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The Struggle and Potential of the Archetypal Soul Gift of the Empathic Child

Updated: Oct 6, 2022

(This blog is part of an ongoing series in which I share intimate details about my life in order to inspire and educate my readers about trauma, healing and spirituality and what it has to do with helping this troubled and beautiful world heal into peace. Please excuse any repetition; I must write each piece assuming my reader may not have read the others.)

So many of us came into this world with a natural empathy—defined as a capacity to feel and experience within oneself other’s feelings, thoughts and even bodily sensations. This gift could have extended beyond our immediate family or homeplace, whether it looked like the standard nuclear setup or not. This meant that we might have been able to feel the suffering and joys of our neighbors, animals and even the Earth.

Children like this are often very open and even seem to possess what could be called a spiritual capacity and connection—the ability to see and sense beyond surface matters, along with an ability to perceive realities beyond the physical. I am here to speak about the view of all this from a trauma-informed shamanic understanding of soul contracts and destiny lines. What is the meaning and purpose of our struggles? What is the Archetypal Potential or Soul Gift?

An archetype holds all the innate gifts, liabilities, behaviors, capacities and potential associated with different roles, identities and personality traits. With the archetypal energy of the Empath, we often mirrored the moods of those around us. When people were truly happy and content (free from subtext, whether brief or long term), so we were; when they were in turmoil of any kind, whether overtly shown or not, we went with them in our feelings into those shadows. If there were dark secrets or unacknowledged, unexpressed emotions, we may have picked up impressions of these without necessarily having the capacity to process or understand them. At the same time, quite naturally, without effort, we might have emanated a deep sweetness and caring which led us to try to help--albeit out of a child’s logic and capacities.

Further, many of my clients tell me that as children, they could see or feel the presence of spirits or noncorporeal beings (angels, Jesus, deceased people, ancestors, etc.). They may have had imaginary friends. They even were able to put their hands on strangers, friends and family members and make them feel better. Even as children, people would easily confide in and share their burdens with us. As adults, we may have easily gravitated towards self-help therapies and spiritual study. Thus, we often found ourselves doing the emotional heavy lifting for our family of origin by healing within ourselves these wounds—many of which are ancestral in origin.

Children like this often stand out from their peers. We were different—perhaps deeply introverted and awkward. We felt like we were adults in a child body. We didn’t feel we could related to other kids. We were just waiting to grow up.

I know this personally. In my healing journey, I began to explore not just the trauma I carried, but the ways I could “feel,” “see,” “sense,” "hear," and “know” things that were often denied by my mother, in particular—her unhealed trauma, shadows, and anger. Indeed, it was a trauma in and of itself to have these understandings and insights and then to be met with scorn when I tried to talk about them.

This capacity became particularly problematic when I was about 8 years old. From what I remember and the stories I was told, my mother went into a deep depression that resulted in a kind of psychotic break (which remained untreated). My father was also gone during the week as he commuted from our home in Connecticut to Boston, hence leaving her alone to raise children in a rural suburb of New York City. We were alone and isolated.

When he was home, they often argued. Mostly it was my mother lambasting my father for what she considered to be his failures. She could flip quickly from being loving to very mean both towards him and to me. She could, in an instant, suck all the air from the space. Or rather, she did this all the time. It was always and ever about her. No one else’s feelings mattered.

In explorations of these memories as an adult, I recalled that I tried intensely to make my parents happy. By being cute and cuddly, I attempted be an emotional and even physical buffer in the hopes they would get along. As a result, very young, I developed the idea that it was my job to take care of everyone and to hold the archetype of the Mediator.

The insidiously damaging aspect of this type of trauma for an empathic soul is that when parents or parental figures are unstable, and particularly where there is verbal and emotional abuse, neglect and/or abandonment, the child is triggered into a profound fear for survival. This is true of all children. No matter how seemingly mature and wise a child may seem, they are developmentally incapable of understanding and processing what is going on. There is just fear, love, concern, and a flood of other feelings resulting in confused and often desperate actions. This activates the archetype of the Healer. It may take many years into adulthood to reveal, process and integrate these experiences into a true, adult maturity. Therein lies at least one soul contract for the Empath: to learn how to use this gift in authentic, boundaried ways that serve self-love, self-esteem and self-empowerment even while being in service to others.

In the holographic, mystical dimensions of our incarnation and journey through time and space, our soul has carefully crafted the conditions of and challenges in our life. This lays the template for the potential destiny lines we will travel along through a lifetime. We choose the planet (yes, we can live on other worlds), time in history and the unique unfolding of societal and planetary events, culture and all its trappings (religion, politics, art, etc.), and the family or parental/home situation (if we even had a home or anyone taking care of us). Within this construct, we are born out of the intent and momentum of our soul that is ever and always seeking experience to deepen and expand exponentially into individualized presence and authenticity through not just a single life, but through many.

Within the larger foundations of our carefully orchestrated existence, there are certainly aspects over which we may have little, if any choice—for instance, the historical and cultural context into which we are born and how that determines our race, gender or sexual orientation, and so on. A person may be born Black in the United States in the early 21st century and thus are likely to have a certain set of challenges and experiences that not only are shared by like others, but are thus also interwoven into the fabric of their soul contract. Or someone could have been born in Russia during the Cold War, where little latitude was available to do creative or entrepreneurial work without risk of life.

Yet, at the same time, no matter how rigid and limiting the larger context of our lifetime, there are still broad areas wherein we have choice and agency. Even those limitations are created to incubate our greater mission and purpose on a soul level. Indeed, every detail of our lives is constellated in such a way as to catalyze a movement back towards integration within our greater soul and the ultimate return of our consciousness into oneness, whether before or after the death of the body. This is one definition of the individual journey to enlightenment. