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What is Empathy?
Webster defines empathy: The action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and by vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts and experiences, fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also the capacity for this.
Empathy may even be the trait that makes us most human, yet the quality and content of empathy can vary tremendously from one person to another and from one moment to the next. This is largely due to differences in how one knows the other, that is, in the specific activity of empathic knowing. When it is happening is as if everything turns timeless and the connection deepens with those you are feeling empathic towards. At times, it can feel as if your heart is opening more and more in the moment.
My thoughts turn to a time many years ago when my husband and I were skiing in Aspen, Colorado. Having just disembarked from the chairlift, we were staring out at the visually magnificent panorama view of the mountains and valley. The majestic blue sky and clouds were awesome. The view was exhilarating. It was so special spending this time with the man I loved. I remember one other thought. I was so happy; so grateful to be in this experience-but deep down inside myself I felt a sadness-a sadness so real and full that it kept invading my joy of the moment.
Many times since then, I have been aware of this sadness, especially at times when I was experiencing blissful joy. Even to this day, the sadness overwhelms me. "Where does it come from?", you may ask.
I am not quite sure. Yet, when I have had energy work done on me, several of the therapists have asked me if my parents were survivors from the concentration camps since the sadness was so heavy deep from within me. I have been fortunate it enough to be able to discuss this issue several times with my parents. Most recently, my mother shared with me about her own sadness as well as my father's. She felt that their parents also carried tremendous sadness. Was this depression? Was it inherited?
It appears that many of us, especially caregivers are extremely empathic. We pick up on the emotions of others. The emotions are soaked into our system as if we were sponges. However, without understanding and awareness of what is happening, we forget to wring out the sponge and clean it out. As a result the emotions are stored in the memory banks of our cells, organs and tissues.
One summer I was experiencing so much pain in the area of my esophagus. It stayed with me for over a week. I went to the doctor and had all kinds of tests and procedures to find out what it was. My doctor had my husband come to the office. He explained to us that there was nothing wrong. My husband laughed out loud saying, "Good! I was beginning to think I was crazy because I felt like I was having sympathy pains for her." The pain dimminshed in me, but it continued to grow more and more in my husband. It never ceased. Finally we went to the doctor because he was having difficulty in swallowing. Approximately a year later my husband was diagnosed with cancer at the junction of his esophagus and stomach where I had been tested for pain. My husband asked the doctor if he had any idea as to how long it was growing. He said that it was about a year ago. My husand and I stared at each other. Had we been so energeticlly connected that my body picked up when the cancer began to form?
I remember a time when I was on a business trip in California and my husband was in New York. It was a while after he had cancer surgery. I was with a group of friends and doubled over with excruciating pain around my stomach. About an hour later, I received a phone call from my family telling me that my husband was rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery as the cancer had spread to his stomach.
Another time, my father was having pain in his liver area. My parents had been spending the winter in Florida. They didn't want to be a burden to me so they never mentioned anything about his pain. I started having pain in my liver. I told my parents about the pain. They finally told me my dad was going to the doctor and was undergoing tests for pain in his liver area.
Many people, caregivers, more specifically are empathic and not aware of it. You take on a great deal of pain and emotions that aren't yours and aren't even aware of it as you care for our loved ones. When chatting and speaking with other caregivers, you may pick up on more and more pain and emotions that aren't your's.
How do you know? How do you discern? What can you do about it?
While on vacation a few weeks ago, I became very clear while working with a healer. She advised me to take responsibility by doing something every morning upon awakening that would center or balance me from within. It could be meditation, yoga, exercise or whatever. However, it must be something that makes me feel peaceful and good from within. If I was able to start the day feeling good, I would then be able to monitor anything that occurred which brought a tightening into my solar plexus area since this is where I always felt discomfort when I was taking on other's pain and emotions. My solar plexus was to become my barometer.
I explained to her that many times I surrounded myself with white life for protection. I had tried many things over the years to help myself. She explained that my intent had to be even stronger. If I could make the choice to really correct this situation, I would be able to shift the energy and not hold it inside myself. She reassured me that if I were to begin practicing I would see the results very quickly. She had moved a great deal of energy which hadn't belonged to me.
Working with caregivers and listening to so many heartwrenching stories, I have been picking up on their pain and emotions. I have begun practicing by doing simple yoga stretches for ten minutes in the morning. As a result, I am getting in touch with what affects me throughout the day. I am feeling better and stronger.
Does it sound like quackery?
Take the time to to still yourself in your own energy. Breathe in love and light and good thoughts. On each exhale let go of the worry, the doubts, your fears and concerns. Allow yourself to reach a peaceful state. Feel yourself relaxing each and every part of your body. Notice where there is discomfort or pain. Breathe into the areas of pain you may be feeling and see if it lessens.(Please note that meditation and visualizing can also lessen the effects of pain in diagnosed areas-yet if the pain is not yours, you may find that it dissipates all together.)
Next, ask for guidance and direction in revealing the emotions and pain you are holding that are not yours. Be still and observe thoughts, sounds, images or sensations that come through to you. See if you can identify people or experiences that are stored from within yourself. Ask that they release so that you are freer.
It is important that you trust in this process. When you feel you have completed the process, allow yourself to gently come back into your own energy in the room. Write as much as you can about your experiences. See if you can work on this process as much as possible to help you get in touch with your empathic nature.
If need be, there are many practitioners that can assist you in many ways through different alternative healing methods. Some methods are Reiki healing, Feldenkreis, Polarity, Therapeutic touch and many more.You may want to seek out their assistance. To learn more about alternative healing please go to the links below to take you further along on your journey.
Remember to be gentle and nurturing to yourself. Richest blessings.
Copyrighted by Gail R. Mitchell 08/02/2000