The Space Between: An Empath’s Field Guide is a non-fiction book written with the intention to demystify empathic sensory reception and foster inclusion of intuition as a natural extension of human intelligence and creativity. As of 2019, I am seeking agent representation and publication. If you are interested in reading this book, please provide your contact information. Link provided at the bottom of page.
What Does it Mean to Be an Empath?
For a large portion of my life, I have sat or stood beside other people—strangers and family members alike—silently experiencing some aspect of their life through my body, my thoughts, and my emotions. This is an empathic trait—to host or mirror another’s displaced feelings. I have entered rooms and been met by impressions that utilize my own senses to convey that there is more in a space than what can be physically touched or seen. This is also an empathic trait—to have an expanded relationship to the environment. Understandably, I was slow in recognizing these exchanges when I was younger, as the society and culture I was raised in did not discuss or consider such possibilities.
I was not born an empath. I became one. And precisely because my awareness was gradual and nothing as divine as a lightning-bolt epiphany, I began to realize that there is a process to integrating heightened sensory reception into an ordinary life. The Space Between is my account of how I traversed the arc of being an overly sensitive person at odds with my environment and culture to become an engaged and functional empath, comfortable in my own skin and all the sensations that come with that authority.
For many empathic persons the world is confusing
For many empathic persons the world is confusing because there is such a lack of definition and understanding of what it means to be empathic and/or an empath. And this confusion is partly because there are too many unaware empathic persons, and partly because it is a concept couched in the mainstream perception as “paranormal” activity, as if it were a hobby or a sideshow in a traveling circus.
If you type the word empath into the online search of the Merriam Webster dictionary, the following message appears: “The word you’ve entered isn’t in the dictionary. Click on a spelling suggestion below or try again using the search bar above.” Other dictionaries at least offer the following definitions, which are nonetheless contrived mostly from hearsay:
empath (noun) (chiefly in science fiction) a person with the paranormal ability to apprehend the mental or emotional state of another individual. (Apple onboard pc dictionary)
empath(n.) orig. Science Fiction. A person or being with the paranormal ability to perceive or share the feelings or emotional state of another. Later also more generally: a person who can understand and appreciate another’s feelings, emotions, etc. Cf. empathist n. 2. (Oxford English Dictionary)
The dictionaries’ narrow inclusion of the word empath hints at the difficulties for someone with empathic sensitivities in communicating how they experience the world to themselves and to others. How can they define themselves when the common language of a culture or society excludes or misrepresents a vital aspect of their reality?
And for me, the challenge is made all the more complex because of my reverence for language, which I use as a guide to give form to feelings, to create boundaries, and to construct relationships within my inner and outer worlds. Language defines as it communicates, but what happens when your reality is not reflected back to you from your family, from society, or from your culture? How do you validate your sensory experiences when even the dictionary, a renowned resource and an authority on language, only affords you an existence in science fiction or fantasy?
No longer science fiction
Ironically though, I often feel like my life is strangely being lived in a science fiction set surrounded by a general population that appears disconnected from a deeper awareness and experience of what it means to be human, but who are nevertheless eager to outsource enhancing their lives with the rapidly expanding technology of the day. The world can seem upside down, dysfunctional, and lost—and I’m certainly not alone in my pursuit of finding my place in such a world.
Being empathic is a personal journey that challenges what you sense and feel, and, for me, it became important to understand what purpose it serves in my life. To feel and sense what’s in a room, or from the land, or emanating from a person, and to understand why those feelings are present in the first place, and moreover, what to do with this information—these are all important questions any empath needs to ask themselves. Questioning how impressions are “picked up” is only half the equation—the other half is how and why these transmissions are present at all. This is ultimately a story about language and communication, and the essence of Life itself: there is always a transmitter, a receiver, and a message.
Part of my challenge in writing this book was finding a way to articulate how I experience the world as an empath, something I have not done at this level of detail before. I want to reframe the standard advice given to sensitive empathic persons, which ultimately misrepresent empaths as “sponge people” who need to armor up to protect themselves. Or who possess characteristics designated to the science fiction realm with the abilities to “apprehend” people’s thoughts and emotions. Unfortunately, there is an all too common tendency to fear what we don’t understand or know, and we disguise this fear with humor, or we project an exaggerated reality upon it, giving it power it does not naturally possess.
I also want to highlight that different sensitivities are better supported and accepted by finding the appropriate communities and professional guidance that recognize and honor these differing traits, experiences, and perceptions. And this requires a level of self-awareness. I experienced that there is an evolutionary arc from being an overly sensitive person who tries to survive in their environment by feeling separate, to that of being an engaged and functional empath who witnesses what is out of balance and displaced in the environment and honors that connection.
Why is this book relevant today?
As an ordained Spiritual Counselor who began my practice in 2003, it’s important to highlight that there is a spectrum of sensitivities that can impact a person’s perception of how they fit into the world around them. In 1997, Dr. Elaine Aron introduced the label of Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), which researchers have gone on to identify as a genetic trait expressed in an estimated fifteen to twenty percent of the population. Sensitive persons—of all variations—flocked to this label, finally feeling seen and given a voice of advocacy in counseling and society. But not all persons with empathic receptivity are HSPs, or not completely. And the HSP brand does not address the non-ordinary receptivity that unaware empaths receive from their environment and accept as their own thoughts and feelings. This one-size-fits-all model of sensitivity does not serve an empathic person.
As more misplaced sensitive-leaning persons crowd this single HSP label, without appropriate support or professional guidance, and social sciences and psychology promote empathy as the emotional agent to counter narcissism, we are culturally creating emotional fatigue and burnout. Today’s society is experiencing alarming rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide, despite an increase in mindfulness therapies and a steady flow of pharmaceuticals. The National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that, in the US, one in five adults experience mental health issues in any given year. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that, worldwide, ten to twenty percent of children are experiencing mental health disorders and neuropsychiatric conditions are the leading cause of disability in young people in all regions. A quick survey of society shows us that there are many today who do not feel comfortable in their own skin, or life.
In 2006, I created the presentation “Sponge or Empath: Consciously Evolving your Sensitivity,” the seed from which this book grew. I want to contribute to and expand the conversation about sensitivity, empathic nature, and intuition, which is only going to grow in the coming years. The last twenty years have witnessed the awareness and promotion of empathy as a healthy expression of mental and emotional health; the last ten years have promoted the health benefits of nature, sustainability, and conscious living; and what is emerging now is how to bridge these two aspects of inside (empathy) and outside (nature). How are we connected to the environment around us, to communities, and to ourselves? I’ve been waiting for the right time for my material and it is now.
Empathic sensitivities require a person to know themselves beyond cultural and social identities because this sensitive nature can distill authenticity down to a sensory experience.