I'm going to say something crazy.
I think we're all empaths.
I believe that being an empath is actually our natural state of being.
Far from being an exclusive label or special group of people, I believe empaths are rife among us.
I believe men are empaths, women are empaths, children are empaths, the elderly are empaths, straight people are empaths, gay people are empaths, intergenders are empaths, and throughout the entire world, I believe that empaths exist in every culture, every tradition, every religion and every continent.
The only thing is this:
most of us have lost touch with our abilities to tune into the feelings of others.
Why? Because most of us have lost touch with our ability to tune into the feelings of ourselves.Whether through our highly materialized, fast-paced, artificial societies; our long-held dogmas, traditions, beliefs and inner narratives; our physical and emotional diets; our lifestyle habits, or simply our belief that "everything we feel comes directly from us," we have been severely desensitized in life.
We have become essentially "sensitivity maimed."
We have become emotional illiterates.
In fact, most of us have become alexithymics "“ people that suffer from the inability to truly know, and put into words, what they are feeling. Hence our tendency to over-eat, our obesity crisis, our addictions to alcohol and drugs, our over-consumption of escapist TV shows, movies and porn and our constant psychological issues such as anxiety and depression.
All of this comes as a direct result of lacking self-awareness, of trying to desperately patch up the emptiness and confusion we feel in life and inside.
We are truly, in the most extreme sense, out-of-touch with ourselves.
And so it's no wonder that when we experience some kind of spiritual awakening "“ when we finally awaken from our "sleep" and experience a shift in consciousness "“ we become overwhelmed with not only our ability to understand and feel our own feelings, but our ability to do likewise with others and their feelings. For some this descends as a tidal wave, for others, a gentle but increasing storm.
Suddenly we realize all along that many (not all) of the feelings that have been clogging us up have come as a result of actually feeling and taking on the emotions of others, empathically.
If this sounds like you, and if you are currently navigating through the disorientating waters of being an empath, you are not alone. I too have gone through this awakening experience and after some much needed guidance and personal effort I have been able to obtain much greater mental and emotional clarity. Although I am not perfect (there will always be more to improve on), I want to share with you today some truly beneficial advice.
FROM ALEXITHYMIC TO EMPATH
It is said that alexithymia is present in about 10% of the population, but I believe this figure is grossly downplayed. I believe that many of us were/are alexithymics.
As thinker and philosopher Roman Krznaric comments in his book "Empathy: Why it Matters and How to Get it":
At this moment in history we are suffering from an acute empathy deficit, both as a society and in our individual lives."
He goes on to note that:
A recent study at the University of Michigan revealed a dramatic decline in empathy levels among young Americans between 1980 and today, with the steepest drop being in the last ten years. The shift, say researchers, is in part due to more people living alone and spending less time engaged in social and community activities that nurture empathic sensitivity."
Other than a lack of empathy, alexithymics display numerous traits that are extremely common in the people of our day and age. These include:
- Lack of intuition.
- Restricted imagination and emphasis on the logical and realistic.
- Outbursts of crying and fits of rage appearing to come from nowhere.
- Inability to identify and describe what one is feeling (poor emotional intelligence).
- Difficulty in relationships (adopting the role of the dependent, dominant, or distant partner).
- Impulsive acts or compulsive behaviors.
- Tendency towards obesity (binge eating), anorexia, bulimia, sex addiction, substance abuse, anxiety disorders, fibromyalgia, personality disorders, migraines, depression.
- Social isolation and an inability to connect or identify with others.
However, if you have experienced an awakening as an alexithymic, or a shift in consciousness from "unaware" to "aware," you're most likely experiencing the following symptoms:
- Social anxiety or phobia as a result of being bombarded with too much verbal, emotional and physical data.
- Intense self-consciousness, or being painfully aware of how other people perceive you.
- Tumultuous emotions. You will begin to feel your emotions rather than hide from them or channel them into unhealthy habits such as binge eating, alcoholism, workaholism, etc. Because you are emotionally inexperienced, you experience many highs and lows in emotions, not knowing how to stabilize and harmonize yourself internally.
