I’m a physical (and emotional) empath, or as I recently learned – someone with mirror-touch synaesthesia. Meaning that I feel other people’s sensations in my own body when I focus on a person, or on more sensitive days, when I just see the person (that includes random strangers in the street); and sometimes (apparently) when I focus on a person even though they aren’t present (to give the whole thing some psi-flavouring).
Ever since somebody who knows the topic convinced me that this is what’s the case with me – that it’s the reason, for example, for going out into the streets of the city, or into a social gathering, and coming back completely wrecked and overwhelmed frequently – I’ve started researching the topic as if my life depended on it (as, in a sense, it does – the constant overwhelm had driven me into depression and towards occasional suicidal feelings at a point).
Empath research like your life depends on it
Somewhere along that road of reading up, paying through the oddest courses and workshops, and running into questionable yet instructive personal encounters, I ordered a stack of “empath” books that included Dave Markowitz’ title “Self-care for the self-aware”.
Although the book doesn’t explicitly mention empaths in the title, Dave calls himself a physical empath and medical intuitive and the book is chiefly about how to cope with constantly feeling other people’s feels being that, or how to reduce what you feel. I have reviewed the main technique presented in the book in my article A review of empath quick-fixes. It has been one of the more helpful ones for me personally.
Peeling away other people’s sensations to stay with your own
Many of the people I’ve learnt from regarding being an empath emphasise that the main reason why you need to be able to tell your own sensations and feelings from those of others (that you feel as if they were your own) is that the methods that would cure a pain – or calm / process / heal an emotion or a trauma – if it were yours won’t work if what you’re trying to cure is literally someone else’s pain – something you are mirroring from another person, rather than self-generating.
Literally feeling others’ pain
To give you a simple example, when I was in kindergarten, another kid came in with a bandaged limb. As soon as I saw that, my own body started hurting in the identical place, and I couldn’t shake off the pain until later in the afternoon, long after I’d gone home.
In this case the cause of me feeling the pain was obvious enough to be understood by the 5-year-old that I was. I understood intuitively that I was feeling that other kid’s pain; I knew there was nothing wrong with my own body.
“Absorbing” without realising
However, it turns out this isn’t always the case. Sometimes the other’s injury isn’t as striking as showing up with a huge bandage. Sometimes my attention is perhaps elsewhere, I’m thinking about something else, while my body still picks up the sensations of others. And I don’t realise it until I get home to relax on my own, and realise I carry a lot of mystery pains and emotions.
Note: for years, my whole adolescence and my twenties, I didn’t realise that that was it. I was simply constantly emotionally overwhelmed without obvious triggers. If you feel that way and think you may be an empath, the relevant articles (on how to tell empath overwhelm from other stuff and on empathy vs. trauma) in my Overwhelmed empath manual contains some hints I’ve found to check that.)
(You can read more on that in Stories of being a physical empath or in the category “energy healing stories”.)
How to heal pains that aren’t yours?
It is from that book that I most poignantly gathered the exhortation to first get rid of all the symptoms a physical empath / mirror touch synaesthete may be carrying from other people before trying to heal pains – as there may be much less – or completely other stuff – left than you thought.
So how do you heal pains you carry that aren’t yours? You don’t. You just recognise them as such and get them out of your system. After that, you use the healing modalities of your choice (whether holistic, conventional, psychotherapeutic, or whatever) to deal with what’s left – what’s actually yours.
Obstinate hip pain
I have been practicing a number of movement, touch and energy therapies on myself for years (probably close to a decade, since I incidentally discovered that I can intuitively do that during a meditation retreat). While I don’t claim it’s a panacea, I got very reliable results on myself and sometimes others with simple issues like muscle spasms, cramps (e.g. menstrual cramps), muscle tightness resulting from nervousness, stiffness, joint pain, mysterious psychosomatic pains, etc. Over the years I had not encountered a pain in myself that didn’t respond to that at least gradually.
