Sunday, June 14, 2009

Empathic Symbiosis

Have you ever been in a relationship with another person and felt as though, within the first few minutes of meeting, you've known them forever? And has that relationship left you not knowing where they end and you begin? Did the relationship end abruptly and leave a gaping hole in your heart? And did it leave you feeling lost to the point where you even considered taking your own life, because you had no identity of your own (outside of your connection with that person) and no dreams of your own (other than those of the other person who left)?

This is something we've all suffered, to one degree or another, once in our lives as Empaths. It is painful. It is harsh. And not all of us survive after this kind of connection. That's why I feel this is an important topic to write about. So lets start with some definitions and then go directly into this topic.

The Definitions

Empath is a person who has an acute or highly developed sense of empathy. Empathy is the capability to share your feelings and understand another's emotion and feelings and is often characterized as the ability to "put oneself into another's shoes".

1. the living together of two dissimilar organisms, as in mutualism, commensalism, , or parasitism.
2. a relationship between two people in which each person is dependent upon and receives reinforcement, whether beneficial or detrimental, from the other.
3. the relationship between an infant and its mother in which the infant is dependent on the mother both physically and emotionally.
4. any interdependent or mutually beneficial relationship between two persons, groups, etc.

1. to cause to combine or coalesce; unite.
to combine, blend, or unite gradually so as to blur the individuality or individual identity of

Empathic Symbiosis

Empathy is that ability to know accurately what a person is thinking, feeling, and experiencing, and to communicate that understanding. Symbiosis is a relationship between two people in which each person is dependent upon and receives reinforcement, whether beneficial or detrimental, from the other.

Empathy bears an interesting and reciprocal relationship to symbiosis. On the one hand, empathy requires an adequate amount of mutability of self-other boundaries, so that a person can enter into the world of the other. On the other hand, there must be sufficient integrity of these boundaries so that the person does not lose themselves within the other person, 'not knowing where they end and the other person begins'. According to Urist (1976), for example, in empathy "the individual is attuned to the other's subjective states while at the same time maintaining a recognition of separateness and autonomy between self and others."

In an article written by Rose Rosetree called Empathic Merges, she uses the word 'merge' to define what a skilled Empath can do, without issue, when they bond with another person empathically. But what I have found is that when an Empath merges, even with suffcient boundaries, there is still the potential for the Empath to unify with the other person to the point where the lines of their individuality and identity become blurred. And this can be detrimenal to an Empath's psyche, whether they are trained or not. Where as, when an Empath works symbiotically with another person, they retain their original personality while at the same time expressing and utilizing their empathic skills through an interdependent relationship in which both parties co-exist.

To me this is the difference between healthy empathic bonds and unhealthy ones. Healthy empathic bonds encourage mutual growth within each individual, instead of a unified and singular whole. Unhealthy empathic bonds, on the other hand, are usually only benficial to the person being merged with and not for the Empath, because the Empath begins to lose their sense of self in the other person as they take on the other person's traits. This is also a point where empathic advocacy can come into play, where in the Empath becomes the emotional spokesperson for the person they are bonded with, because that person is emotionally dissociative.

This is the down side to having a empathic personality that is also reflective. Because the Empath is predisposed to helping others, even to their own detriment sometimes, it means that they leave themselves open to potential manipulation and abuse from other people, whether it is intentional or not.

I can pretty much guess what some of you are thinking right now. If they are really Empaths then wouldn't they be aware of whether they are being lied to or not? Wouldn't they know they were being manipulated or used?

Would you know, even if you were a biological lie detector, that you were being used, manipulated, or lied to, when you are helping someone and taking on their traits? Would you perceive that in the other person if the lines were blurred between where you end and they begin? And even if you could, would you truly walk away from that person without finishing what you had started? Or would you stay because you simply knew that if they let you in you could help them?

Its nice to say what we think is the proper answer. Its an ego stroke to imagine we would know the truth and do the right thing, unlike all of those other people who stay, help, and sumbit to such abuse. But are either of those things what would happen when you came face to face with a person in need? In other words, would you walk the walk as much as you talk the talk, despite the guilt that would rise in you for walking away from someone who was in need? Or, like all of those other people, would you give of yourself to that person until it hurt?

The reason I go over these things again and again, is to bring the point home of what is healthy and what unhealthy behavior for an Empath. There is a place in each of you that is empty, and you try to fill it with helping others. But at the same time, if you've come looking for support and answers to your questions about Empathy, then you are beginning to think about yourself a little bit. And once you start doing that, it is important not just to be able to cope, but to also recognize what behaviors promote that drowning and overwhelmed feeling inside you, so you can begin to alter and/or stop those behaviors.

Up until the point you come looking for support, you were merely surviving and keeping your head above water was just about all you could hope for. And when you are doing only that, it is no surprise that one's self esteem and self worth is limited and usually based on outside opinions.

But as you begin to recognize yourself, your thoughts, your emotions and your behavior, you become a person again who longs for more than mere survival. You begin to set goals for the future and dream of really living and thriving.

This is the difference between Empathic Merging and Empathic Symbiosis. When you merge, the dominant personality is the other person and the submissive personality is that of the Empath. When an Empath forms a symbiotic bond with another person, there can be mutual benefit because there is enough room for both people to stand side by side, instead of a single whole where the Empath disappears into the other person.

Think about it. ^_^

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