Empathy: Do You Feel What I Feel?, by Kathy Gruver, MASSAGE MagazineYou’re at the mall with friends and suddenly you feel so overwhelmed, you have to get out of there. At a party, you start to get a really bad headache and moments later, the person you were talking to confesses she has a migraine. The massage client you are working on comes in with bad sciatica, and by the end of the session, he feels great but you have low-back pain. Any of these scenarios sound familiar? These types of occurrences are common with people who are intuitive empaths.

Empathy is an ability to be in tune and resonate with others, to have a deep sense of knowing. It’s not that empaths can just put themselves in other people’s shoes; they feel their blisters. They suffer others’ physical pain, feel their emotions and are highly sensitive. Many people discover this skill as children and find themselves confused and overwhelmed at what they are experiencing. Some children are ostracized by their peers or told to just “suck it up” by unknowing parents and teachers. These children tend to be more sensitive to such things as crowds and emotional movies. As adults, that sensitivity continues and hospitals, nursing homes and funerals can be nightmares. Overwhelmed by others’ pain and emotions can force sensitive people into living like hermits or constantly battling physical ailments that aren’t their own.

Though a lot of people believe this is a skill you are born with, some think it can be learned or at least honed as you get older. Most people discover it accidently, including Marci Wolcott, a hairdresser from New York. She found her skill as an adult when worked on people’s hair. “They would come in with a headache and by the time I was done with their hair, their headache was gone and I felt awful.” She laughs, “I even took on a friend’s hangover.”

A lot of empaths find they are more sensitive in certain environments, such as crowds, near animals or with children. Many people that have this gift choose bodywork and healing as their profession.

I call it a gift, but it can sure have its negative sides. As Glen Phillips (www.whispertohealing.com) says, “Once I begin to work, I feel every pain and emotion. I accept this pain as part of my job and commitment.”

When this skill is first identified, it can be hard to find a way to not become ill and overwhelmed. One therapist actually quit her practice during her pregnancy for fear of all the negative energy affecting her unborn child. Ron Navarre, who now teaches other empaths (www.stressdefense.com), found he could only work on one or two clients a day. Some people have found crowds are unbearable and others can’t stand to touch anyone, even in passing. This can be a really scary experience if you don’t know how to ground the energy or keep it from overwhelming you. As Laura Kamm (www.energymedicine.org), author of Intuitive Wellness, puts it, “I’ve never met anyone who was authentically overjoyed by the phenomena. I do what I do, that’s all I know.”

For people who come to us as clients, this skill can be deemed everything from weird to unbelievable to extremely impressive. Most of the practitioners I spoke with never shared what was happening with their clients. They didn’t want to burden or “freak out” the client. If you are an empath, I encourage you to examine your motivations if you are going to start telling people about it. Some feel this skill makes them superior healers, and they start to get wrapped up in the ego boost that comes from showing off. Benedick Howard, B.Sc. (www.benedickhoward.com) feels “new healers and egotistic practitioners can use this skill to manipulate clients.” I caution this behavior, as it borders on codependency and can lead to negative results for both you and your clients. If you are going to share, take a moment to ask yourself why.

By now, some of you will recognize yourself in these descriptions. Learning to feel without taking on too much is a skill that takes some practice. You certainly don’t want to suffer or have to leave society because you’re so overloaded. I consulted numerous practitioners and other resources to find ways to control and enhance this energy. Here are some of the answers I found: 

  • Be choosy, stay away from “psychic vampires” who want to zap your energy and learn to put up an “energetic shield.”
  • Donna Eden in her Energy Healing videos suggests zipping up your energy like a coat and locking it by placing your tongue behind your top teeth. 
  • Marci Wolcott suggests visualizing cords at the bottom of your feet attaching you to earth. She also imagines golden cuffs at her wrists that stop the energy from traveling further. 
  • Watch your diet. A vegetarian diet can leave some people untethered. Meat can help ground you. 
  • Engage in a spiritual discipline, such as meditation or prayer. Chakra work was recommended by several practitioners for strengthening spirit. 
  • Amy Goetz, a bodyworker, imagines gold light filling her body and does slow breathing.
  • Some people rely on crystals for protection, such as boji stones or quartz crystals. 
  • Find a teacher, mentor or guide. Speak with others who have developed this skill. The Internet is a great resource for these connections. 
  • Spend time in nature. Let the trees or the earth take the excess. 
  • Respect yourself. If you need a break, take the time to recharge, whether with a massage or a long walk.
  • Learn energy work. After I learned reiki, I was less apt to take a client’s physical pain, but still able to instinctively find it on her body.
  • Take a break from too much negativity. Avoid the news, the newspaper and the needy neighbors for  awhile, so you can rest. 
  • Try to remain positive, and realize as hard as it is sometimes, this truly is a gift that can benefit others.

As you grow and mature as a healer and acquire a stronger sense of self, you will find that your empathy grows and changes as well. You’ll uncover a sharper sense of intuition and a better ability to shield yourself. As Reiki Master Eddie Rose says, “Every gift has its own purpose, and each gift is valuable. I am very thankful for it.” Accept your gift and share it generously with others!

Yours in health.

Kathy Gruver, Empathy: Do You Feel What I Feel?, MASSAGE MagazineKathy Gruver has been involved in natural health since 1990 and has a doctorate of Traditional Naturopathy. Gruver is a Medical Massage Therapist, Natural Health Consultant, Reiki Master and Birth Assistant. She is currently pursuing a masters and doctorate in Natural Health. Gruver owns Healing Circle Massage in Santa Barbara, California, which specializes in medical and therapeutic massage and was chosen as a “Best Practice” by MASSAGE Magazine. For more information, visit www.healingcirclemassage.com.