- Confusion between your emotions and other's emotions. You might jump to one extreme and think that you have borderline personality disorder or another disorder "“ or, you might jump to the other extreme and blame everyone else for the way you feel, adopting a classic victim complex.
- Low self-esteem. As a result of being thrown in the deep end, so to speak, you might feel personally and inter-personally inadequate because of your heightened sensitivity to the world. You might beat yourself up, think you're stupid, think you're weak, think you're mentally ill, or any other number of self-criticisms.
- You are more in touch with your body. You might begin to take care of your health more, change diets, change cosmetics, try to overcome any addictions you have, and generally take care of yourself more.
- You will be more sensitive to the beauty and horror of the world. As a newly awakened soul, you will experience the world much more deeply "“ this has its positives and negatives, and can result in pure joy or severe unhappiness.
- You have the sudden craving to express yourself creatively, but you don't know how or where to start.
The transition from alexithymic to empath can be compared to a pendulum. The pendulum swings from one extreme to the other, but eventually through time it slows to a halt, to a balance between two extremes. How do you find that stability? There is a lot of bad advice out there on the web, so let me share with you what I learned through trial and error.
THE EMPATH FLEDGLING GUIDE TO CREATING INNER BALANCE
I will be expanding upon this topic in a future article (it deserves one of its own!), but for now I'll provide you with a few basic pointers.
1. FORGET "SHIELDING" "“ TRY NON-RESISTANCE AND NON-ATTACHMENT
Many articles and many websites suggest "shielding" techniques to "protect you" from the emotions of others. Firstly, this advice uses the language of victimhood which is counterproductive to becoming a balanced empath. I've personally tried using "invisible eggs," "walls" and so forth before, but I've found it not only completely ineffective, but too mentally draining as well.
Instead of using shielding techniques, simply open yourself. Simply be. Don't fight, don't resist, for your resistance will create continuous tension within you "“ which you certainly don't need.
Non-resistance is paradoxically the most simple thing to do in the world, but it can also be very difficult as we are so used to resisting ourselves, other people, time, and life in general.
But non-resistance isn't simply about letting everything and anything come "“ it is also about non-attachment, or letting emotions come and go without identifying with them. Non-attachment requires you to be self-aware in the present moment of what you are feeling. This can take time and practice.
Try asking yourself, "What am I feeling right now?" when you feel stressed, tense, or stuffy with emotions. Your answer might be something like, "I am feeling pain, worry, sadness and anxiety, but that is OK." It is OK to feel the emotions. Open to them, but also let them pass by not adopting them as "yours." Are your emotions "you?" No. You are much vaster than transient emotions which come and go.
2. TRY SOMATIC MINDFULNESS
Somatic mindfulness is basically a way of anchoring you firmly in the present moment (and not getting lost in the hurricane of your thoughts and feelings) through focusing on your bodily sensations. This is complementary to the previous point of non-attachment and non-resistance which both require present moment awareness. Somatic mindfulness is extremely effective as it requires nothing other than your ability to feel sensations. Types of somatic mindfulness involve focusing on your breathing (deepening it), your blinks, your feet on the earth and the temperature of your body.
3. RUN, SCREAM, CRY, SHOUT, EXPRESS
Catharsis is essential for every empath. In fact, it is essential for every human, regardless of their level of sensitivity as it dispels a lot of pent-up energy. For empaths this means getting rid of negative emotional residue from oneself and others.
Whatever you do, try to avoid going more than one day without engaging in some form of healthy catharsis. I've found that become lax in my habit of "catharting" has promoted chronic pain in my body and unpleasant mood swings. Beneficial forms of catharsis ideal for empaths include exercise of any kind, screaming into a pillow, making a habit of crying every day, laughing (laughter therapy), or self-expression in the form of art.
Whatever works for you "¦ make a habit of it daily!
This article was first published here.