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  #11  
Old 12-17-2015, 09:59 PM
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FallenAngelina FallenAngelina is online now
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Originally Posted by opalescent View Post
Denying that reality because one does not personally experience it or know anyone who does, while a very human thing to do, is not ok.
I don't at all deny that there is a huge variation in sensitivities (my son has autism) but nobody is stuck with being overwhelmed and unable to process his/her own experiences. There are a lot of ways that a someone with sensory issues can gain education, experience, confidence and yes, boundaries that will profoundly mitigate the pain caused by sensory sensitivity of any kind. That's all I meant to say - not that sensory issues are not real. Calling oneself an "empath" pathologizes and exacerbates the problem - isolates someone instead of helps her to work with the problem, integrate emotionally into human kind and turn it more into a capability.
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Old 12-18-2015, 12:20 AM
Bunnielight Bunnielight is offline
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I don't at all deny that there is a huge variation in sensitivities (my son has autism) but nobody is stuck with being overwhelmed and unable to process his/her own experiences. There are a lot of ways that a someone with sensory issues can gain education, experience, confidence and yes, boundaries that will profoundly mitigate the pain caused by sensory sensitivity of any kind. That's all I meant to say - not that sensory issues are not real. Calling oneself an "empath" pathologizes and exacerbates the problem - isolates someone instead of helps her to work with the problem, integrate emotionally into human kind and turn it more into a capability.
While I understand the stance against that sort of label, I think the way someone perceives said label will differ.

There's major differences in the person saying "I'm bipolar" as an excuse to not resolve your issues and the person saying "okay, so I'm bipolar." In an attempt to understand yourself.

In no way do I want to use that as a shield. I simply need a point of reference for understanding.
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Old 12-18-2015, 11:52 AM
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In no way do I want to use that as a shield. I simply need a point of reference for understanding.
That's a great place to jump off from, Bunnie. As I mentioned, my youngest son has autism and it's long been apparent to me that people with autism, far from being "in their own world" are actually very sensitive to much that so-called typical people do not sense - so much so that they often present as being shut down and unaware. My experience is that autism is actually being extraordinarily aware to the point that overload (and what we observe as "melt downs") are common. We typical people diagnose them with sensory processing disorder and we often give autistic kids "therapy" to help them (what we call) normalize the way that they use their senses, but in my view we would do better to focus on working with autistic kids (and their parents!) to respect their experience and make the most of this ability.

You can likewise become much more adept at the way you take in the emotion that you're sensitive to. I don't know if this is a poly issue (just looking at your thread title) so much as it is a matter of information gathering, experience and confidence building for you. I do stand by what I said earlier, that "a big part of maturing and finding happiness in life is learning how to balance being truly open to others with maintaining one's own emotional stability." No matter anyone's proclivities and sensitivities, maturity is a major factor in feeling more and more at peace about who one is in the world. I imagine that knowing mentors, more mature people who are successfully navigating this arena, will help you tremendously.
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Old 12-26-2015, 12:03 AM
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So, is being an empath mostly a boon or a burden?
Yes.
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Old 12-26-2015, 12:22 AM
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... but it's the commonest, most natural aspect of being human with a brain and nervous system, and a mind that interprets electrical impulses. Some people associate this ability with superstitions and "spirituality" but it's really just scientific.
Well, yeah, kinda sorta. Some parts of it are commonly recognized by the folks who read scientific journals and such. Others -- not so much. Mostly the science folks will want to reference body language and other such visible clues and cues picked up by the supposedly five senses. Fewer scientists will claim that there is scientific evidence for complex informational exchanges through invisible bodily energies and such.

....

In my middle twenties I became -- for a while -- extremely sensitive to the bodily proximity of others and could gather and garner all kinds of information about their feeling / emotional life (and what they were feeling in their bodies at the moment) -- all of which I FELT in my OWN body in proximity with them. I was a young man then, and didn't know myself well enough to have healthy boundaries, so it was boon and curse for me. If I had lived in another culture (a "primitive" or "tribal" one, perhaps) I'd probably have been trained by a shaman to practice those mysterious arts. Alas, I was the possessor (or was I possessed by it?) of a very modern/rationalstic/scientific world view -- which was subsequently torn to shreds by some very weird mystical/shamanic experiences.

