It isn’t that difficult to explain the condition. It is just a little hard for people who don’t feel it strongly to understand it. I think that all human beings are probably born with varying levels of subliminal empathy, and I also believe that our life experience teaches the majority of us to shut it off for reasons of self-preservation.
In my own history, I believe that my empathy was strong in my childhood, but that it was so confusing and overwhelming to me that I learned to shut it down quickly. Then, as I grew older and more comfortable with the control that I had over my environment, I allowed the ability to strengthen.
When I had my children, it blossomed ridiculously, and it has grown to the point that I consciously feed it. Empaths eat up positive emotion and we are hit very hard with negative emotion. We don’t really have to hear any words: we can sense the emotions rolling right off of people.
I also passed on a pretty intense case of it to my older daughter. We had houseguests arguing in their own room one night on the other side of the house from where my daughter was sleeping. She kept waking up in tears, shaking. My husband and I finally had to urge her into a warm shower to calm her down, and put her to bed between us.
The emotions come on strongly, and if we have close relationships with people who we know are suffering, we suffer right along with them, even if we are not in close physical proximity. When my close friend’s mother passed away, a woman whom I had never even met, I couldn’t even get myself out of bed the next morning.
My husband always reminds me that just because I suffer along with people doesn’t mean that I am taking away a part of their suffering by enduring it myself, but it is extremely difficult to control when it comes to my loved ones. I am not sure whether I could stop myself if I tried.
When I was a child I would have nightmares about something happening to one of my parents, and I was terrified about either of them coming to harm. I remember heart-wrenchingly counting down the Christmases that I had as a child to be with my family, which is very abnormal for a young girl to do. I believe now that I was picking up on my own mother’s feelings. I was an only child, I believe that she feared me growing up and moving away.
The empathy works in the opposite respect as well. I crave spending time with my friends who are positive and joyful. I won’t watch a sad movie or listen to a sad song without putting up a fight. I make sure to get my kids to SeaWorld every week. It is an excuse for me to get there myself, so that I can absorb the intense joy of the crowds of hundreds as they get to observe the beautiful animals that they have never seen before.
You probably have people like me in your life, and they may not admit their condition as readily as I will. They may not even understand exactly what their condition is. It is certainly not a paranormal ability, and I know plenty of perfectly regular people who have it to varying degrees.
It is a travesty that the psychological community still fails to recognize empaths, and the reason is most likely because the majority of their professionals are lacking in empathy themselves. It is probably a cardinal sin for a psychologist to shed tears along with their patient, but it might be a lot more effective if they did, rather than playing the constant emotionless professional.
If you have someone in your life, especially a young child, who seems to have strong reactions to the emotions of other people, be gentle with them. Try to help them understand that they are just sharing someone’s feelings, and that the emotion will pass.
I think that if more young people with strong empathic abilities were better nurtured, we might see more of them doing service work in the mental health field as adults. As it is now, I believe that many of us are scared away by the judgment that meets our capabilities, or the stringent rules about being professional when helping others, and it is honestly a shame.