The word “empath” is being used more and more in the online world. It has a distinct new-age sound to it, and like I did at first, you might resist identifying with it even if you are one. In an article on Maria Hill’s Sensitive Evolution website earlier this month, I wrote about how I think this word is a catch-all term. Different people mean different things when they talk about being an empath.
My empathic experience is of feeling and sensing emotional energy.
For me, it means that I tend to feel other people’s feelings in my own body. This has often been problematic for me when I have felt overwhelmed by other people’s curiosity, anger and worry. In spiritual circles, this clear sensing and feeling in your own body is called clairsentience. Someone who is empathic in this way doesn’t need to read books about body language. Feelings and the underlying energy are often very apparent to them. This does not mean that they are experts at understanding or handling these feelings, but it does mean that they sense things that are not obvious to everyone else.
There are many other kinds of empathic experiences.
For other people who self-identify with the word empath, this word can encompass other things. In the Sensitive Evolution article, I talk about my discussion with writer and writing coach Lauren Sapala, who is both a Highly Sensitive Person and an Empath. In addition to sensing feelings, she has a very specific gift. She talked to me about how when she looks at the letters of the alphabet, each one of them has a specific gender for her. She talks about knowing this, being sure of it, even though people have called her crazy in the past and told her that she is imagining things.
Although I have never had this experience, I trust and believe Lauren. I can easily imagine how someone can sense such a thing. Maybe it’s because I can sense things too, albeit in a different way. I also have more insight now into other empathic experiences. A few months ago, I attended a talk by Dave Markowitz, the author of the book Self-Care for the Self-Aware. I had already read the book and been surprised when Markowitz talked about an incident in which he felt drunk just by accompanying a friend as they bar hopped (He himself did not drink at all). It hadn’t even occurred to me that such an experience was possible. To my great surprise, he asked the audience whether they had an experience like this (getting drunk without drinking) in the interactive portion of the talk. Several people raised their hands.
Different kinds of empaths look at the world in different ways.
I personally have never had this experience, of feeling drunk when other people were drinking. But I believe Markowitz and I believed these people. I think our empathic tendencies are attuned to different things. They come up in different ways. Some people who are really good at math almost feel into numbers. They sense what they want them to do. These same people might not be as attuned to people and their feelings. It’s almost as if our empathic tendrils are reaching out in different ways, to varied aspects of reality. So, at this point, this is what I think. An empath is someone who has insight into an aspect of reality that many people don’t have access to.
If you are someone like this, someone who sees and feels things that are inexplicable to others, that others don’t see, or not as readily, then know that there are people like you out there. We feel the loneliness of being alone in our experiences too. We benefit from our empathic abilities sometimes. Sometimes, this seeing and feeling is like an enormous burden. But just like you, we are learning to make sense of our lives and learning that it is our differences that make us who we are. They pose us our greatest challenges and they also tell us that we belong, just by being ourselves.
What do you think? What does the word empath bring up for you?