Empathy, Empathetic, Empath

Fields of sunflowers.
Fields of thousands of yellow sunflowers sharing their beauty.
My interest in the gifts of being an empath and having empathy began a long time ago. Having empathy or being empathetic means you can understand and sometimes feek how someone feels; to imagine, understand or feel like they do.
Being an empath may include the above compassionate abilities but is more a matter of being highly sensitive and often having an intuitive way “of actually feeling what another person is feeling.” Some empaths can heal or have other abilities to help people.
My experiences with being empathetic started when I was small. My parents inadvertently encouraged this gift by teaching me not to judge others but to “put myself in the other person’s shoes” and try to understand why they behaved as they did.
Recently I discovered my 6th grade autobiography and found this interesting observation by my mother: “Elaine is very friendly toward other children, very sensitive to other’s feelings….”
With my Christian upbringing and the Sunday School lessons about Jesus healing the sick and loving people, a desire to help people grew. I knew at a very early age that I wanted to be a nurse.
Then at the age of 16 I saw the Star Trek episode titled “Gem.” Two big headed, “superior” beings are testing a mute, female humanoid for her compassion, self-sacrifice and love of life. They are deciding whether her race is worthy of being saved from some impending doom.
Gem was compassionate (or empathetic) because she wanted to help the crew and felt sadness for them. She could actually feel what they felt; so she was an empath.
Here is a brief excerpt where she is healing Dr. McCoy; showing her empathy for his suffering through her expressive face; and her ability as an empath to take on the suffering of another and the ability of some empaths to heal.
To put Gem to the final test, Doctor McCoy is tortured to the brink of death. The “empath” approaches bravely to heal him. She heals the surface wounds but as she senses his impending death, she flees in tears, not wanting to die. She is torn between loving her life and giving her life to save this stranger’s life.
Finally she goes back to him, willing to give her life for him.
But the good doctor, sworn to do no harm, pushes her away, while protesting that she should not die in his place. The Big Heads tell Gem, “You, as an example of your race, didn’t die for him so you and your race are unworthy of being saved.”
Captain Kirk points out to the aliens that by their own standards, they showed lack of compassion and are therefore unworthy of living. Big Heads see the error of their ways and Gem’s race is saved.
I was absolutely fascinated by this episode and the realistic acting skills of Kathryn Hays, as she showed a wide range of emotions so fully and realistically. That episode fanned the flames in my heart to do something to help take away some of the pain of others. I just wanted to help somehow! So I became a nurse.
With my empathy came an intolerance for suffering which extended from humans to animals to insects. Movies, stories, and videos whether sad or filled with joy could make me tear up even at an early age.
Often I was told, “You’re so (or ‘too’) sensitive.” Cartoons like Disney’s Dumbo, Bambi and any lost creature or child being returned to their parent could precipitate weeping.
As a student nurse during my psychiatric rotation I was in a group therapy session. In my mind I saw one of the therapists by a fireplace, in a mountain cabin strumming a guitar and chopping wood. I asked him if he did these things and he confirmed my thoughts. My mind was blown because I had never heard of this kind of thing happening before. I was a little scared.
Once I was asked to speak to someone who declared that psychic and ESP events were from the devil. I kindly told him that as a Christian since childhood, I had a close relationship with God, loved people, and considered my abilities to be gifts from God. I used them as a nurse to help me know how best to approach my patients. He seemed surprised, which made me feel I had possibly put a chink in his wall of judgement and fear.
These unusual gifts helped me connect with my patients. Often I sensed their feelings and knew how to approach my patients therapeutically. For example: those who were anxious, responded well to an approach with confidence, strength, calmness, and a loving manner. Others needed to be approached in a professional manner; while others responded better to a smiling, friendly nurse.
There was a period in my life when I had to shut these gifts down because of the pain I experienced in my marriage.
Later after learning not to be afraid of my gift I had to learn to listen to my inner voice again. I think that having suffered emotional and mental pain myself, I understood better what others were going through and had a more open mind and understanding for the pain of others.
I have been empathic, empathetic and an intuitive for many years now and have embraced my gifts. No, I don’t take on people’s wounds and pain like Gem did. But I can often sense when someone is suffering and try to reach out verbally or physically to help them.
Sometimes I just know things about people I meet and am genuinely surprised when I find my “hunches” are correct.
One reason I wrote this blog post is to help others know not to be afraid of these gifts that we all have to some degree or other. But we don’t all use them because we use other skills more appropriate to our lifestyles at the time, or we are not ready to use them or we are afraid of them.
I am finding though that the older I get, the more I am in tune with the Creator, myself, with nature, people, and life in general. I am retired now from nursing but still want to make a difference. Now writing is one of my gifts to help others.

23 thoughts on “Empathy, Empathetic, Empath

  1. Glad to meet you. I have always loved psychology since nursing school. I am continuing to study for my own education. I look forward to reading some of your posts.


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