I now seem to dwell in "both" of these worlds, but I'm not half as empathically sensitive as I was then. I think I turned away from it due to a kind of overwhelm..., an inability at the time to know who I am in relation to the flood of feelings I received in proximity to others.

One of the most common things that occurred back in those now long ago days is that I was really very good at giving massages, as I could quite literally feel the inside of others I was working with in massage. I felt it in my own body! Clear as driven snow or bright sunlight I did.
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Old 12-26-2015, 12:32 AM
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Look, telling Bunnielight that she is just like everyone else is not helpful at all. Telling her that we are all empaths, in how she experiences it, is wrong.

It is true that just about every human has the capability of empathy. So in that sense, people suggesting that we all have this ability are absolutely correct.

However people who are strongly empathetic experience this sense very differently than the rest of us who are 'normally' sensitive. Their experience is qualitatively different. Imagine never being able to screen out a wide range of sounds. You always, always hear and react to them and cannot 'tune' them out. You have felt those sound in your body and mind so much so you think you've always heard those sounds all your life, and they are just part of you. There is no separation between the sounds and you. Now make those sounds into feelings. That is the best analogy I know of on how strongly empathetic people experience the feelings of other people.

I am empathetic but I am not an empath. I do not feel other people's emotions as my own. Empaths do, both in their mind and in their bodies. I know empaths who get terrible stomach pain if they are around people who have some strong 'negative' emotion that they are not acknowledging openly. (I put negative in quotes as I do not believe any emotion is truly negative, as in bad.) Empaths don't often realize they experience emotions differently than most people because, as with a lot of things, if that is your daily experience, it's natural to assume that other people live similarly. And people who are 'normal' sensitivity also assume that their way of experiencing emotions is what 'everyone' is like, which gets reinforced as most of us do not experience this degree of empathy.

It is also true that empathy can be developed and sensitivities strengthened over time. I know I have become more empathetic over the years. However, the people I know who are strong empaths have always had this sensitivity level from very early childhood on. While having a strong sense of self and the ability to set boundaries is a necessary step, that will not be sufficient for a empath. They have to learn how to 'tune', (and especially 'tune out') and do so in ways that most of us simply don't need. If you have always felt other people's emotions in your body and mind as your own, it is much, much harder to tell the difference between the emotions of others and your emotions.

I can't explain this degree of empathy. But I've seen it in action among several people. It exists. I believe it is a normal human variation. Denying that reality because one does not personally experience it or know anyone who does, while a very human thing to do, is not ok.
I find this post profoundly insightful, kind, compassionate intelligent, informed and wise. I'm deeply impressed by it, and so quote it again in full.
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Old 12-26-2015, 12:39 AM
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Originally Posted by FallenAngelina View Post
Calling oneself an "empath" pathologizes and exacerbates the problem - isolates someone instead of helps her to work with the problem, integrate emotionally into human kind and turn it more into a capability.
I suppose some people can be, or have been, "pathologized" for their extraordinary empathic sensitivity. But many others have been seen as remarkably gifted. Healers and bodyworkers perhaps especially, and as one who lives with such a person I can say that such sensitivities are prized among many in the bodyworker "community".

On many occasions I've experienced or witnessed utterly astounding human capacities for perception into the experience of others, and while these capacities may ultimately be everyone's birth right (I believe they are), only a small or even tiny minority of us have learned to live with them and deepen and refine them into an art form which benefits both self and other. This is, as I see it, a very rare talent indeed.
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Old 01-04-2016, 04:45 PM
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Saying "I'm an empath" doesn't preclude also saying "I've learned how to shield myself from picking up too much of the emotions of those around me so that I don't become overwhelmed." I can truthfully say both. I've always been extremely attuned to the emotions of the people around me; how much is inborn and how much of it was developed as a survival mechanism as a child (if I knew how my mother was feeling, for example, I could avoid a lot of abuse by staying away from her when she was in a bad mood) is up for debate.

