Thoughts on Empathy: Part 1
I've been thinking about a few friends who recently expressed their angst and feelings of helplessness about being so sensitive that they feel the pain of others deeply in their bodies. When this happens with members of your primary family — when you "can't stand for them to hurt" — it can be hard to know what action is appropriate. Should you rush to their side with the help they need to escape their uncomfortable situation? We all pretty much know that it's best to let others make their own mistakes and correct their own trajectories. Easier said than done, though!
I have lived through this dilemma countless times, and plumbed its depths. Underneath the difficulties with empathic sensitivity, and the worry it generates, I have often found a strange fear of abandonment. This derives from early childhood, from the babymind, which assumes that if the parent is too uncomfortable or unhappy, they'll be paralyzed, helpless, and might die, leave me, etc. — and then I might not survive. So I must make sure they have what they need to NEVER feel sad or upset. You develop a highly tuned radar, capable of picking up the exact same kind of anticipatory, pre-upset vibrations your parent used to get, so you can nip the discmfort in the bud — but now you do it with everyone. You become a primo caretaker or healer.
Or in a variety of the same thing, whenever you drop into your soul and feel REALLY happy, are fully merged with the moment and totally enjoying your Self, a memory pops up of times in the past when you were innocently wide-open and in joy, and a parent's upset suddenly put the kabosh on things. And your mind said, "Oh, I was supposed to be on the lookout for these emotional contractions, and prevent them! I've fallen down on the job by having fun." You experience shock and remorse, and some disciplinarian part of you suppresses the clebratory, creative, spontaneous part of you.
If "being too empathic" is an issue you're noticing right now, you may be ready to see and release a last remnant of an old inner posture that is used to being cautious and vigilant about that moment when you might naturally surrender your mind because you're so happy with yourself and life, because in the past those moments were rudely intruded upon by other people's pain and ignorance, and you felt "wrong." What's up is a last decision to trust the sanity of the Flow over the mind's old rules, and to validate the goodness of the way the Flow feels by consciously reinforcing it, in a tactile way, to your body, so it sticks as a new way of being. Out with the old stimuli, in with the new.