Leanne Chapman Psychology

The wound is the place where the light enters you. - Rumi

Could You Be An Empath?

 

When I was in my first year at school, the teacher gathered us together one day and started reading the story of Peter Rabbit. I loved stories and I loved animals, so I loved this…until the point when Peter Rabbit was almost captured by the farmer.

Tears welled up and I started to shake – I was terrified for him. The teacher was either oblivious or didn’t care because she just kept reading, while my 5 year old classmates tried to reassure me Peter would be ok. But the shaking didn’t stop until Peter was safely home with Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cotton-tail once again.

I have occasionally referred to myself as an ’empath’ but never fully understood what it was, just that it might be a handy way to justify being called ‘too sensitive’. The only things I knew about empaths came from watching the tv show Charmed.

Last weekend I went to the Mind Body Spirit festival in Brisbane. There were dozens of psychics available to give readings, and I chose one seemingly at random. I didn’t really consider anyone else.

She didn’t communicate with my guides or contact loved ones who have crossed over, no angel cards or tarot. She just sat with me and told me what she felt. “You’re filled with doubts’ she said.

As I’m continually wondering where my career should go, whether I should move house, if I should start a new course or maybe get a dog …well I had to agree.

‘The reason you’re filled with doubt is because you keep looking for answers from other people, instead of trusting your own answers’, she said. I guess that’s why I was consulting a psychic.

Given that I learnt not to trust myself from an early age – from simple interactions like being told I wasn’t cold / hungry / tired when I really was, to more serious ones such as being told by teachers, neighbours and relatives that what I was experiencing at home wasn’t really happening – how was I to trust my inner voice now?

She tapped me on the head and shoulders a few times and gave me some suggestions about dealing with my suspicious behaviour towards myself. I felt heard and understood, even if I still didn’t really understand what to do about it.

Empaths and HSPs

Late in the day there was a talk scheduled on ‘Empaths and Highly Sensitive People’. I planned to stay and listen for a short time.

In walked Heidi, a woman I recognised from a reality TV show a few years back. I only watched a few episodes but I remember she was the one I was hoping would win. The show was called ”The One – Search for Australia’s Most Gifted Psychic’.  She was billed as an empath – I remember she cried often and she finished in third place.

She began to reel off a checklist of possible signs that you could be an empath. Things that I would never have connected with being highly sensitive were listed, along with the more obvious ones (like crying often). Although I had intended to leave after a few minutes, and despite having sat directly under the air conditioning vent and feeling frozen, I stayed for the whole hour.

I heard my whole life described. I nodded, I took notes, I tried not to cry.

Maybe some of my feelings of isolation aren’t from being damaged by my childhood and therapy not ‘fixing me’, maybe it’s because I’m actually an empath who doesn’t know how to protect herself so I withdraw into solitude instead.

Maybe the reason I stayed in relationships that weren’t working, despite having done an extensive 12 step program in overcoming codependence, was not because I failed the program, but because I’m an empath who doesn’t want other people to experience hurt and rejection.

Maybe the reason I feel uninformed and unable to contribute to conversations on world events is not because I’m ignorant, but because I can’t bear to see all that suffering the news reports cover.

Maybe the reason I stopped working as a psychologist last year isn’t because I’m a commitment phobic who can’t stick to anything, but because while I have a strong desire to help, support and guide people, I also feel overwhelmed by them.

It was like I saw myself for the first time.

When I got home, I had a look at the websites of both women. It really didn’t surprise me to discover that the woman who did my reading had trained with the woman who gave the talk, even though they live in different cities. I felt led to both of them.

Here are some things I discovered:

An empath is someone who feels other people’s or animal’s emotions (even fictional ones!) as though they are their own.

Not just Peter Rabbit – don’t put Lassie or even a nature documentary on if I’m around, ok? Even if there’s a happy ending, I don’t want to watch.

An empath’s nervous system will mimic what’s going on around them.

I remember a personal trainer laughing once while he was measuring my heart rate – it was matching  the beat of the music in the aerobics room. This also happens with music used to build suspense in movies, my heart beats faster and faster as the music speeds up – NOT pleasant.

Someone who experiences compassion feels FOR others, whereas an empath feels WITH them, experiencing their actual feelings. 

I remember once being at a cinema with my parents and their friends. In one scene a woman was pushed off a cliff and fell to her death. I burst into tears, which my highly embarrassed mother ordered me to stop immediately.

