As a gifted child, I received no support from my parents about my special needs (not because they didn’t love me, but because they didn’t know what a empath child was and were never taught how to understand my sensitivities). Because I felt misunderstood and invisible as an empathic child, I have become especially passionate about educating parents about raising their gifted children (I call them High Potential/Haut Potentiel as the acronym “HP” works in French as well as in English).
What is the difference between having empathy and being an empath? “Having empathy means our heart goes out to another person in joy or pain” says Dr. Judith Orloff as an empath herself. “But, for empaths, it goes much farther. We actually feel others’ emotions, energy, and physical symptoms in our own bodies, without the usual defences that most people have”.
Gifted empathetic children have nervous systems which react more quickly and strongly to external stimuli including stress. Sometimes they feel too much but don’t know how to manage the sensory overload. They see more, hear more, smell more, intuit more, and experience emotions more. For instance, they may not like strong food smells in the kitchen, perfumes, harsh bright lights, or loud talking. They prefer soft clothes, beauty, nature, and having one or a few close friends rather than many acquaintances.
Their sensitivities can get assaulted by our coarse world, and this affects their behaviour. Since most empathic children can’t articulate the cause of their upset, enlightened parents can help them identify triggers and offer the solutions that Judith Orloff, MD gives in her book The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People, a guidebook for empaths and all caring people who want to keep their hearts open in an often-insensitive world.
Knowing that your child is an empath is the first step toward bringing out the best in him or her. Then you can support your son’s and daughter’s sensitivities as an expression of their excellence, compassion, and depth. To determine if your child is an empath, take the following assessment.
Is Your Child an Empath ?
- Does he or she feel things deeply?
- Does he or she get over-simulated by people, crowds, noise, or stress?
- Does he or she have strong reactions to sad or frightening scenes in books or movies?
- Does he or she want to escape and hide from family gatherings because there’s too much going on?
- Does he or she feel “different” than other kids or complain about not fitting in?
- Is he or she a good listener and compassionate with others?
- Does he or she surprise you with intuitive comments about others or yourself?
- Does he or she have a strong connection to nature, plants, animals, or stuffed animals?
- Does he or she require a lot of time alone rather than playing with other kids?
- Does he or she take on a friend’s stress or upset?
- Does he or she take on your own or other people’s emotions or stress—and act out when you’re angry, upset or depressed?
- Does he or she have one best friend or a few good friends rather than a large social network?
Here’s how to score this assessment :
- 10-12 yeses indicate this child has extremely strong empathic traits.
- 7-9 yeses indicates strong empathic traits.
- 4-6 yeses indicate moderate empathic traits.
- 1-3 yeses indicate some empathic traits.
- Zero yeses indicate that the child is not operating primarily as an empath.
No matter where your child is on this spectrum, he or she would benefit from being taught to honour his or her specific sensitivities.
And if you don’t know already Dr. Judith Orloff, let me introduce her to you. She is the New York Times best-selling author of The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People. Dr. Orloff is a psychiatrist, an empath, and is on the UCLA Psychiatric Clinical Faculty. She synthesises the pearls of traditional medicine with cutting edge knowledge of intuition, energy, and spirituality.
Her new book Thriving as an Empath offers daily self-care tools for sensitive people along with its companion The Empath’s Empowerment Journal. Dr. Orloff also specialises in treating empaths and highly sensitive people in her private practice. Her work has been featured on The Today Show, CNN, Oprah Magazine, the New York Times and USA Today. She has spoken at Google-LA and has a TEDX talk.
And her other books are Emotional Freedom, The Power of Surrender, Second Sight, Positive Energy, and Guide to Intuitive Healing.