As a self proclaimed empath and highly sensitive person, I have met many challenges on the road in a less than sensitive world. My hope in sharing is so that others like myself do not feel so alone. The work that I do with my fellows is more about finding comfort in being seen by those that can. When an empath is properly mirrored and affirmed we stop blaming the “experiencer”. Like most empaths, we feel deeply and we feel what others are feeling in our bodies. Even if an empath struggles with embodiment due to trauma or over intellectualizing, there is still a visceral experience that can convince an uninformed empath that they are the problem.
One of the most common reports I hear from clients is that they tend to feel unseen, unheard, and misunderstood by those that they care for. Many, unfortunately, are surrounded by those that do not have the same sensibilities but tend to reap the benefits more from the empath’s presence. It is important to note, that not everyone can mirror an empath which is why these feelings are ever so prevalent. The good news is, that other empaths can mirror empaths like no other. To further support this notion, there are studies that correlate the amount of mirroring neurons to the ability to express accurate empathy. Perhaps, this would explain why graduates from my empath coursework report finally feeling a sense of connection with others that understand what it is like to feel more than one’s own senses.
An example of empath mirroring would be going to the grocery store and the person behind you in the check out line begins to tell you their life story and starts off by saying “I have no idea why I am telling you this…”.In addition, your friends and family seek counsel and comfort from you when they are struggling despite their inability to return the favor and you feel like you ought to start charging for services. This, in all sincerity, is partly why I chose to go back to grad school for counseling psychology as a second career.
For those that get to be in the presence of a mirroring empath gain access to seeing themselves in favorable light. This is why the troubled Narcissist who has no sense of self albeit grandiose in demeanor, loves the reflection they see in an uninformed empath’s rosy glasses. This natural optimism helps the empath to see the best in some of humanity’s most deeply wounded. Although this is not a crime in and of itself to love unconditionally, it proves to be quite problematic in an empath’s life when they find themselves in the dragon’s lair, fighting off the very beast they sought to love.
So what is a compassionate person to do? Do you continue to be the sacrificial lamb? Do you continue to put your emotional needs aside without reciprocity? I think not. The trick here is to remember that if you are in fact reflective and when you emit as strongly as you feel, you have the power illuminate. Please do not confuse this with codependent programming that purports you are here to fix or change anyone! This is merely to say that if you mirror what is already on the ground level, you too will become a doormat. With careful self reflection (and your own truama work), one can say the thing you never got to hear from those you so desperately seek affirmative from, only to find that you are the loving person you have been looking for all along. When you cease to engage in this dynamic, the other is left to their own devices to grow, struggle, and hopefully gain from their own ability to mirror themselves more accurately and if not, it cannot be helped.
Written by Stacey Cohen, MA, LPC