A previous partner became exasperated with me because I refused to watch the news.  He couldn’t understand that I found it debilitating and would poise on the edge of my seat ready to run from the room if details and images of violence, cruelty or suffering appeared, which they inevitably did.

Highly sensitive people are more likely than empaths to be activists. HSPs are here to change the negativity whereas an empath just wants to clean it up and move on (although apparently you can be both an HSP and an empath).

Since high school, I have given money to animal and children’s charities, but I would insist they not send me any details of what my money was used for. The early images of baby harp seals being clubbed to death on the Canadian ice took me months to stop thinking about every waking moment. I wanted to help, but I was too incapacitated by the graphic details to do anything other than sign petitions, donate money and raise awareness. Empaths aren’t built to be on the frontlines

Empaths adore animals and crave being in or near water.

I have had this litany of wants going through my head for years:

  • I want an aquarium
  • I want a pool
  • I want a bath tub
  • I want a beach house
  • I want a golden retriever / boxer / pitbull / rottweiler
  • I want a horse
  • I want pigs / goats / llamas / giraffes
  • I want to safari in Africa
  • I want to swim with the dolphins

So I think I can tick that one as a ‘yes’ 🙂

Empaths are drawn to the healing professions, but they can end up turning away after qualifying

I am trained as a psychologist. I spent years in this profession listening, empathising, validating and being with people in their pain. Until I couldn’t do it any more. I enjoyed my job but eventually I realised I had to take an extended break.

Now I know why.

During my ‘hibernation’ during the winter months, I plan to learn all I can about thriving as an empath instead of becoming overwhelmed, resentful and withdrawn. Once I emerge from my cave in Spring (that’s September for me), I anticipate my career direction will be clearer than it’s ever been as well.

It seems like I finally know what my true gifts are, and how to use them effectively for the benefit of others and myself. Stay tuned for my explorations (I think there’ll be many posts on this topic!) on how to survive as an empath in a world full of raw energy and emotion.

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37 Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing your experiences and insights Leanne.. I am currently trying to understand this whole area as have been told over the years that I do this but the word empath wasn’t used until recently when having my akeshic records done, which were quite pheonmenal in relaying why i am as i am… its great to understand it more..

    wow to hear about aligning with the music around me is amazing.. always happens with suspense tunes in movies.. adoring animals and seeking water is so much a part of me… i have lived in various countries and unless i am close to the sea ..i feel out of sorts and whether i choose it or not, i attain an array of anmials in my new homes 🙂 Stray cats have come to me to birth their kittens and reward me with snakes and lizards .. there are so many aspects to it that are wonderful and as you say once we learn to diffrentiate who’s emotions we may be experiencing.. its easier to manage.

    Looking forward to reading your other articles on this Leanne, much thanks
    Caroline recently posted…Space: The Final Frontier by Shan WattsMy Profile

  2. I love this. I know that I’m definitely a HSP, but I think I’m pretty empathic too. I’m still reeling from a movie I saw a few days ago (it’s part of a trilogy) and I feel way too emotionally invested in the characters and what’s going to happen to them. My mom says that since I was a baby, I’d react and take on emotions around me. I don’t always feel others emotions, but maybe I don’t always realize that some emotions aren’t mine! This is something I’m still exploring, but I think there’s a lot of truth to this for me. Thanks!
    McKella recently posted…The Struggle that Freed MeMy Profile

  3. I often ” know ” things with other people, even strangers. I even wondered if I was just really good at guessing things in their lives. I seem to have most ( not all ) the traits as an Empath. I love animals. I tend to be to tactful in fear of hurting other peoples feelings. Im annoyed by Narcissistic people. I have wild and vivd dreams, that sometimes help predict or reflect things in my waking life. I love to dance, draw and Im told that im very creative. Im also very nosey. I love to hear about others and their lives. I tend to be a shoulder to cry on and a listening ear to many. Ive been told i give great advice, and when i give it out, sometimes I dont even know where it came from. I always thought that maybe there was something wrong with me. Almost like I make it up as I go along. It happens too often to be that… I dont know how to control it. I wish I could be given confirmation. Someone to tel me, ” yes, this is what you are and this is how you use it and this is why you have it.” The weirdest part of this all is that I only really noticed it in that last few years. I wonder if Ive always been this way and always brushed it off or did something happen to me that made this ability open up?

