Empathy: knowing exactly how another feels in any set of circumstances, usually by virtue of having experienced the same circumstances
Empath: a person who easily picks up on how others feel emotionally, even without communication.
I am an Empath. I am an extra sensitive in many ways, and what defines an Empath is being able to pick up on other’s moods and feelings even when the other tries to hide it — sometimes without wanting to. I began wondering a few years ago why I and many others have this skill, so I began to research the psychology, psychic attributes and even the biology surrounding Empaths. What I found was fascinating, and led to me uncovering some deep truths that may help others with the same curiosity.
Biologically, we each have an electromagnetic energy field we emit that reaches several feet beyond our body. As newborns, this field picks up signatures from the fields of our caretakers. It’s part of the internal system (along with mirror neurons in the brain) that trains us to mimic adults so we can begin to survive on our own- to feed and clothe ourselves and remember dangers and how to avoid them. This is called imprinting. Being able to pick up on moods around us makes us better able to survive, to decide if we are safe and can relax or if we need to take action in some way. This means that our parents imprinted upon us by their relationship with each other and with us, “This is what Love looks like.” If they had bitter arguments, a breakdown in communication, violence or a divorce, we internalize it deep within our psyche and no matter how good our adult relationships begin, or our intention going into one, our imprinting begins to show up, a shadow of the past casting darkness on the present. Watching a parent get their feelings hurt and say nothing, sacrifice them self for the other without thanks or acknowledgement, being disrespected repeatedly without consequence, or turning to someone outside the marriage for fulfillment instead of having adult conversations within the relationship concerning needs and boundaries, becomes part of what we inherit. “This is what Love looks like, and what I should subconsciously expect of relationships.”
There are many events we have all experienced and internalized in our childhood that need to be evaluated from an adult perspective if we want to promote self esteem. (Such as, A parent or teacher saying “That’s wrong, that’s stupid” becomes internalized as “I’m wrong, I’m stupid.”) We take these on as judgements of our character and actual worth instead of a commentary on our actions, and in this way we erode our self esteem over time by repeating, “I’m wrong, I’m stupid, I’m worthless” to ourselves when we make mistakes.
(Meditation, Tapping therapy and shadow work are the only methods I’ve found that enabled me to stop that voice from deciding my moods for me.)
Empaths often become involved in relationships with Narcissists because of this imprinting. I discovered why after thoroughly researching Narcissists, and realizing that I am what is termed an “Echoist” – a person who has very low inherent self worth and relies on others to decide who and what they are. This term refers to Echo in the Greek mythology, who can only mimic others due to a cruel curse by Hera for the crime of incessant chatter.
(Empaths, who pick up other’s emotions and have trouble distinguishing their own, all fall on the scale of Echoism)
Narcissists and Empaths/Echoists are two sides of the same coin, neither of which spends well in relationships. We are created in the same manner, and it is my conclusion that it comes down to personal sensitivity and security as to how we develop either a narcissistic or empathic/echoistic personality. Narcissism is usually a male trait, because our culture disdains sensitive men, thus making a tendency for Narcissism when a sensitive boy has to shut down his feelings (disregard what you feel, feel how I tell you to) to “be a man“. This begins as early as age two by something as flippant as “hush up, boys don’t cry” being said to them.
Both Narcissists and Echoists saw parents who displayed, “My feelings are more important than yours,” and both answered “yes, ok” for survival. The difference is, a Narcissist internalized this as “Ok, Personal feelings must be made more important than other’s to make myself happy “ (because the parent’s personal feelings trumped theirs to make the parent ‘happy’ during that circumstance) and an Echoist internalized it as “Ok, Other’s feelings must be made more important than mine, to be accepted and make myself happy.” (Because the parent displayed anger, rejection and frustration when asserting a circumstance’s needs over the child’s)
You can see how this makes us dynamically magnetized to each other, and also how this sets Empaths up for always being taken advantage of.
Empaths/Echoists become super attuned to others, because the more we intuit about others the better we can react to them, and the better we can adjust ourselves to get their approval, and approval equals happiness for us. This ability, to tune into others, served us very well in connecting with our family, because by also having no personal boundaries or by not feeling secure enough to demand an inherent right to be ourself, we could easily adjust to be what THEY wanted. We internalized that in order to receive love and connection, we needed to be what others wanted, and that being fully ourself was a way to experience personal rejection and family disharmony.
Narcissists learned to disconnect completely from how others feel, except in cases where they found they could manipulate how others felt in order to get approval or their agenda through. Narcissists learned to DO as others wanted, through Overt manipulation tactics (such as Love bombing, brown nosing or excessive gifts) where Empaths/Echoists learned to BE what others wanted through denial of self (never setting boundaries and having a loosened sense of self, such as pretending interests in what others like and giving time to doing them just to spend time together) and using Covert manipulation tactics.
Neither of us have ever learned healthy ways to communicate wants and needs or get positive attention, because we never saw it displayed or had it taught to us.
We are the same in that we have had events happen in childhood that left us with a deep feeling of abandonment and rejection, yet we have different ways of managing it. We are both trapped in self concepts of fear and deep insecurity, and we are both extremely needy, because our imprint of Love is so dysfunctional and because we both feel we were neglected and dismissed totally by our parents.
To give an example of how the same type of event can create completely different reactions and coping strategies, I’ll share some insight I’ve found in my own shadow work.
My father was a Narc, loud and demanding. My mother was a wounded and sensitive woman, “trapped” in a marriage all her life that brought her deep unhappiness. After many years with Narcissists, sensitives learn that Narcissistic tactics work well in getting their own needs met. When I came along late in life, she envied the attention my dad gave me. At age five she told me my father never wanted me and wanted to abort me, and that he would have preferred a male to help on the farm. My father came in later that day and yelled at me about the toys and books I had strewn out. I internalized these events as, when someone yells at me it’s because they wish I wasn’t alive, are angry I exist, and I was born all wrong to receive love (gender wise). My father rarely interacted with me beyond yelling, and after yelling he often went weeks without so much as a hello, but that gave me time and space to forgive him as I felt loveable when he didn’t tear me down.
What this means for me? When somebody yells at me about something they perceive I’ve done wrong, I’m triggered into near suicidal thoughts almost immediately, and the feeling of self hatred used to take days to shift away from. When I get upset, I tend to retreat and avoid, giving the silent treatment often, because I want to avoid being made to feel that way again and I need time to forgive and reset my self esteem.
My husband, on the other hand, had a childhood going through many many foster homes. (23 in ten years) When adults yelled at him, they were very direct about his actions. He picked up that if he didn’t change exactly according to what they yelled about, he would soon be shipped off. He came to see yelling- one of the few interactions he would have with foster parents- as an act of love. To him, being told loudly exactly what he needed to do to remain in the presence of a caretaker (and the availability of love and survival) was one of the few forms of love he was offered. For him, yelling is an expression of care, because once his guardian didn’t care, there was no communication at all, and then he would find himself abandoned and sent away.
So yelling = love to him, hatred to me, while prolonged silence = allowing space to love myself and forgive others for me, and displays hatred or lack of love and a signal the relationship is over to him. The same event of yelling or silence becomes filtered through our imprints, causing VERY different internal thoughts and feelings and therefore external reactions.
As you can imagine, we had a FUN relationship.
Narcs are people who embody “show me I’m loveable, by giving me love- I prove my worth by receiving love” while empaths embody “when I give you love, you’ll show me I’m loveable – I prove I’m worthy when others accept my love”. This comes from different perceptions of the same types of family dysfunction. Both are prone to manipulation tactics, because they are learned methods of receiving the love you are coming into the relationship begging to be shown. We are the same, we just developed different coping mechanisms, neither of which is healthy or balances well within relationships. One makes others feel better at the cost of being unauthentic and makes the self feel worse. One makes others feel worse at the price of making the self feel better.
Empaths/Echoists are prone to toxic people because of their inherent lack of selfishness to even consider that it’s healthy and proper to set boundaries AND still be giving. It’s healthy and proper to see the good AND the shadows in people and use discernment without judgement to choose to not allow them to take advantage of us. We have to learn to love others in ways that don’t make us love ourselves less, or we are in a self defeating cycle. You must know and respect your boundaries or yes, you will get taken advantage of. They will take advantage of you not sharing those unknown boundaries, and cross them.
Narcissists are less prone to realizing OR overcoming any of their shadow, because the pattern for them is to see that the only issues must be in the other person, and then move on to new energy to manipulate. Self reflection and inner work don’t usually appeal to them at all, unless they can get their energy needs met while doing so. Personalities built upon “show me love for worth” don’t fare well entering a space where they have to face everything unloveable about themself, because it threatens identity on an even deeper level than for an empath. An empath/echoist has motive to change- “doing this will make your love more acceptable, thus making you more worthy” versus how a Narcissistic pattern internalizes and perceives suggestions as, “you aren’t worthy of love unless you change yourself this way”, and the patterned responses when faced with self growth issues create goals for an empath to achieve and walls for a narc to break down. It’s not exactly easy for anyone to admit to faults and issues, but less so for narcissistic types, since it is based upon other’s needs and wants for respect taking priority, something not in their imprinting of how to get love.
Narcissistic people are less prone to realizing change, because the imprinting for them once their energy supply becomes wise to their tactics, is to move on to new energy to manipulate. Once an empath/Echoist has boundaries they can affirm in a loving manner, these narcissistic types simply move on. You literally won’t connect. The polarity of how the empath approaches relationships shifts, so what they attract and allow shifts. Often, embodying what an Empath deems as selfishness is what’s required to end a toxic relationship for an Empath.
Shifting your imprinting and how you relate to others is certainly NOT easy or something that happens overnight. It involves going into the darkest parts of yourself and admitting fault about reactions and misperceptions repeatedly. It involves becoming someone who constantly watches their thoughts and who is able to control them self into becoming non reactive, while not numbing yourself against feeling. This means becoming aware of patterns and triggers which will continually pop up over seemingly frivolous things.
