Sunday, March 13, 2011

Emotional Exploration Of The Empath

As an Empath, I've always been fascinated with the complete array of emotions that exist and can be expressed within the human life cycle.  Watching as emotions, whether consciously realized or not, beget actions and reactions.

I believe, for our own personal benefit and development, it is very important to have an understanding of all of these emotions and how we are affected by them, because we tend to be so sensitive toward them.  So let's take a look at them, so that we can learn to identify each emotion and it's meaning, as well as, how it affects us, as Empaths.

Plutchik's Wheel Of Emotions

For the purposes of this section, we will be using the model put forth by a man named Robert Plutchik, who created a wheel of emotions in 1980 which consisted of 8 basic emotions and 8 advanced emotions, each composed of 2 basic ones. In this wheel, he attempts to set forth how emotions, both base and complex, tend to beget one another in a layered effect.

 Plutchik's theory says that the primary eight emotions are:
  • Fear - feeling afraid. Other words are terror (strong fear), shock, phobia (fear of one thing)
  • Anger - feeling angry. Another word is rage. One can be angry with themself or with others.
  • Sadness - feeling sad. Other words are sorrow, grief (a stronger feeling, for example when someone has died) or depression (feeling sad for a long time). Some people think depression is a different emotion.
  • joy - feeling happy. Other words are happiness, glee (when something good happens to someone. or something bad happens to someone else), gladness.
  • Disgust -  feeling something is wrong or dirty.
  • Anticipation -  feeling happy because of something in the future.
  • Trust - confident expectation of something; hope.
  • Surprise -  how one feels when something happens quickly or when someone did not think it would happen.
In the secondary portion of this wheel of emotions, we come back to the idea of the eight advanced emotions that come into play when two of the basic emotions are combined.  According to Plutchek's theory, they are:

  • Optimism - being optimistic. Being hopefulness and confidence about the future or successful outcome of something.
  • Love - to love or to be loving. To feel strong affection and personal attachment.
  • Submission - to be submissive. Other words deference, passivity. It is the acknowledgement of the legitimacy of the power of one's superior or superiors. It implies a yielding to the judgment of a recognized superior out of respect or reverence.
  • Awe - to be awestruck.  Comparable to wonder, but less joyous. In general awe is directed at objects considered to be more powerful than the subject.
  • Disappointment - to become disappointed.  Another word is regret or disapproval. It is the feeling of dissatisfaction that follows the failure of expectations to manifest.
  • Remorse - To be remorseful.  Other terms are personal regret, guilt, self-directed resentment. It is an emotional expression of personal regret felt by a person after he or she has committed an act which they deem to be shameful, hurtful, or violent.
  • Contempt - to be contemptuous. Another word would be scorn. An intensely negative emotion regarding a person or group of people as inferior, base, or worthless.
  • Aggressiveness - to be aggressive. A predatory behavior between members of the same species that is intended to cause pain or harm.
In other words, the primary emotions are broken down into secondary emotions, which more closely resemble actual feelings.
  • Love: Affection, Lust/Sexual Desire, Longing
  • Joy: Cheerfulness, Zest, Contentment, Pride, Optimism, Enthrallment,Relief
  • Surprise: Surprise
  • Anger: Irritation, Exasperation, Rage, Disgust, Envy, Torment
  • Sadness: Suffering, Sadness, Disappointment, Shame, Neglect, Sympathy
  • Fear: Horror, Nervousness
Positive And Negative Emotions

To simplify this idea, let's look at two lists. The first one will list most, if not all, of the positive human emotions. And the second will list the negative human emotions.

List of negative human Emotions
  • Fear
  • Anger
  • Guilt
  • Depression 
  • Pride
  • Jealousy
  • Self-pity
  • Anxiety
  • Resentment
  • Envy
  • Frustration
  • Shame
  • Denial
  • Offended
  • Negative 
  • Regret 
  • Resentful
  • Sad
  • Worried
  • Grief 
List of positive human Emotions
  • Love
  • Appreciation
  • Happiness
  • Hope
  • Enthusiasm
  • Vitality
  • Confidence
  • Gratitude
  • Patient
  • Trust
  • Vulnerable
  • Optimistic
  • Appreciative
  • Ashamed
  • Astonished
Empaths And Emotion

Now that we have some basic information about emotions, we must ask ourselves, as Empaths, a few important questions.  First would be, what does this list of emotions have to do with me?  Why is it important to be able to identify different emotions, in oneself and in others?

An Empath is marked by an acute sensitivity to the feelings of others, where in, they actually feel another's pain and suffering. As they pick up on the feelings of others, there is, generally, a deep understanding toward the driving forces which instigate those emotions. This may not be conscious, though. Instead it might be intuitive, in that the Empath has no tangible evidence to prove what they reading off another person. So it becomes more of a gut feeling.

So, in recognizing and understanding the different types of emotions, we bring this process to the conscious level, instead of leaving it buried in the subconscious mind shrouded in mystery.  It becomes a practical application that can be applied in the real world as we interact with others.  It can turn something that is overwhelming for such a sensitive soul, into something that can be managed, because we can consciously tailor our responses upon the recognition of one emotion or another instead of having a knee jerk response.

As well, having a better understanding of emotions, in a multi-level perspective, also helps you connect the dots consciously, to better see what might be the source of the emotion being expressed.  As an example, let's take the advanced emotion of remorse, which is a combination of the basic emotions sadness and disgust, and explore it a bit.  If remorse is a product of sadness and disgust (generally directed at oneself), then there was probably an incident which raised feelings of guilt and regret over some behavior that caused harm to another person.  If you understand the underlying emotions that bring forth a particular emotional reaction, it can help you consciously find a solution to the issue, instead of avoiding it by relegating it to the subconscious mind where it can slowly fester and erode a  person's self esteem.

Understanding emotions in this way, can also help an Empath better distinguish which emotions belong to themselves and which emotions belong to others.  It opens the door to doing self evaluation of emotions; "Does this belong to me or someone else?".  Conscious recognition of emotions, and a deep abiding understanding of where the emotions are being emitted from, can also allow an Empath to better set boundaries for themselves, so they are not left drowning in a sea of emotions where in they lose perspective (unable to distinguish where the Empath ends and the other person begins emotionally) and their individual identity.

The lose of personal identity and the lose of perspective, are some of the biggest issues an Empath must deal with in their lives, because it is such a natural process for them to become symbiotic with those around them.  Only through conscious awareness of the emotions and the ability to tailor one's responses to those emotional expressions (ie, how much empathy to offer another person based on the situational circumstances), can one move beyond simply coping day to day in the attempt to stave off the potential outcome of drowning.  Awareness and the ability to readily modify one's own behavior, can allow a person to thrive, even with an Empath's sensitivity to the world around them.

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