What, pray tell, is a wounded empath?
I’ve encountered my share of wounded empaths on my own healing journey. I feel uniquely qualified to write about this because I used to be one! And I can’t say 100% that I don’t sometimes slip into that stance from time to time, but I’ve definitely become more aware of any such tendency and regularly employ certain antidotes, which I’ll below.
We All Have a Little Empath & Narc Inside
First nevermind that it is my belief that we are all empaths to some extent, this post is about something more specific. It’s about the people who believe themselves to be empaths, rather than merely empathic, and specifically those who have done none of their own shadow work. They are a confusing, toxic breed not much different than a narcissist, although again, we are all narcissists to some extent. If I haven’t yet offended you and you’re still reading this, great! We’re off to a good start.
First, let me address the “to some extent” aspects of both empaths and narcissists.
The irony is that, generally speaking, people who are aware of these terms tend to believe themselves to be empaths and others in their lives to be narcissists. Empaths are very rarely in touch with their own narcissism or tendency to assume and project. Meanwhile, narcissists rarely are in touch with their own capacity to be empathic, unless that capacity is being used strategically to serve their narcissism. In other words, they can read and register your sadness, for example, and use that to their advantage but they cannot connect it to any internal compassion as any empath could. But again, I’m not really concerned about addressing narcissists in this post. That subject has been milked to death already!
The Emotional Slime of the Wounded Empath
So to answer the original question, “what is a wounded empath?”, the wounded empath is someone who hasn’t processed the difference between projection and perception. Their own emotional aura is a cloud of unprocessed mixed feelings. They are easily triggered by emotions they themselves have not yet fully come to terms with, so when they see an expression or “pick up” a vibe from elsewhere, rather than clarity, they register an assumptive explanation, projecting their own emotional discomforts or even judgments onto the other.
Unlike the narcissist, when they sense you are sad, for example, (whether or not this is true), their compassion mechanism contorts and generates pity and/or a completely false sense of resonance. For the one who is the object of their projection, it can feel like getting emotionally slimed. Yuck! Or if they perceive rage, their compassion may not fire at all because they have not connected to their own inner rage. Their inability to validate the reality of rage can feel like dismissal.
From Wounded Empath to Spiritual Warrior
A wounded empath who does “the work” becomes a clear seer. They know what is theirs and what is another’s. But they hold no arrogance and make no claims when it comes to specifics. They are not just compassionate, but ruthlessly so, unwilling to coddle another’s ego and especially not their own. And they can hold space for just about anything with wisdom and strength without the need to “impose”. The emotional experience of another is neither judged nor dismissed, but simply witnessed. What’s more, the clear empath doesn’t need to defend their own stance.
If you recognize yourself as a wounded empath and are mature enough to recognize the damage you are doing your own psyche by continuing to project your own stuff, make assumptions about others, and leave unexamined the need to be right, and if you’re not sure what you’re doing wrong or how to start to change it, look no further than the best-selling book, The Four Agreements, by don Miguel Ruiz. On the surface, this book seems simplistic and obvious, but if you work with it instead of just read it, if you practice what it preaches, you will be well on your way to healing so that you can step into your Spiritual Warriorhood.
I share with you here three of the four agreements which I feel have the most application:
Make No Assumptions
As an empath, if you are picking up some vibe from another person or group of people, don’t assume you understand it or have them all figured out. It is merely energy and is open to misinterpretation. Be willing to ask about it. Be willing to be told it’s none of your business. And be willing to be wrong about what you think it is. Don’t fall prey to the notion that empaths are always right; a little humility goes a long way. You do not know another better than they know themselves, so just forget that nutty notion.
Take Nothing Personally
Wounded empaths tend to be a little “trigger happy”. In other words, they are easily triggered by what they perceive to be another person’s lack of compassion for them. Nothing anyone does or says is ever about you. Not even if it’s seemingly about you on the surface. You may indeed be reading a facial expression or emotion correctly (and you may not), but that doesn’t mean you necessarily understand what is at the heart of it. People are complicated. Don’t reduce them to meet your level of comfort. And don’t use them to hurt yourself.
And know that I’m not judging you for being sensitive. Of course you are. You wouldn’t be empathic without it. But don’t become a victim of that sensitivity. No one is here to make you feel safe. That’s an inside job.
Be Impeccable with Your Word
This one frequently comes up in a teachy/preachy way. When speaking about what you believe to be true or about your philosophies of life, watch how you express yourself. Are you including the entire world in your feeling with grand sweeps of “we” this and “we” that? Because I guarantee you’re only expressing your experience and others will have their own, which may or may not be the same. So leave them some room to exist!
In other words, when exercising your empathic abilities, it is far wiser to use “I” statements than “you” or “we” statements, especially when discussing feelings and perceptions.
The Shadow Work Continues
The Four Agreements are a great launching point for healing the wounded empath, but they aren’t enough. It is essential to also commit to the shadow work of reclaiming the disowned self. It’s more than I can get into here, but if you are not familiar with the concept of shadow work, you can read more about it here.