Sent into a rage because some guy cut you off in traffic? Address your anger over powerlessness and disrespect that actually caused you hurt and grief and danger in your past.
Parents were very busy and uninvolved when you were young? It’s probably contributing heavily to your present day depression and feelings of low self worth. Go within and rationalize to your inner child self that lack of time never necessarily meant lack of love.
Having crying jags and supreme irritation lately because of the news about school shootings? Enter a heart space within and search your memories for buried feelings about betrayal by neglectful or ignorant adults who were supposed to keep you safe, and address the fear, anger and powerlessness you personally picked up because of bullies, abuse, exclusion or rejection in school that you experienced.
Once you’ve found a memorable event, or “Shadow” that’s haunting your moods, emotional stability and relationships still, go within that memory movie and sit down with your child self after it plays. Talk to the part of you that was too young to understand adult behavior, the one who internalized these events and now causes you to react childishly and act out in ways that cause you to feel bad or have breakdowns in relationships, when those same feelings get triggered now. Sit there with that child self and allow yourself to actually feel those feelings deeply instead of suppressing them. Love that part of you. Explain things to child-you from an adult perspective — that your parents did their best but really didn’t know what they were doing. Explain that the circumstances caused them to treat you that way, or their ignorance did. Tell your child self what you need to hear — that You is kind, You is smart, and You is important!
Parents are good people who mimic what was done to them by their parents, with only slight tweaks as culture has changed going back many generations. This is part of the whole “forgive them for they know not what they do” spoken of by a wise man long ago. (If you’re a parent like me, you need to forgive yourself for unknown imprints given to your own children, too)
This is called Shadow work, and it is hard and demanding and takes time, persistent motivation and self love to do.
Narcissists and Empaths attract each other because vibrationally we feel the same: not convinced we are love able without using our learned manipulation tactics.
Empaths later tie selfishness up with thinking highly of oneself, and subconsciously reject both, because we’ve wrapped them together due to our bad relations with Narcissists and others who have an overinflated sense of self esteem.
It’s entirely possible and healthy to be selfish in certain situations- in fact it’s part of setting healthy boundaries and demanding respect from others, and shows self love in that it asserts that you deserve relationships you don’t have to completely change who you are to be in. It’s also very healthy to think highly of oneself, for without solid self esteem we never move into our true power, because we place our desires below everyone else’s at all times, and drain our self motivation away.
What can you do about this?
When you find yourself having poor communication or troubling relationships, remember:
“What I see and judge in others is what I judge and reject within. I would not have strong emotions unless the situation was in some way touching on an internal trigger. “
For instance in the case of witnessing Narcissistic types: you see selfishness as completely bad and wrong, and feel hurt when you see it displayed, this means you reject it, and reject the part of yourself that needs you to be selfish and demand respect from others by setting boundaries. Selfishness is a part of a healthy self loving person who places boundaries and honors them despite how it makes others feel. If you continually reject selfishness that means you’ll alway act selflessly, and be taken advantage of and only attract those who are wholly and unhealthfully selfish. If you want to attract someone who has a healthy balance of selfish- and selfless-ness, you have to achieve that within yourself.
“Shadow work”- illuminating what darkness in your past clouds your present interactions, and thus your future if you don’t become aware of it, can unearth your issues and triggers and lead you to coming to know your boundaries in a relationship.
The method I use is also described in Teal Swan’s books and videos.
You can find more detailed information about Imprinting, relationship dynamics and the Imago Effect in the book by Harville Hendrix, Getting the Love you Want.
Jayson Gaddis has a good podcast on this subject too, the Smart Couple Podcast.
Tapping therapy, written about by Nick Ortner in several books is a Wonderful method for clearing emotional blocks and building self esteem. (Brad Yates on YouTube is like an awesome Mr. Rogers for hurting grownups)
Journaling letters to parents expressing our feelings for imprinting that doesn’t serve us is great too, for releasing frustration, embarrassment and resentment at self for “being this way”. (Not letters to send, for our parents are a product of their childhood, so on and so forth, a ‘karmic tie’, if you will, that you as a sensitive are here to shine a light on and heal for future generations.)
Creating an actual list of what you NEED in a relationship is an invaluable tool for becoming aware of what your boundaries should be. It also gives us a way to be able to communicate our needs directly instead of holding partners to expectations they are unaware of. To do this, look at a time in your life where you were in a happy relationship and performing at your best, and ask how and what needs were being met that created the conditions for you being your best self. Decide which of those conditions contributed the most to your success at that time, and evaluate where your boundaries should be to give you the opportunity to be your best and happy self again.
MEDITATION is by far the greatest tool in the discovery of self knowledge necessary to begin to create healthier relationships. Just ten minutes a day will lead to amazing changes within.
Finally, educate yourself. There are tons of videos available on YouTube or podcasts you can put on while relaxing, being artistic, cooking, driving or doing housework to help you find tidbits of knowledge that will lead to self knowledge and a better understanding of how to have positive relationships.
As always, I’m available for consults as well :).
Namaste and Blessed Be, dear ones.