Except that for the last two years or so, perhaps more, my right hip joint had been hurting for no obvious reason – mostly from walking. It was also much less flexible than the left in any kind of yoga or other movement practice.
I have no memory of when that started; it must have set on gradually, but over time became really disturbing, to the point where I was wondering if it’s my shoes, buying barefoot shoes, doing special stretching exercises, finally when I learnt reiki (that often instantly helps me with spasms and tightness) I spent periods applying it daily. Nothing – not even a bit of improvement, at all.
I didn’t assume it was a serious issue, still it was just making walking unpleasant. And I walk a lot, many miles daily usually.
At some point after having perused the empath literature, thinking back of Dave Markowitz’ book, one day after trying something again with no results, I just got exceedingly frustrated. And I said, heck, I will try that too. Who knows, perhaps it’s not mine.
So in the way that I usually speak to my body (sometimes using words, but mainly intention and a kind of feeling-communication) I “said” to that pain, heck, listen, if you are not mine at all, then just get out of here. This communication was heartfelt and forceful, after months of playing around with massages, stretching, reiki, etc.
Oddly enough, the next day the thing was gone.
I was hesitant to be happy, thinking it may be a chance fluctuation in pain levels. But it was still gone three days later. And three weeks later. In the month that has passed since, it’s only come back very briefly, in a momentary fashion, once – after many miles of walking on concrete, a shade of it for a few seconds. And gone again. Far from the constant pain that was there before.
I was actually so completely astonished by that that after a while I ended up chatting about it with my mother (who is sometimes interested in my empath and healing explorations). When she asked what kind of pain it had been, since I hadn’t really mentioned it, I pointed out the exact location and nature. She then said that she had been having a pain in the same spot for a very long time, too.
I’m not sure this one was literally and specifically my mothers’ pain. I’d have to check more exactly for times and locations and sensations (I usually like to get an exact description from the person, as I know that in some cases my symptoms mirror them in ways that I couldn’t have known and only then do I reluctantly accept that probably – in some way – this had not been my pain). Perhaps for my grandmother – she also has hip pain, but I haven’t had the opportunity to ask whether it’s the precise location and when it started and when I could have “picked it up”.
However, the fact that the thing has just been gone using that particular way – recognising it’s not mine and refusing to “host” it, in a sense – is still somewhat staggering to me.
Don’t try this at home
If you don’t have (very) good evidence of being a physical empath, such an approach can seem very odd, to say the least, and even seem – and probably be – dangerous; because making mistakes, taking things that are your own to be someone else’s, would be at best suppression, at worst neglect and lying to yourself.
On the other hand, I’ve also been engaged in various body awareness and meditation practices for a decade and I’ve realised that the way I communicate with my body and sensations seems very unusual, puzzling or mystifying to most people who haven’t worked in this field. Certainly just saying a phrase usually won’t do it (except perhaps for people who have cultivated body awareness and intuitive responsiveness in some other way, or naturally have that intact connection).
Still, this small, potentially coincidental – yet mystifying – experience is an encouragement for me to continue working on taking all these odd claims seriously. Claims that some people can literally carry others’ pains and emotions, and not be aware of it. And that the body intelligently responds to our insights, emotions and energies (which does not at all seem odd to me anymore after so many years of testing it).
And looking for ways to use this and turn it into more of a gift than a burden. Hip pain is very mild compared to some of the other things I’ve realised I’ve been carrying from others since I’ve started doing this work of “peeling the onion“.
For example, I believe that vicarious traumatisation can be a big thing for both physical and emotional empaths.
If you recognise any of these experiences, or have thoughts, questions, are aware of further resources or information, please leave comments below or write me.
If you might have this trait yourself or know someone who does:
Being a physical empath from a scientific perspective – mirror touch synaesthesia*:
*note: although this is the closest scientific / mainstream / non-esoteric description of my experience I’ve found to date, it doesn’t include all that I and some others I’m aware of experience. I hope to research this and write about it in depth soon.
Dave Markowitz’ website: