Empathy is the ability to understand the feelings of another person. It is often confused with sympathy which is the ability to feel sorry for another person. You can feel sorry for somebody from a rational perspective without having empathy for them or understanding why something makes them unhappy.
Empathy brings its own problems but lack of empathy can be dangerous. I have met only two people in my life with no ability to empathise with others. The first acted entirely without malice but had so little understanding of other people that she would hurt them terribly without meaning to. The other was a sociopath, she treated the alien emotions of other people as a scientific experment. She pressed the buttons to see what would happen. They both left a trail of destruction behind them.
An empath is a person with a natural ability to feel the emotions of other people. A lot of witches claim this ability, some very genuinely and some because it sounds an impressive title. Most witches however have some empathatic ability. I find that as with so many of my personality traits it is something I can do only when I focus. I can be completely oblivious to others and a little thick skinned unless I make the conscious effort to switch onto what that person is thinking. When I do this I can be quite intuitive.
The thing is, I'm the lucky one really. I don't envy the natural empaths their gift. There's enough troubles in our own lives without experiencing all the miseries of other people. Natural empaths are very prone to depression. I know some who cannot bear to leave their house as they act like a magnet for every emotion in their immediate vicinity. And it does seem to be particularly prevalent with negative emotions. Possibly unhappiness is easier to tune into than happiness.
Just as there are people who pick up the emotions of others there are also people who influence the emotions of others (ever seen that episode of Father Ted where the miserable priest comes to stay and just sucks the joy out of every room he is in?). That sort of person is humorously termed a mood hoover. But the reality is not so funny. Faced with one of these relentlessly miserable types on a daily basis, even the least empathatic person will start to feel dragged down. Some people delight in being a miserable wotsit and they seem determined to inflict their negativity on the rest of us ......
But there are things you can do to minimise the draining effect empathy can have on you. Negative energy builds up inside you so the practice of grounding is essential to return that energy to the earth and leave your head clear of that buzzy slightly over energised electric feeling. I use a visualisation of imagining myself sprouting roots into the cold dark earth, sinking into the soil and siphoning my excess energy deep inside the earth. Visualisations with nature elements can be very peaceful and can help restore your peace of mind.
The practise of shielding is advisable for anyone, especially anyone in the magical community and definitely anyone with any degree of empathy. Shielding is a protective defense and involves creating a barrier between yourself and the rest of the world to keep negativity out. I say negativity as that is primarily what I use shielding for, I visualise other people's negative emotions bouncing back off my shield. It can also be used as a protection against other things such as magical attack or deliberate malice. But those threats are rarer and you are far more likely to encounter negativity in your day to day business.
Shielding becomes easy with practise and can take whatever form works for you. Some witches imagine a clear plastic barrier,others a ball of purifying white light. It can even be a protective circle of tree branches. The more you identify with the method you choose, the better it will work for you.
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