Energy Sensitivity is not the Same as Empathy

by Caroline van Kimmenade

Curious fact, you’d think that if someone is very sensitive to the energy of others that they are also very empathic and good at putting themselves into someone else’s shoes.

Yet, some people are very sensitive to energy but at the same time quite clueless about their impact on others, or the needs of others.

That’s because their personality and their stress responses are about controlling others as opposed to helping and healing others.

This is a complex topic but I’m going to try and explain it in this post.

The Common Denominator: Seeking Connection

Both the desire to control and the desire to heal often come from a deeper desire to connect. However, for energy sensitive people who use helping others as a way to connect, it’s typically easier to also have some distance and truly see something from the other person’s perspective.

In this way, seeking connection is about trying to understand what someone else is going through and then accommodating that person, giving them what they want or need, so that there is a smooth interaction. At its worst, this turns you into a doormat. At its best, this allows you to see things from many different perspectives and not judge.

Those who use controlling others as a way to connect have a style of “stepping in” to overpower or make something work “the right way”. Their aim is to fix what is wrong based on their own ideas of how things should go. They can easily get stuck in what they think someone “should” do or be. In that case there is no real awareness of the other person as a separate individual (with their own -different- needs and perspectives).

At its best, this can make someone an efficient leader who is not afraid to confront people. At its worst this can make someone a bully: criticizing others constantly without being aware of their own flaws at all.

To make things more complicated: there are people who consider themselves healers (and who might even be professional healers), yet their tendency is more to control than to truly heal. They keep tabs on others, fix “bad” energy, but don’t empower their clients to come into their own power.

(These can also be the people who go around almost “forcing” their healing abilities on others through a very intense kind of marketing of their skills: “you need to be healed by me! Step into my caravan now and let’s get it sorted!” 👈 that’s a true story I heard from a client by the way! The healer had a caravan and almost dragged people in there.)

2 Different Responses to Energy Overwhelm

Energy sensitive healers usually have a different response to overwhelm than controllers do. On the surface, it may seem like they are both struggling with the same issue but deep down, a different problem is at play for each.

For the energy sensitive healer types, there comes a point when it all gets too much and they have to admit that they’re going under trying to help other people with all their pain.

A true desire to help others heal is rooted in a desire to encourage personal growth.

For the untrained energy sensitive healer types, creating a new understanding of what healing can be (distinguishing enabling from helping) typically starts to open the way to a new way of dealing with energy, that is empowering for both healer and client.

Yet for the energy sensitive controllers, giving up on their energy overwhelm means that they need to stop using other people as a means to ground themselves.

This is where energy sensitive healers are different from controllers.

Energy Sensitive Healers: Seeking Connection & A Peaceful Exchange

The healers are typically quite happy and capable of feeling good in their own skin when they are by themselves. They can still get overwhelmed energetically due to people’s energy interacting with them at a distance. Yet, at root, they have the ability and willingness to ground themselves and be present with themselves. They usually try to make space to be alone and recharge.

As a result, learning empath skills becomes a huge sigh of relief for them because it means things get significantly easier. Without all those other people messing with their vibe, it’s easier and easier for them to feel good and feel at ease in their own body. And this is ultimately what they want: to feel good in their own skin, on their own, and to connect with others – when appropriate – from that place of separation.

Energy Sensitive Controllers: Seeking Connection in Order to Ground Themselves

For the controllers, the goal is different. They’ve developed an understanding of connecting that is about latching on to someone. They will feel out someone’s energy to see which person has an energy field pool that feels good to be in… and then they’ll jump in and completely disconnect from themselves (because their own energy doesn’t feel good to them at all). In doing so, they can be completely oblivious to the impact that this has on the other person.

They’re completely focused on what is happening in their chosen pool (Does it have the right temperature? Are there toxins in it? Are there annoying leaves everywhere?). As a result, they won’t notice that jumping in with their muddy feet might not be so great for the pool owner.

For the controllers, giving up energy overwhelm (which – surprise surprise, happens if you keep jumping into other people’s pool: “gah, all those icky pool leaves are sticking to me!”) means they need to learn to be present and grounded in their own energy field. It means separating from others. It means they need to stop using other people to feel better.

