Do you know the difference between having empathy and being an empath?

Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference. A mother can empathize with a woman who is about to go into labor, because she has experienced the same feelings, emotions and physical pain of childbirth.

An empath is a person who has a psychic ability to sense the emotions of others. Often, they are highly aware of the health and state of mind of their loved ones, regardless of the physical distance between them. Even if they have never experienced what that person is going through themselves, they take on the stress, pain or challenges of the situation — and it can actually make the empath sick.

I have been an empath all my life. Prior to really understanding what it was all about, I remember going to a party and feeling a wave of anxiety when I entered a room filled with people. I had no reason to feel this way. It made no sense. I could feel the room buzzing with energy. When the evening came to an end and I finally stepped outside, I immediately felt a flow of release and relaxation. I know now that this is a common experience for an empath. The emotions I felt were not mine. The emotions came from the people and environment in the room. It was uncomfortable for me, so I knew I had to figure out why I was responding like that and find ways to not be affected by others around me.

As a registered nurse, I have spent the past 20 years caring for sick patients. Many of my fellow health care workers and caregivers are empaths. The very nature of a caregiver is to take on someone else’s pain and help them get rid of it. While swimming in a sea of emotions, empaths need to identify their personal feelings so they don’t take them all on as their own. Empaths need to build tools that will create balance and bring them peace, not pain.

I recently started writing a book and creating a six-week course to teach empaths how to shift from a sense of burden into a position of empowerment. My friends have encouraged me to host a three-hour workshop to introduce more people to the concept of being an empath and explain what it means to have this gift. I have empathy for empaths, and my hope is by sharing my knowledge I can help bring forth clarity and purpose.

Mae Fox is the owner of A-Mae-Zing Mind Body Soul Center in Canandaigua. She is currently a home care and hospice nurse for Lifetime Care.