Physical Empathy and Emotional Empathy
There are two major ways that we feel empathy. Physical empathy is when we feel things that other people are feeling but we feel them in our bodies. That means when you are picking up something from someone you feel it in your body. Often, touch is required for this, but sometimes just physical proximity will do it.
For example, say you put your hand on someone and all of the sudden your back hurts or you have an instant headache. Maybe it's not yours, it might be theirs! But you feel it in your body as if it were your physical pain.
Any good massage therapist or body worker has physical empathy. They know where to put their hands on you, since they will feel it in themselves.
Like all empathy, this is good and bad. It is an amazing part of the psychic gift that all empaths have. It's very handy for a healer to know what is going on in someone's body even if they can't quite articulate it. Physical empathy is a great diagnostic tool for healers!
On the down side, it is a problem when we hold onto to those things for longer then a few seconds. There is no need to carry someone else's pain home with you, and yet so often it happens.
I have a fairly strong ability for physical empathy, so I often feel in my body what my clients are feeling, especially in a healing session when I am doing energy work and have my hands on them. It's really useful diagnostic information, but I don't need to know it for more then a few seconds or a minute or two. My goal is to feel it long enough to identify it and then let it go. It's necessary to learn how to let it go once you have felt it and not carry it home with you.
Empaths who have strong physical empathy and don't learn how to release that energy often end up sick, with a string of health problems that don't really belong to them. There is a natural tendency to absorb another's pain and while you can do that and relieve someone's pain, you really shouldn't since you will pay the price for that. And there are other ways to help besides sucking up someone's pain or illness for them.
The Problems With Energy Transfers
All empaths, but especially physical empaths, have the natural ability to heal other people through a technique called energy transfer. In an energy transfer the empath will "suck up" or absorb someone else's energy and run it through their own system. It's a bit like dialysis machine; the empath will filter someone else's pain through their own body and energy field.
It's usually one of the filtering organs in the body, like the liver/gall bladder, kidneys/bladder, skin, lungs or the digestive track. An empath can actually run someone else's pain, disease, or emotional issues through one of these systems in their own body. The energy transfer means that you are actually exchanging energy with the person. If your energy is higher, then they will feel better having some of yours, and you will feel worse having taken some of theirs.
Most empaths do this unconsciously and so will pay the price of being sick a lot. If you run someone's sickly, depressed energy through your digestive track, for example, you will have a lot of problems like irritable bowel syndrome or other digestive complaints.
From an energy standpoint this is a really bad idea since it really takes a toll on the empath. The same thing can be done with painful feelings, so an empath might suck up someone's depression, sadness or anxiety and run that through their energy field.
The problem here is that the energy transfer actually works. You can make someone better by doing that; it's just not a good idea. This is one of the many reasons why I think it's a good idea for empaths to learn Reiki or other energy healing techniques. When you are doing Reiki, that other kind of energy transfer is as easy to do.
Emotional empathy is when we feel other people's feeling as if they are our feelings. It can be combined with physical empathy and many empaths have both, like I do.
Emotional empathy is what most empaths really identify with. That is when you pick up someone else's feelings and experience them as your own. It can make you feel like you are crazy too. It took me years to figure out that half of what I was feeling wasn't even me; it was some one else's emotions.
Emotional empathy can be increased by touch or physical closeness, but I notice that empaths can be very plugged in to people and feel their feelings, even over very long distances. The more intimate the relationship is, the more strongly you will feel that person's feelings and it doesn't matter how far away from you they are. So you might feel the person sitting next to you on the train very clearly, and you might also feel your loved one, even if they are far away from you.
We get very plugged into the people that we love and can tune into their emotional states no matter where they are.
Some people are what I call "broadcasters." That means they strongly broadcast their feelings very loudly. For an empath, it's like standing next to someone who is screaming. It's very uncomfortable for empaths to be around those kinds of people, especially if they are upset about something.
Broadcasters are typically people that are fairly unconscious about their feelings. The more tuned out of their own feelings they are, they more they broadcast them. For example if they are really shut down to the fact that they are angry, you could ask them if they were angry and they would say no. But an empath standing next to them would feel it wafting, leaking or blaring out of them as if they were shouting.
I see this all the time with people who really need to cry, but won't let themselves. As soon as I put my hands on them, I want to cry myself and I know that if they owned and expressed their own feelings, then I would not feel it as strongly.
Other people are very psychically quiet and are easy for empaths to be around since they don't make a lot of emotional noise. The "quietest" people to be around are those that have done their emotional work and are taking care of and processing their own feelings.
Lisa Campion is a psychic and energy healer who specializes in teaching and training empaths. Read more of Lisa's blog at www.lisacampion.com. Read Lisa's article "Things That Go Bump in the Night" from the Spirit of Change archives.