I am you—I am not you: The mystery of empathy

A Review of

Wendy De Rosa’s

Becoming an Empowered Empath:

How to Clear Energy, Set Boundaries, and Embody Your Intuition*


Henry Reed, Ph.D.


“We are here to be part of the solution through our own inner work.” Wendy De Rosa

Can you do empathy? Are you empathic? Are you an empath? If you have ever moved to music, smiled at a piece of artwork, enjoyed watching a child at play, or sighed at a sunset, you are capable of experiencing empathy. The concept, and word, comes from the German Einfühlung, literally meaning “feeling-in.” It was invented to explain how our aesthetic response to art occurs. The process by which we appreciate art is an empathic process of feeling/imagining into the art object. We do so by (unconsciously) using our past experiences as our initial language of perception.

With the advent of psychological thinking, the word “empathy” came to mean a person’s ability to imagine what another person’s experience might be like. It became a dimension of human communication and relationship. It has become a dimension of emotional intelligence. It has also become the latest focus in the boundary wars. Before there were “empaths” struggling to deal with unwanted psychic invasions, there were “co-dependents” struggling to free themselves from a compulsive response to others.

Where my professional research and my personal development coincided in the 1970s and 1980s was to understand the almost universal ambivalence about “psychic powers,” especially the need for tinfoil hats to prevent unwanted influence! Doing research in several dimensions and arenas, I boiled down my observations to the concept of “boundary” and the “binary self-experience: I/not I.”

We like to assume that we are autonomous, free agents, capable of choosing which stimuli we’ll respond to and how we’ll respond, from safely within our own bounded self. Try holding your breath: you’ll soon learn how you need to let go of that boundary, and now! You can go a little bit longer without eating or drinking, but not indefinitely. We are open systems of exchange with our environment. How is “psychic interaction” any different?

For some time now we have been fighting and enduring what we might call “the boundary wars.” It snuck up on us at first but lately has been getting pretty intense. It is a huge revolt and asks the question, “How can I be me if I can’t have my own way?” Native Americans had the answer, and the return of the Eternal Feminine consciousness may revive it: “I am all my relations.” A boundary in this sense may be better understood or expressed as personal integrity or “self-efficacy”: I can make a difference in how I respond if I can be mindful and make a choice.”

Here is one of my teaching stories about empathy, or when the “I” finds itself in “You.” I’m sitting in the gym’s steam room, enjoying the relaxation after the workout. It is usually a meditative time for me, but on this afternoon I am finding myself getting very upset. I’m ruminating over a recent experience at the dentist’s office. During a routine cleaning, the dentist asked me if I’d like a Fluoride rinse. I said “sure.” When I went to leave, I discovered the bill was increased by $60 for that rinse. It really upset me, as I felt I had had no choice in the matter and had been duped. I found myself imagining taking a complaint about the dentist to the Dental Board, and other measures. Finally, I became mindful of my quite upsetting reverie, paused, and asked myself, “Why are you churning this dead issue?” I realized it touched on, or triggered, my low self-esteem, that I would submit to the dentist’s request without hesitation or question. I was aware of that dynamic, but why was I fretting about it now, and so intensely? There was a fleeting thought reminding me about a counseling client coming that evening, and I wondered about that person…. When the appointed time arrived, and the client began to share with me their recent experiences, I heard the frustration and self-condemnation being expressed that I had been experiencing earlier in the steam room. I had been unconsciously, proactively, intuitively “empathic” with this client.

The empathy experience upset my meditation in the steam room. How did I get triggered by this “connection”? It was because my relationship with the dentist was (unknown to me) unfinished, unhealed—I continued to harbor the low self-esteem and resentment of the dentist’s treatment, although I hadn’t been aware that I was carrying such feelings. It was those feelings, however, that heightened my non-local sensitivity and empathy for the client I was to be with that evening.

I was learning about myself via my experience of “uncanny empathy.” It takes one to know one—something we knew in kindergarten and would often repeat to fend off remarks. The reverse is then true: We learn about ourselves through our empathic experiences with others.

But can we experience too much empathy? That’s where “boundaries” come into play. However, the boundary is not a shell around us, nor a “keep out” sign. A modern view of boundary is one of consciousness. It is boundary as self-efficacy… “I can make a difference.” How we respond to what we experience—the degree of our mindfulness gives us that degree of freedom.

My existence is embedded in a network of relationships. How I experience these relationships and respond to them will create my life. What can I learn that will help me? That’s the question as I begin to browse through this new book I’ve received, Becoming an Empowered Empath: How to Clear Energy, Set Boundaries, & Embody Your Intuition. Will the author fall back on the old physical boundary paradigm or will she adopt the new, quantum paradigm of boundary as a relationship of information processing.

I’m not too far into the book when I come upon this very heartening paragraph, one I’ve never encountered before from a self-acclaimed “empath”:

“Empaths need not be victims to the world around them. I know it can seem that way when you are feeling everyone’s energy, but when you feel triggered by another individual’s energy, think of it as an opportunity to address the deeper layers within you that need to be seen, healed, and brought into alignment. The good news is that empaths are awakening and learning about their empathic nature so they can heal their early-life wounds and fully express their gifts.”

I like it that the author suggests it’s natural to get triggered—use it to gain mindfulness and healing. She doesn’t advise a tin hat, but rather journalling. Use that energy for self-exploration. She gets into detail that, for once, I am able to “grok” regarding the energy centers in the body. I know Edgar Cayce describes the workings of the endocrine system and the energy centers, or “chakras,” and their role in both how we experience events and how our health unfolds. I didn’t enjoy the material side of psychology—brain study, for example—and I don’t resonate much to chakra talk. However, that said, what I was reading about how different kinds of traumas (the source of potential triggers) were embodied in different energy centers of the body was making a lot of sense to me, so that’s a great compliment to the author when you can break through what my wife calls a pretty thick head if not a willing heart.

Besides the words of wisdom, the inspiring stories, and the heart felt love the author has for your personal unfoldment, you’ll find worthwhile journaling exercises, as well as scripts for audio meditations (links to the author’s audio versions are given in the book). I would say that the author’s vision and sharing is quite consistent with what is being built as alternative or future consciousness. It is in keeping with the emerging Feminine in that intuition is being promoted by this author not as a way to “get ahead in the world,” but as a way to experience sharing your gifts, as a way of being in the world. I highly recommend it. Plus it’s not so long a book that it’s a burden. It’s a lift!


Here is the publisher’s link to the book: Publisher’s Info on Book: https://www.newworldlibrary.com/Books/ProductDetails/tabid/64/SKU/87190/Default.aspx#

Here is the author’s video:  https://youtu.be/T6AOQOJy3tk