Although some will say all humans have the innate ability to feel the emotion of others, I am unsure where I stand on this belief. There is a spectrum of ability to experience emotional energy and with thoughtfulness and personal introspection; I believe this ability can expand.
Feeling The Energy of Another Happens More Often
Than One Might Think
Years ago I did an intake with a man alone at night in the office. I NEVER do this, but this time seemed safe. I met the wife already, had a session with their teenage son; all I needed to do was meet the dad and gain his perspective on things. Easy, right?
Twenty minutes into the conversation, I started to feel my body go into fight or flight. It started with my chest getting heavy, then my heart began to race. What was happening inside my body? The gentleman in my office wasn’t acting aggressively, he wasn’t making advances on me…nothing but a regular intake, but my body and energy was picking up on something else. I didn’t listen to my body’s response until I began to sweat down the back of my spine. “Do whatever it takes to get him out of your office…now!” I listened.
For weeks I couldn’t understand this response, until I did. This man had a secret darkness that began to unfold as I began to get to know the family. Mom and son eventually fled in the night and moved across country to escape what my senses knew on some level weeks prior.
The Natural Empathic Abilities of Animals
Interesting enough, horses have this ability too. In equine counseling therapy, the horse is used as an emotional tool during a session. As the horse feels the emotion of the client, he begins to behave and respond accordingly. The equine therapist uses this information to teach clients about their own emotions and helps them move through them experientially. Fascinating.
What Can an Empathic Ability Look Like in a Therapy Session?
Can the Average Person Really Feel Another’s Emotions?
Since I began to recognize these emotions in my own body, I wondered how many others experience it too. So, I gathered up the courage to begin to ask my clients. The answers I received were astonishing.
A couple of years ago I delicately asked a recovering alcoholic…”Ok. I’m going to ask you something a little strange, but I am really curious about this. Can you feel other’s emotions as your own?”
The man looked at me strangely and emphatically said, “Yes! Oh my gosh. I can FEEL my wife’s silent anger and KNOW when she’s disappointed in me, even when she says she’s ok. I know she’s not ok because I feel it”. He had never talked about this with anyone and was feeling so much from others around him that he shut down his own emotion. Key information to his recovery path.
I have multiple examples of clients who shut down their own emotions because they feel too much from others. Many are not aware of this until it is organized and talked about in length.
I have so many stories for this one example. A teenage girl confided in me that she had begun to lock her bedroom door at night. I was unaware of any sexual trauma, and was confused by this statement. “I don’t know why I am doing this, I just feel scared…terrified actually. My dad has NEVER touched me, I don’t know why I feel this way about him”. Six months later, her little brother told his guidance counselor that his dad had been molesting him. Wow. She could feel it.
If SO Many People are Feeling it, Why Aren't we Talking About it?
So many people are in touch with other’s emotions, assuming they are their own. Regular people have this ability, but we are not talking about it. Chances are, someone in your family or friend group can feel emotion, but they might not know what it is.
Something to Think About: Do you or a family member experience emotions that do not make sense? Do you ever feel something and you really do not know why on earth you would be feeling this emotion? Begin to introspect and see if you may have this innate animal instinct to pick up and feel others emotional energy. It may explain why social settings are sometimes challenging, or why you get too wrapped up in other’s sadness and life situations. Maybe you have an undeveloped ability to empathically feel emotion from those around you.
About the Author:
Gabrielle Anderson is the owner of and a therapist at the Family Therapy Center in Ashburn, Virginia. She is a married mother of two and lives in the Northern Virginia area. Gabrielle can be contacted here.