life

The Benefits of Not Being an Emotional Empath.

Much has been made over the idea of being empathic. This is pretty similar to being empathetic, in that both are based on structures in the brain that fire in response to other people’s behavior. While empathetic people can essentially “feel” the emotions of others, in the sense that they feel happy when others express joy and sad when others grieve, this goes deeper for empathic people.

A lot of articles have been written on the pros of being an empath, and some go so far as to treat it like a kind of superpower. At times, it can get weirdly confusing — some quizzes conflate being empathic with being generally energetically sensitive, when they aren’t the same. I’ve been called an empath because I feel drained after big gatherings and get headaches from floor cleaner, but, even if those are traits that are common to empaths, they aren’t signs of being emotionally empathic.

Anyhow, all of this is to say that being an empath isn’t necessarily optimal. The world needs empaths, but it also needs people whose mirror neurons aren’t doing the equivalent of cutting the brake lines on an F1 car. And so, here’s a list of reasons why it kind of rocks to not be an emotional empath:

Your energy is yours.

Sure, everyone should know how to shield themselves from other people’s energy. For empaths, though, this process is a lot more involved. People whose mirror neurons are more selective don’t have to worry as much about whether the feelings they feel are theirs, or the detritus of someone they came in contact with.

You can provide another kind of emotional support.

Empaths are good at emotional support because they feel what other people feel. Depending on the situation, that’s not always desirable — sometimes, you need someone who has an easier time maintaining distance to provide stability. There are also plenty of emotional situations where it doesn’t actually help to be told, “I understand you.” Some people need a witness to their experience, not someone to be in it with them.

This is a time when sympathy and compassion are helpful, but empathy may become detrimental. Not just detrimental to the empath, either — an empathic response can actually block what the other person needs from you. In the words of Graham Johnston, “using the prefrontal cortex to mentalise […] might be more helpful than using the anterior cingulate cortex to empathise with them.”

You can still be empathetic without being empathic.

Empathy arises in a specific area of the brain. In some people, this is more active than others. There is no hard line between being an empath and being devoid of empathy. It’s a spectrum.

What’s more, even if you’re not able to feel empathy like others do, you can still have sympathy and exhibit compassion. As mentioned above, there are plenty of times when a compassionate response is more helpful than an empathetic one. Even if you can’t empathize with someone’s grief, you can sympathize with their misfortune and treat them with compassion.

Projection is more difficult.

The number of people who consider themselves empaths probably outnumbers the actual empaths in the world. Unfortunately, empathy is often treated like the one good thing it isn’t possible to have too much of, but this is a) not true, and b) something that tempts people to identify with a label that may not actually apply to them.

As a result, there are an awful lot of empaths who don’t so much feel what others feel, as they project their own feelings onto other people. What if you honestly think you’re feeling what someone else is, but your feelings are inaccurate? What happens if you misidentify the source of these emotions?

Even if you are empathic, and you do accurately feel another person’s emotions, these emotions aren’t paired with that person’s personal, mental, and cultural context. You can respond to them in a way that you feel would be helpful, but, even if you’re feeling their feelings, you will always be responding from within your own context. If someone is grieving, and you feel their grief, you might want a hug to help soothe that pain within you. If you project this desire onto the other person, it’s not helpful. In the end, the solution is still to act from a place of sympathy and compassion.

An empathic response can actually increase bias.

This is a bit complicated, but follow me here.

Say you wear a red shirt. All of your friends wear red shirts. Maybe you even go to conventions about red shirts. Red shirts are awesome.

There’s another group of people who wear blue shirts. Maybe you understand why they do this, maybe you don’t. That part doesn’t matter. The red shirted people are your in-group. The blue shirted people are an out-group. Your groups’ experiences differ. They don’t go to your red shirt conventions, and you don’t get invited to their blue shirt parties. Unfortunately, this can lead to bias against people who are in the out-group.

