“Gabe’s in the office. He threw out his back.”
I picked him up and noticed that his “sore sport” was in the same place my own had been. This wasn’t a coincidence; his pain had started the exact moment my own disappeared. My physical problem had simply leaped from me to my son. After all, who has ever heard of an eight-year-old injuring his back sitting in a desk chair?
Gabe, like millions of individuals of all ages, is empathic. Empathy is usually defined as the ability to sense what another is going through. As succinct as this definition is, it’s far too small to encompass all the complexities of empathy, which I believe is a spiritual gift, not only an exercise in bonding. This means it works with spiritual energy, not only the stuff of our five senses.
Spiritual energy, also called subtle or psychic energy, is information transferred faster than “normal” energy. Our five senses are equipped to perceive information moving at relatively low speeds. I think of this as “unremarkable” information, albeit important. We have to hear someone speak to know what is being said. We must listen to a sad story to know that someone is sad. Spiritual information, on the other hand, is quite remarkable because it is is dispersed supersonically. It travels so fast we might simply sense the feelings, issues, or needs of another before they even open their mouth—even if they aren’t present.
There are three major families of spiritual gifts. These include the verbal gifts, which enable us to hear subtle information; the visual aptitudes, which translates as pictures in our mind; and finally, our friendly empathic gifts, which result in us being able to sense, feel, know, or perceive what is occurring elsewhere. As my story with Gabe suggests, the empathic family is an astounding vehicle for bonding with others, but it comes with its own challenges.
For most of my life, I was “too empathic.” I could enter a family event in a great mood and, like a lint brush, leave with everyone else’s feelings attached to me. If I were talking on the phone with a friend who had a cold, within minutes, I’d be sneezing as well. Malls were impossible. I really didn’t want to know who was cheating on their taxes or hiding a filched shirt inside their backpack. Quite a few years ago I decided I had to get a handle on my empathy and have it work for both others and myself—not only others.
Perceiving it as web of compassion, I stood back and decided I was only going to “tune into” information that didn’t compromise my emotions, well being, or health. In order to do this I had to alter my essential beliefs, which were centered on thinking it was my job to heal everyone, no matter the expense. I decided that I could “register” what others’ were experiencing without taking it all the way into my personal body. Once I did this, I was aware of what others were going through but I wasn’t felled by it anymore.
Gabe’s school experience suggested that I had accidently trained him into the over-empathic role before I created better boundaries for myself. Using simple language, I explained to him that he could decide to care about others without actually becoming sick with their problems. I then had him picture a white light around him that kept others’ illnesses, pains, or feelings out but could still “tell” his heart what they were going through. This easy visual made a huge difference for him.
How freeing, to use our empathic sense to care for others even while caring for ourselves. By viewing empathy as a set of spiritual abilities, we’re able to make truly loving decisions about what to feel—or not.
Our thanks to Cyndi for her guest post! For more from Cyndi Dale, read her article “Empathy as a Spiritual Power: What Type of Empath Are You?.”