I learned energy healing shortly before leaving Alt and Country's father, and the empathic traits served me well in that, as others have noted about bodywork/healing and empathy. Through that learning process, I also learned energy techniques for "shielding" myself, because otherwise I sometimes got bombarded by other people's emotions to the point of being uncertain of my own. Those shielding techniques are pretty basic; either visualizing myself surrounded by a shield of energy (usually white), or, if there's a lot going on, visualizing myself in an impermeable concrete bunker.

I've been trying to teach those techniques to Alt, who has the same level of empathy, but they don't work very well for her because visualization is one of her weaknesses, while it's my top strength.

Woody is also extremely empathic, to the point that one morning when we were lying in bed together, my mind wandered to being afraid that I would never fully get over S2 and would therefore not be able to let Woody in and would end up hurting him...and without me saying a word, and without even being able to see my face, Woody said, "That's odd, a wave of emotion just rolled off you. I would call it anticipated regret."
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Old 01-09-2016, 04:48 PM
Hannahfluke Hannahfluke is offline
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I, at one point in my life, thought I would like to go on to graduate school and get a degree in either psychology or social work and become a therapist. The reason was two-fold: I appreciated the help that I got from a really good therapist while recognizing how much a few therapists that weren't a good match for me hurt my recovery and I thought it would be good to build on and use my bachelor's degree in human development and family studies. However, as I got older and began to really understand who I am and how I relate to the world, I realized that it would be a huge mistake for me to become a therapist. I am fairly empathetic and I have a tendency to internalize other people's emotions. Being around struggling people constantly would have a great possibility of making me miserable from internalizing their problems and feelings. Most people who know me well figured out that this career path would be bad for me long before I did, but thankfully didn't press the issue, since they know I can be stubborn and do things just because I have been told I can't. It would have been a costly mistake for me to go down this road, both in terms of money and in terms of my own emotional health.

Thankfully, I'm not as empathetic as some of the people on this thread, because it sounds painful to be that in tune with the emotions around you. Like KC, I think part of my ability to read the emotions around me developed as a defense mechanism in early childhood. I had a speech problem that I was constantly bullied over, both at home and at school. Knowing the moods of those around me helped me know when it was safer to keep my mouth shut to avoid a really mean scene. As I grew older and my parents divorced, it also helped me to know when my mom's depression would be more likely to explode outward as anger and result in excessive punishment. I'm sure part of it is a natural tendency towards strong empathy that was triggered by life experiences to be stronger than it might otherwise be.
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Old 01-18-2016, 02:14 AM
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Good topic. This has raised up lots of stuff for the curious to look up.

I was in highschool when I read Real Magic (around 1973-4). Bonewits describes how people with natural psychic abilities really need to learn control, else they might wind up in a strait-jacket.

Being a typically psychotic teenager, I took this to heart, & took every passing chance to pick up yoga practices, meditation, & martial arts in order to rein in my prickly sensitivity -- set aside whether psychic stuff is "real." I didn't turn off the rubbed-raw sensitivity, but the loudness was greatly reduced.

Years later, in one of his articles, Robert Anton Wilson mentioned Korzybski's general semantics, & a light went on in my head. This gave me some basis to organize the data flood I get from vocal inflection, word choice, phrasing, tonal shifts, posture, movement, etc. -- my vision has never been particularly great, so facial expression was never a major channel for me.

(Actually, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that my eyesight is suboptimal in part because I "see too much" & am trying to grey it down.)

When the TV series Lie To Me appeared, I was delighted to find that much of that stuff has actually been codified, in the facial action coding system, or FACS. The show was based heavily upon the work of Paul Ekman, who might not be so much the "best human lie detector in the world" (as he's painted in the media), but his books are certainly worth considering, in a poly context particularly Telling Lies: Clues to Deceit in the Marketplace, Politics, and Marriage.

(IMNSHO, "deceit" is too harsh a word for what can be revealed by microexpressions. Often, a person acting in a manner that'd be generally described as aggressive is actually begging desperately for understanding. This is especially true with intimate relationships.)
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