First off, a few words of what it is ... and more importantly, is not, and how to deal with it.
According to the dictionary Empathy = is one's ability to recognize, perceive, and feel directly the emotions of another. The word itself, is derived from the Greek words "empatheia" meaning "passion" and "pathein" meaning to experience or suffer.
All of us have empathy, to a degree, it's part of the human make up, in that we "understand" how another feels, but to be an Empath, is quite another matter. For a born Empath, it is to feel those feelings, as if they were our own. It goes far deeper than just relating to anothers feelings, as it goes into the realm of literal physiological, instinctual and visceral sharing of those emotions.
Empathy... is not, as is commonly believed the same as sympathy. Sympathy is how we react to someone who is suffering. We feel sorry they are suffering, which is our own emotional state, rather than, as happens for an Empath, one who can stand in the others shoes, to the point of feeling their pain, literally, since we share their emotions.
Being an Empath is a double edged sword with no handle, and must be handled carefully or you can get cut, badly. It can be both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, you have the ability to feel exactly what someone else feels, and due to that, can know what's really needed to make them feel better. Most nurses rate high on the empathic scale for example, ditto with child care workers, and other care providers. We are ultra changeable, and can shift and morph into whatever is needed to de-stress the other party.
But, it is all too easy to lose perspective on what you, as a person needs in the process, as we spend a great deal of our time, dealing with other peoples pain. This is not all the altruism and serving of others, it might at first appear, it is, in many cases, self defense on the part of the Empath.
As others, can and often do, shove their hurt feelings right in your face ... by broadcasting them on a large wavelength that is almost impossible to ignore, and it seems the Empath's choice is either deal with it or suffer it themselves. Most empaths prefer to go to the source and turn off the flow, if it's possible. It's not always possible however, and this is where we have to learn how to handle the input, without going more than a bit bonkers in the process. :)
You will hear Empaths being called "Highly Sensitive People", and weather this is a PC term or a medical one, depends a great deal on who your talking to. Some use the term to show the difference, between what has become far too much movie and TV hype about the concept of an Empath VS what is a real Empath.
The term is used much like spelling you will see of magick VS magic ( the first is real magick as we pagans practice it, the other is ... watch me pull a rabbit outa my hat, slight of hand magic ) So, since the term Empath has been overgalmorized by the media, a new term came into being. Others use the term from a medical point of view, as they consider being this sensitive, to be a mental disorder, that needs treatment.
Now, an out of control empath
may very well need help, ( generally not from the medical society, but
help none the less ) for the simple reason, they are being chronically
and constantly overwhelmed by the emotional environment around them if
they are not aware how to prevent it. Just seeing the 6 o'clock news can
be bad enough to make you want to curl up and cry. But it doesn't have
to be that way ... some major need to know things, for an Empath.
Which means, creating a shield between yourself and all those feelings out there. You can do this a variety of ways, but the most common is visual. By visualizing a force field around yourself. This field is pure energy. The more vivid the image you imagine for that field, the stronger it will be. You can set this field to selective, so that you will note others feelings, IF and only if, you want to notice other energies.
This is not just your imagination at work. As we ask the mind, so it will do for us, and if you ask yours to build a stronger aura of energy around you, it will. You don't need to know the exact details of how it works, as your mind is perfectly able to build it for you, all you have to do ... is tell it to as strongly and vividly as possible.
Know your own mind:
Meaning, to know yourself, very deeply and to have that information about yourself and your emotional state, on tap, all the time. So that you can easily realize that those feelings your feeling, are, or are NOT, your own. This is critical, as if you are not aware of your own mental and emotional state, you can have a very hard time telling what is, or is not, your own feelings, so keeping a monitor on your own state, at any time, is paramount.
Just because we can perhaps do something about anothers pain, doesn't necessarily mean, that we should. Often times, they are in pain for a reason, maybe they failed to handle something well, and that's a lesson they need to learn. If you take away all that suffering for a mistake, the lesson might go unlearned. So you have to analyze the situation carefully. Know when it's time to say ... No.
Cleanse your etheric body often:
As an empath, you are an emotional magnet, feelings can cling to you like dog hair does to a black suit. So it becomes very important to metaphysically clean out all the vibes and emotions that are not your own, from time to time. I cannot stress this enough, as if you fail to do so, the stress on you just builds and builds, and there is a limit to what any one person can endure, and stay sane !
Fail to do so and you may become one of the quiet, withdrawn loners, whose depressed, neurotic or narcissistic, and who is likely to go postal any moment. Not joking, so dealing with those vibes becomes very very important.
You do this by meditation, you relax, ground yourself, and again, imagine the light body, and use the power of the mind to cleanse out anything negative or left over. In a deep state, you can see this light body and will learn to see the problem areas. For most empaths you will find them around the heart and head Chakras, as those are the areas most effected. ( more details on charkas and grounding later )
Negative emotions, either your own or another's. Reason being, it's far too easy to get so deep into the negative that you are trapped inside of it, with no exit in sight. You can get to where you feel like your being attacked all the time, that others totally disrespect you, and ultimately ... become very vulnerable.
This is the dark side of the force, to borrow a phase :) And it's a real danger to an Empath. Example: watch the news, and it is showing something dreadful, something you can do little, or nothing about, but is none the less ... horrid. Now, you have two choices on how you handle that ... as an empath you see and feel more than your average person would.
For you ... to see horror in real living color, is to experience it. But, again, it doesn't have to be that way ... by being able to distance yourself, and know that these events are NOT happening to you, is your defense.
Now, this does not mean, do not be aware of it, or discount it, but to totally and utterly share in such dreadful events, seldom serves any good purpose, unless you are at hand during the event, and can do something about it. And most importantly, do not do it ... to yourself, by that I mean do not allow, even legitimate warnings and feelings to overwhelm the now and lead you into the game of ... what if.
Otherwise, you can become like the old fable, of Wise Elise, who was sent down to the wine cellar, to get wine for her fathers guests, and she noticed an ax hanging above the door, and thought, "what if later on when I have children, and I send them down here to get wine, and the thongs have gotten old, and the ax will fall ... killing my children" so she stood there and cried for her lost children.
Now, Elise was not yet married, had no children. Yes, she might have been perfectly right, it could happen and it may well have been a empathic warning, of events to come, but the time for doing, had not yet arrived, so her worry and stress over it, was pointless, unless it served to take action to avoid the thing she was warned about.
For an Empath, unless the object is at hand, or you have seen ample warning and can DO something about the situation, before it happens, dwelling on the negative, is a road to isolation and despair.
One of the other big problems that an Empath faces, is wondering if what they ARE feeling is real or accurate. This is a tough one to handle, and most Empaths have to face this one, but there will come a time when you have gotten enough proof, and seen things in action, to where you learn that ... yeah you are feeling these things, and can figure out most of the time ... from where.
It is why the advent of knowing your own mind and emotional state is so important, as without this knowledge, it's harder to figure this one out. Trust yourself, trust your feelings, and know you can get a handle on this, it just takes time and practice.
Empathy can make you cold and distant ?:
A great many empathic people, are oddly enough, considered very cold and distant persons in the eyes of others. There are two reasons for that, one is.. it can be literal.. in that they ARE cold and distant, and could care less about the problem before them, as they have shut out all input. This happens often enough to untrained Empaths who have had no guidance, and they have shut down their empathy, entirely, in the self defense. ( more later on how to overcome this state )
The second reason is, a trained Empath, is a controlled Empath. The outward form, meaning how we might appear to someone looking at us, might be almost indistinguishable from someone who is cut off from their emotions. But what's happening on the inside, is quite another matter entirely.
We are, to borrow another idea, the Vulcan's of society, now a lot of people think that the fictional Mr. Spock had no emotions, but if you look again, you will find just the opposite was true. The Vulcan race developed their intense logical outlook, as they were such an emotional people, they nearly destroyed themselves with their passions, so they developed a logical manner of looking at life.
We are not quite that bad :) but the analogy holds true none the less ... To handle the onslaught of the emotional state of others, requires a serious discipline of the mind, which can lead to becoming too distanced from others, if one is not careful. It's a fine line we have to walk, between control and self discipline, and emotional isolationism.
Do not become a dumping ground:
Now, this is my own term for something that happens on a regular basis to almost any Empath, unless they become aware of it and take steps to prevent its happening, unless you want it to happen. Most ordinary people, are perfectly able to "know" that a such and such a person is "someone they can talk to" by this I mean, they know, even if they are not aware of how they know, that you are an Empath, and could help them with their pain.
This makes you a magnet for people with a major emotional load to drop. People will come up to you, outta nowhere and start telling you their woes, as some part of them knows, you could make it all go away.
And you can, for the most part, however, permitting this to happen, without controls, is asking to become a hermit, as you will get to the point where you will not even want to go places where there are strangers, for the reason above, the one of people shoving their ill feelings and hurts, onto you.
Shielding helps, but sometimes, you just have to look people right in the face and say no, unless you want to deal with helping them handle with their anxiety. There are two kinds of people, those you can help and those you can't, and there are a lot more of those you can't help, than you might believe.
How to tell:
Type A, the one you can help, is laying it all out there, but, they have tried to deal with what is causing them pain, in an adult, rational fashion and are looking to you for a moment of calm, and maybe a sounding board to help them figure it out, for themselves ... This is someone you can and most likely should help.
Type B: This is the more common type, in that they are tied up in knots over some problem that ... rather than trying to solve the problem, they have buried it under a pile of distress, and are looking for a way to relive that anxiety. Which could be right onto you, as once they drop it all in your lap, they feel wonderful ... while you might feel a bit ill and stagger away under the load they just dropped in your lap.
Now, mind, the only thing that has happened is they got rid of the load of angst they were carrying about, but ... nothing has been done about the problem that made them feel that way to begin with. So, what will happen ? In most cases, they will just avoid dealing with whatever it is ... again ... and get all wound up over it ... again .... until they can find some other poor unsuspecting person to drop it on. Like Johnny apple seed, such persons spread misery, wherever they go.
is not someone you can generally help, unless you can get them to
talk about dealing with the problems they are facing rationally.
Lesson two: Your emotional state