In a 2009 study, some researchers performed experiments to see how to mitigate the effects of in-group/out-group biases. One big thing that helped was contact with members of the out-group. Another was empathy toward the out-group. Both empathy and contact reduced prejudice and biases. Here’s the weird part, though: When put together, they negated each other. Empathy plus contact didn’t improve the situation.

The researchers explained this through the concept of a “meta-stereotype.” This term refers to how a person thinks they are perceived by a member of their out-group. When an in-group member anticipates having contact with an out-group member, this concern is activated. Empathy heightens it. When you’re that preoccupied with feeling what a member of the out-group thinks of you, it becomes much more difficult to have a productive, natural interaction with them.

Worst of all, these findings were backed up by another study by a different group of researchers for years later. In this one, researchers found that attempts to take an empathetic stance toward members of an out-group actually reinforced in-group identity and negative attitudes toward out-group members. Oof.

This doesn’t mean that empaths are more likely to be prejudiced against others, of course. It does mean that, when you’re that sensitive to the feelings of others, it creates a heightened sensitivity in yourself that actually makes it much harder to relate to people in a natural, helpful way. High levels of empathy don’t always lead to better interactions between different groups of people. It’s a double-edged sword.

You take longer to burn out.

Feeling all of the feelings is tough. That’s why there are so many resources out there for empaths to learn to shield themselves, ground themselves, cleanse their energy, and generally cope with the aftermath of being exposed to other people’s heavy duty emotions and energies all of the time. This can be extremely exhausting for them, and some may even get burned out.

Burn out is a (sadly) common hazard of caretaking. People who work in medical fields or veterinary medicine, or even just provide care to young children or elderly relatives, can just become mentally and emotionally exhausted. If you’re not in those fields, don’t have access to professional resources to help you prevent burn out, and are still faced with feeling other people’s emotions, it can be pretty grueling. This is especially true when you’re primarily exposed to other people’s negative experiences (grief, loss, et cetera).

People who are empathetic in an average sense, and not empathic, still suffer from burnout. It’s just not quite as rough when you aren’t literally feeling other people’s feelings on top of everything else.

You can still be sensitive.

Being an empath involves having a deeper-than-average response to another person’s exhibited emotions. That is, your mirror neurons go off like a string of firecrackers when someone else has an emotional response to something, triggering those feelings in you.

This doesn’t really have anything to do with other sensitivities, though. You can still be sensitive to foods, scents, energy, sounds, and all kinds of things that have nothing to do with other people or their emotions. Someone may be an emotional empath, but less perceptive to subtle energies. Others are just Highly Sensitive People. Childhood trauma can even make some people extremely sensitive to displays of sadness or anger in others. This isn’t because their mirror neurons trigger feelings sadness or anger in them — they’re sensitive because they have an anxiety response to displays of negative feelings. Their heightened perception is a survival mechanism.

Empaths are wonderful, caring people, but the internet is literally full of articles praising the virtues of the empathic. Being an empath isn’t automatically an enlightened state of being, however, and can be detrimental to oneself and others. There are numerous benefits to having an average capacity for empathy, and it doesn’t exclude you from being sensitive to things other than emotions. Remember, it takes all types. If everyone was an empath, or everyone had low empathy, we’d be screwed.

life, Witchcraft

Cleansing Your Space After an Illness

By now, your home has probably had some sick people in it. Even if you’ve been fortunate (or diligent) enough to avoid COVID-19, the pandemic has triggered a spike in people using telemedicine — which means that they’re avoiding healthcare offices and handling more things at home.

Even in homes that haven’t seen illness, the vibes might be getting kind of weird by now. Being in close proximity to other people, no matter how much you love them, can result in more arguments, more tiny annoyances, just more of everything. (Absence may not always make the heart grow fonder, but it can certainly do a lot for sanity now and then.)

Cleansing is intended to recalibrate the energy of a space. Without getting too Witchcraft 101, it’s a good idea to do it where there have been arguments, nightmares, annoying guests, or anything that just makes a room feel a little “off.” It makes sense that you’d want to energetically cleanse a place where people have experienced sickness or physical or emotional pain. Odds are, you’re going to be giving the whole room a regular disinfecting anyhow, so why not combine the two?

