights reserved.

Jenna Avery is a highly sensitive coach and intuitive who specializes in guiding sensitive souls to find a deep sense of inner rightness within themselves so they are inspired to step forward and shine. Jenna is a Certified Life Coach based in Berkeley, California. She can be reached at 510.984.3474. You’re invited to take her free online assessment: “Is Your Sensitivity Working For You?” on her website at www.highlysensitivesouls.com.

These articles may be published on your website in their entirety as long as the copyright notes and biographical information above are included in their entirety with functional hyperlinks. Please also send me an e-mail to let me know they have been published, and where. Thank you!

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