There are times in my career when I notice myself explaining one concept to several clients because it relates so stinkin' well. Lately I have been focused on vulnerability, a quality that helps us as humans connect with others, nurture ourselves, and take ownership of our faults.
I have noticed a high correlation between my clients who are embracing (or who are on their way toward embracing) vulnerability and their empathic qualities. The definition of empathy is “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” I think a true empath takes this definition one step further to include a high level of emotional intelligence (E.Q.), which is a person’s ability to understand how their emotions and actions impact other people. An empath is sensitive to the emotions, and often discomfort, sensed in those they interact with; then they respond in a way that makes other people most comfortable, otherwise they will absorb the discomfort the other person exudes.
For instance, a person who is highly sensitive to emotions but has experienced a childhood of invulnerability or inability to talk about their emotions with their family may learn that their emotions are not welcome—hide them in the closet so nobody can see the imperfections on the outside. Or perhaps a highly sensitive person who feels rejection from a parent through abandonment or unacceptance of feelings (e.g., “Oh honey, you shouldn’t feel that way.”) may learn to match that level of invulnerability. However, they are still dealing with high intensity emotions of themselves and others internally.
I think it is important to understand the positives and negatives of being an empath. These people are not doomed; in fact, there are significant pros to this quality and it is much easier to help a client who has excessive empathy to find balance than it is to help a sociopath to experience empathy in the first place.
What I often help clients attain is a sense of balance between extremes; the extreme on one end is a complete lack of empathy and on the other is being an empath. I work with clients to find the middle ground, the “gray area,” which allows them to experience the emotions of other people, but continue to live their life as if it is their own and in their best interests. This helps my clients finally learn the art of sharing their emotions healthily, acknowledging the discomfort of the other person, managing their own emotional response to them, and accepting or behaving as their authentic selves.
Many of my clients hear me refer to a “spectrum” of various life aspects (i.e. passivity/assertiveness, self-hate/self-love, caring for self/caring for others, etc.) as I have with empathy in this blog post. Find the balance. That is the best thing I can help my clients do. In everything in life, find the balance.