This is a lot to give up! It also means there can be a lot of old abandonment pain and fear to face. Learning to accept yourself, when you have a lifelong habit of running from yourself, that’s no easy feat.

This is why, for (severe) controller types, learning psychic tools is actually not the first step to take. Why? Because once those tools start to work, the deeper problem will emerge: not getting enmeshed means having to be separate from others and deal with your own feelings.

If – at root – your whole life has been built around not wanting to be in your own energy and you haven’t at least minimally addressed that issue first (to know that you want to move forward on this radically new path) then learning psychic tools can become an endless back and forth of:

  • the tools work
  • you freak out because you feel separate from others
  • you self-sabotage and get enmeshed again
  • you tell yourself the tools don’t work
  • you make some adjustments to get the tools to work
  • they work
  • you freak out
  • etc. etc. etc.

In other words: you jump in your neigbour’s pool because it’s nice and warm. There are all these icky sticky leaves though, ew! Your learn a technique for climbing out of the pool. Now you feel cold! And you notice that you’re anxious. So you jump back in the pool. There are all those leaves again!…

The “pin” keeping all the dysfunction in place is: are you willing to stop abandoning yourself? Do you want to learn to accept and be with your own body, feelings and thoughts? If the answer is no, then no amount of energy wizardry will help.

Controllers get overwhelmed too. They experience other people “using” them and possessing them. Yet the deeper truth is that others can only possess them because that is a controller’s deepest desire: to abandon themselves and just be in someone else’s energy.

Deep deep down they’ve made it someone else’s job to ground them (to build the pool, keep it heated and keep it nice and clean too). So they go around finding a good person to attach to (a.k.a. pool to jump into), and then when that inevitably doesn’t work out in the long run, they feel stuck and like they can’t get out of something that controls them. They can’t get out because deep deep down they don’t want to!

Now, obviously, most of this is not happening consciously. Yet, many of the controllers I’ve talked to were able to recognise this behaviour in themselves eventually. They just didn’t know there was anything wrong with it. Their understanding of connecting is to monitor someone, focus on them intently to get a sense of what is really going on with that person and essentially get really close to someone energetically.

On the receiving end, it feels really uncomfortable when someone is energetically breathing down your neck like that.

What’s more, in this dynamic, the controller is trying to connect while the person on the other end is likely retreating more. This creates a bit of a game of cat and mouse. Unless you like being “caught” in this way (or are used to it) you’ll likely get a bit creeped out by this kind of behaviour.

So while in the controller’s mind, they’re just trying to connect, chances are that they’ll find a lot of people running away from them eventually. One controller I spoke with had an aha around this when she realised many people had told her that she was intimidating, but she never understood why before.

The problem (for controllers) is: you can’t actually connect with someone if you are never at home in yourself. Controllers are essentially “energetically couch surfing”. They are always hanging out at your place and when you tell them to go home, they freak out because their own apartment is drafty and uncomfortable with a tatty couch and no bed.

They don’t want to go home, so they’ll do whatever it takes to be allowed to crash at your place. This not not empathy, this is (false) self-preservation.

Here’s why this doesn’t work from the controller’s side either: If you don’t want to feel your own discomfort or find ways to ground yourself, then you won’t allow others near you. You may be trying your hardest to connect with others, but nobody can actually connect with you in return because you don’t want to “be” in your own home.

This means relationships always become dysfunctional at some point. It also means that with another person who knows how to do this particular connection ‘dance’, connection can happen quickly, and then spiral out of control too.

Granted, we are all on this journey of learning to be present to and love ourselves, and not abandon ourselves when we feel uncomfortable. Yet, it’s a matter of degree. Sure, we can all get better at it, yet the core question for controllers is: do you want to learn to be in your own body at all?

Because if you don’t, you’ll be a “victim” to other people’s energies the rest of your life.

To sum up: you can step into someone else’s shoes because you want to understand their situation and be there for them, or you can step into someone else’s shoes because you like their shoes better  (and you’d like to keep them).

Those who feel energetically homeless aren’t helped by being given a temporary home (or a timeshare). They need to come to terms with their own home, and do what it takes to make it a good place to be.


P.S. For practical tips on this dynamic, and key tools to start with when you are sensitive to energy, check out the Energy Sensitivity Starter Kit


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