Armed with a Ph.D. and a lucrative counseling professorship at age 30, I embarked on what was to be one of the shorter careers in the history of academia. Despite being nominated for early career awards and authoring a half-dozen research publications, I decided to leave my tenure-track position at the University of Wyoming in 2005 after just three years to begin working with empaths in Santa Fe, NM. I had to follow my heart. After I realized I was an empath, there was no turning back.
The cultural identity of empath is rapidly growing and gaining mainstream acceptance; Dr. Judith Orloff's best-selling holistic healing books are evidence of that. The primary characteristic of an empath is a high degree of sensitivity to the emotional state of other people. If you've ever been told that you're a good listener, then you might be an empath. People feel comfortable sharing their emotions and deepest thoughts with empaths, and thus, we tend to be especially popular around high-stress times like the holidays.
However, an empath's ability to bond with others can lead to unintended health consequences. In many cases, empaths will take on other people's emotional pain as if it was their own. In toxic situations, intense emotional energy can affect an empath deeply. We can unintentionally absorb emotions, like a sponge. I walked around for years with what felt like two fishing hooks stuck in my heart area.
In 2003, I sought out healing for my accumulated emotional and physical pain. I began a five-year apprenticeship with two Native American healers and drove the 8-hour trek from Laramie, Wyoming to Santa Fe every month. I quickly discovered why counseling came so easy. The Native American community recognizes empaths. These individuals have been trained as the medicine men and women in tribes and communities.
Research has shown that approximately twenty percent of people are highly sensitive in general. In my experience and observation, fewer still are empaths (those sensitive specifically to other people). Perhaps 5 percent of all people are natural empaths – and most do not recognize it. I am seeing women and men who have lived their entire lives wondering what was wrong with them, being called hypersensitive or oversensitive – who can now breathe a sigh of relief. What was thought to be a quirk or even mental illness in actuality is a special gift for being able to understand the emotions and motivations of other people.
In my coaching practice, I help empathic individuals differentiate what energy is theirs, and what is coming from other people. We work on coping strategies to manage the high sensitivity and prevent the absorption of harmful energy.
I'm so happy and privileged to work in this special field with empaths, helping us to become more joyful, more skilled, and more conscious of the tremendous spiritual gifts with which we have been blessed.