In many folk magic traditions, magic and housework go hand-in-hand. As cleaning protects the home from filth and sickness, magic protects from spiritual ills. Hoodoo, in particular, has a strong tradition of using floor washes for bringing good in and shooing evil out. In nature, the cycles of weather and the seasons keep things moving. Fresh energy is brought in, the old is re-integrated. This isn’t something that can take place indoors, where it’s sealed-up, soilless, dry, and climate controlled all year!

Open Up

Cleansing a space gets things moving. That’s why it’s important to allow as much of the outdoors in as you can. Open windows and doors, bring in the wind and the sun. Much like grounding allows us to recalibrate our own energy fields, this lets the energy stirred up by the process to re-integrate into the world outside.

Perform a Physical Clearing

Vacuum carpets. Sweep floors. Change linens (preferably for a set that’s been aired in the sunlight). Wash curtains. Air out bedding. Anything that can be physically cleaned, should be. Pay particular attention to areas that don’t see much action, like the corners of rooms. These spaces allow things — both physically and energetically — to accumulate.

Do a Double-Duty Cleansing

Many of the ingredients that are used for energetic cleansing are also useful for sickrooms.

Floor cleaners with pine oil purify spaces and ward off evil, while having some antimicrobial activity. (Unfortunately, Pine-Sol no longer contains pine oil.)

Lemon is also used for energetic cleansing, while the citral and linool in lemon oil have some bacteria-inhibiting and antiviral action.

Fresh herbs.

Vinegar is sometimes used for energetic cleansing, by leaving a dish in an empty room to evaporate. When prepared as an appropriate dilution, vinegar also inhibits candida, e. coli, and staph.

Some herbs, like white sage, are antimicrobial when burned. If you don’t use white sage, bay leaf has also shown some similar effects.

These measures will shift the most resistant energy patterns and restore the flow.

It’s important to note that these ingredients are all aromatic. That means that they might be too strong to be tolerated by someone with a respiratory condition or sensitivity to smells. Air everything out well afterward. Even if the smell is dissipated, the cleansing action is still there.

It’s also important to note that, if you’re dealing with a serious pathogen like the novel coronavirus, you should disinfect using a cleaner approved by the EPA for that specific purpose. Not every cleaner, herb, or oil is effective against every pathogen out there. If you know what bacteria, fungus, or virus you’re dealing with, make sure you knock it out first with a good disinfecting agent. You can clear the vibes afterward.

Bring in the New

Next, it’s important to bring in the kind of vibrations you want to have around. You can place crystals that correspond to the kind of energy you want to bring in (or the kind of illness you’re working on healing), but it should be noted that a lot of crystals come with energy you may not want. If you’re in doubt, find a piece of Arkansas quartz or a Herkimer diamond harvested by the seller. Arkansas and Herkimer county are home to some beautiful, powerful clear quartz crystals — you can ask for their assistance, inform them of your intent, and they’ll work just as well.

You may also want to sprinkle cleansing salt in the corners of the room. Plain sea salt is fine here, but you can create your own cleansing salt by combining it with your preferred herbs. Eucalyptus leaves, lavender buds, and dried lemon zest with some coarse sea salt all work well for this purpose.

Playing music helps, too. Music and sound have a powerful effect on our mental — and even physical — states. The frequency of a cat’s purr helps speed the healing of bones, muscles, and connective tissue. In one study, 528hz was found to lower biomarkers for stress. Even if you can’t replicate exact frequencies, your favorite music can have a strong impact on a room’s energetic imprint.

As a chronically ill person, I’ve found that I’m especially sensitive to when things start to go a little bit “off.” Even if you don’t have the energy to do all of the things on this list, doing just a few (opening a window, playing music, getting rid of some clutter) can help improve the feel of a place.