  4. I am definitely an empath. I love animals and the ocean. I am drawn to healing and helping professions as well. I was a tarot reader for 6 years but I had trouble talking with clients in person and over the phone because I could sense there emotions too much. Email and chat was all I could tolerate and it hurt my business. I eventually decided to walk away from the business because I like working behind the scenes and not necessarily with other people. I went back to school to study information technology and I also hope to improve my writing and speaking because I can see myself doing that. I just don’t want to do one on one sessions anymore.

    • Leanne Chapman

      August 11, 2013 at 8:40 pm

      I totally understand what you’re saying Ashlie – I admire you for honouring yourself by doing what supports you the best x

  5. As a child I cried easily when I saw animals or people hurt. At the time I was told that I was too soft hearted.
    In early adulthood I hid my soft heartedness to protect myself from others to taking advantage of my sensitivity.
    In mid life I’ve allowed that soft heartedness to re-enter my life because I now have the skills to empathize more appropriately.
    Priska recently posted…10 steps to take you toward your mid-life reinvention.My Profile

    • Leanne Chapman

      August 11, 2013 at 8:39 pm

      So many of us were told we’re too sensitive – I’m so glad you’re allowing that side of you to surface again Priska x

  6. Thank you for this most insightful account of your experiences as an empath. I do recognise so many of my own here, I realise all those childhood feelings are valid and now I can continue to unfold and grow into this amazing, beautiful and sometimes challenging gift..

  7. Fascinating read. Really sheds light on what being empathic means and feels like. thank you for sharing your story. I learned a lot…about myself as well.

  8. Every once in a while I start to doubt whether I’m really an Empath or just highly sensitive. 🙂 Then I read articles like this and I think, “Oh yeah that’s me!” I was really interested to read this: “I remember a personal trainer laughing once while he was measuring my heart rate – it was matching the beat of the music in the aerobics room. This also happens with music used to build suspense in movies, my heart beats faster and faster as the music speeds up – NOT pleasant.” I have noticed that I react like this but had never connected it to the Empath thing. Thanks!
    Michele Lewis recently posted…Ropes Part 2- I Choose NoMy Profile

    • Leanne Chapman

      August 11, 2013 at 8:37 pm

      Hi Michele, I’m not entirely sure of the distinctions between them either, there seems to be a lot overlap. Glad to hear someone else experiences that sort of bodily reaction too!

  9. Hi Leanne,

    I really, really love your post! I’ve discovered recently that I’m an empath too, also trained in psychology 🙂 Sometimes the work would make me feel drained. Other times, I think I’ve come off as the opposite of highly sensitive, since I’ve trained myself to block out my feelings so I don’t get overwhelmed. I’m slowly learning to allow myself to feel more and remove myself from situations that are overwhelming without getting frustrated with myself. Thank you for sharing!

    ~Christina

    • Leanne Chapman

      August 11, 2013 at 8:34 pm

      Thanks so much Christina, sounds like we have a lot in common! I think I knew I was burnt out when I started to not feel any empathy at all sometimes, so I know what you mean. Great to hear you’re working out how to make it work for you without getting overwhelmed x

  10. Michelle Rogers

    July 6, 2013 at 7:13 pm

    Great post Leanne, a lot of people will find some comfort in you sharing this.

  11. Oh Leanne, I’m so moved by this, I love that you’re realising what’s really been going on with you in your life; that it’s about understanding how to live in the world as an empath. I am so glad for you that you’re able to hibernate and learn to thrive over the winter. I look forward to hearing what you discover when you re-emerge. I am not quite an empath…but I definitely have that desire to be near water and love for animals (so much that I cannot go to a zoo or aquarium without being stressed for the animals!) xx
    Donna recently posted…OnTheBeach: The Freedom to Drive Your LifeMy Profile

    • Leanne Chapman

      August 11, 2013 at 8:30 pm

      Donna, you definitely sound like a very sensitive person – I’m like that with zoos as well but thankfully a lot of them are really lifting their game now and the animals are much more content. Thanks for your lovely encouragement and support x

  12. Very interesting~ I’d never heard of being an empath before, but I see a lot of connections here. Thanks for the info.
    Pamela recently posted…The First Zesty Mom Travel Guide is Here!My Profile

  13. This is so fascinating. I would love to learn more about HSP & empathic qualities.
    Cynthia Lindeman recently posted…A Little Wild, A Little Untended, A Little Unconcerned: Another ChildhoodMy Profile

    • Leanne Chapman

      July 3, 2013 at 11:04 am

      Cynthia, that gives me an idea for future posts, thanks! I’ve been reading research on HSPs for a while so I think I’ll start writing more on that. Thanks for dropping by 🙂

  14. I coach many people who I know are empaths but think there is something wrong with them. When I explain it is such a relief. Thanks for a great post.

