Psychologists, counselors, nurses and healers (anyone in a caring profession) require sympathy as part of their job description, yet empathy may be the doorway in to really connecting with their clients. When it comes to alternative medicine, there are many empathic people in the Reiki community, as it should be! It takes a very intuitive, sensitive, and courageous person to embody empathy. I often hear many people in the Reiki Community say that they are “taking on” too much; taking on other people’s feelings; that they desperately seek a way out. Yet, people who are developed spiritually; do not suffer in this way. It is because they know the difference between sympathy and empathy and when to use it. These people have fully integrated Reiki into their way of life and moved beyond sympathy and empathy into compassion. But first we must understand the difference between empathy and sympathy to help us gain a distinction between the two. Here are two different definitions; One from Merriam-Webster and the other from a spiritual perspective:
- Sympathy: “the act or power of sharing the feelings of another”
- Empathy: “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner”
- To express sympathy is to make it known that you are aware of another’s distress and that you have compassion for them.
- To express empathy takes things a step further by not only expressing compassion but also showing a deeper level of understanding by entering into the other person’s experience detached from reaction.
Imagine being at the bottom of a deep dark hole that you dug for yourself. Your friends and family or support group may be at the top waiting for you offering encouragement; this is sympathy! They want to help you out of the pit you have found yourself in. While it may assist you, it is not as helpful as the person who is standing beside you. The person who purposely chose to climb in the hole with you and can see the world from your perspective; this is empathy. They know that the two of you can now climb back to back up this hole and get out together.
In the Healing Community, when it comes to Reiki; expressing sympathy can leave a person feeling that people have taken pity on them or are feeling sorry for them which can create a sense of inferiority and disempowerment; leaving them disconnected to us. Empaths, who are often Healers, intuitively know a more effective approach is to take a position that does not allow for a hierarchy to form, yet allows everyone to feel on the same level; creating and maintain a bond. This can only be achieved through empathy.
It is at this point that the definition of a Healer needs to be revisited. A Healer in modern times can be defined as a person who creates space for others to feel comfortable enough to heal themselves. This wasn’t always the case. In ancient times, it was the Curandera (healer) of the village who appeared to have all the power. Only she could alleviate suffering. In those days, however, a great secret was kept hidden from the tribes; the Curandera was in-tune with herself and all that exists. She had an in depth understanding of spiritual principles. She knew healing was possible. So the dancing, singing, or tribal ranting was just a show to get the ill out of their own heads long enough to accept the healing that was already present.
In this day of our age, those fancy tricks don’t work anymore. Anyone in the field of the healing arts is grateful that such is the case; no one wants to wear war paints and dance around like a monkey with cowbells on anymore! Now that we are living in the age of the empowered human, Healers must find a way to facilitate a client’s healing without taking their power away. It can be done through expressing empathy while applying Reiki.
As a Reiki Practitioner, when you “take on” a client’s feelings, you are disempowering them. It is a form of selfishness and usurps their authority to feel, to grieve, to experience. It is not the way of a healer and must be addressed in the Reiki Community.There are many ways empathy can be offered:• Reflecting a persons expressed feelings back to them• Paraphrasing what a person has said to you to demonstrate an understanding.• Being centered and grounded in yourself and using tools to help you stay grounded.Listed here are things people say, do, and feel with sympathy and a more appropriate empathic response:
I am so sorry about your loss! I feel your grief. (unafraid, you remember your own grief and avoid taking on theirs, releasing yours)Let me do that for you! Can I help you with that?I feel so sad for you! I feel and understand your pain. (reminiscing on your own pain yet maintaining focus on them)
IN REVIEW:Sympathy can be best described as feeling for a person. Empathy can best be described as feeling with a person. Yet it does not mean you have to take on the feelings of that person, nor reactivate your own. Each time you encounter an Empathic experience, you can use it as an opportunity to release what no longer serves you. Here are some tools to remain centered and balanced and ultimately release trapped emotion while working with Reiki Clients:
Looking people in the eye – keeps you focused on them and helps you intuit their feelings.Imagining you are in a protective bubble, but do not trap yourself here, it’s a momentary “shields up” while the threat is pending and a letting go when the threat is not longer perceivable.Breathing - It sounds cliché, but it’s true! Really feeling your own emotion and releasing it through the breath is the easiest and less obvious way to regain your own power.
Pepper – keeping a small vile of black pepper in your medicine pouch is recommended. Taking in a deep breath while inhaling the aroma; imagining that you have a cyclone of pepper around you can keep their feelings away.Wonder Woman Bracelets – you can either wear them or imagine them; they create a force field of protection.
Stones – Hematite, Quartz, labradorite (deflects energy vampires),
Rose Quartz (replaces negative feelings with positive ones), Apache Tear (dispels sorrow and grief), Onyx, Obsidian, Green Tourmaline (heals auric tears), Amethyst, Amber.
Affirmations: thought or said out loud - “I release what no longer serves me”, “these feelings belong to this person”, “I am centered and grounded in my roots”, “I empathize with this person, yet I am my own person”.Empathy & Sympathy