  15. This takes me back to when I “discovered” I was empathic – I cried for two whole days! I really didn’t want to be an empath. But now, while I still think being empathic makes life more challenging, I also believe it make life more rich and interesting.

    I couldn’t imagine life without my empathic ability – it would be like losing my sight or hearing. Its a part of who I am, and how I interact with the world. We empaths have been blessed with another sense, another way of interacting with the world. It gives us much more of an understanding of others, and a far, far greater connection with everything around us.

    Sure, there are times when this isn’t a good thing, but I’m not sure that I’d choose to change it, even if I could.

    I look forward to your hibernation insights Leanne! 🙂
    Debra recently posted…Lessons From India: Helplessness & SurrenderMy Profile

    • Leanne Chapman

      July 3, 2013 at 11:02 am

      Hi Debra – yes that’s exactly how I felt! It’s a painful realisation because really, who would choose to be an empath?? Yet at the same time, total relief to realise I’m not ‘damaged’ and there are ways to manage it and even use it to benefit others. You’re right that it would be like losing sight or hearing if it suddenly wasn’t there, it’s so much a part of me now. Good to know I’m in great company!

  16. Wonderful and enlightening post Leanne. Thankyou for sharing your insights into a part of you. Happy for you that you have had this realisation. My children are both empathic (perhaps most are), and very sensitive to energies around them, especially my 13 year old son. Thankyou for throwing some light on it. Very helpful to others that may experience this!

    • Leanne Chapman

      July 3, 2013 at 10:59 am

      Krishna, yes maybe we lose these skills as we grow up in many cases due to the pressure to not be ‘so sensitive’. Interesting thought. Thanks so much for your insightful comment 🙂

  17. Great post Leanne, your openness and self reflections took me places and I relate to…beautifully expressed and I look forward to reading more. Cheers Di
    Di recently posted…A Leap Of Faith…Confidence With Style?My Profile

  18. I loved this post. I often don’t know where my feelings end and another person’s begins, whether that be in real life or in reading fiction. I can relating to empathising with feelings and mirroring my environment and sometimes needing survival tools to handle my overwhelming feelings..and being so passive about some things or withdrawn because i don’t want to hurt others or myself…..and I can relate to tuning out from negative things in the media for that reason. i love Peter Rabbit too ….and would love to know how to survive as an empath:)

    • Leanne Chapman

      July 3, 2013 at 10:57 am

      Hi Clare, yes it’s so easy to be influenced by others when we don’t have the right tools to keep us separate and then we can withdraw and put walls up or get defensive and lash out. Such a relief to know what’s really going on and how to manage it!

  19. this is a great read, not only for empaths, but for those who are in some sort of relationship with an empath: i.e. partners, parents. etc.. I would like my husband to read this so he will know why I cannot watch certain movies. And my daughter needs to read this so she will know why my grandson cries so easily and feels everyone’s pain.

    I have shared on facebook.. hopefully my loved ones will read it..:)
    Joy Andreasen recently posted…The Energy Since the SolsticeMy Profile

    • Leanne Chapman

      July 3, 2013 at 10:56 am

      Hi Joy, yes it’s true, other people find it as hard to understand as we do. I hope your family do find it helpful to read. Thanks so much for sharing.

  20. Thank you for this beautiful post, and for sharing so openly of your experience. It helped me greatly when I finally realized that sometimes the feelings I was feeling we not my own, and at that point I could just say to myself silently, “This is not me, and it’s okay.” It is a wonderful thing to recognize that the things we often think are “wrong with us” are exactly what is “right with us.” 🙂 Indeed, recognizing our gifts for what they are (what is “right” with us) is a turning point towards thriving. I wish you all the best on your journey! 🙂
    Cindie recently posted…Comment on Where do I find Peace? by CindieMy Profile

    • Leanne Chapman

      July 3, 2013 at 10:55 am

      Thanks Cindie. Yes it is hard to distinguish what’s ours and what’s not and it can make you feel like there’s something ‘wrong with me’! But it really can be a gift as you said. Thanks for visiting 🙂

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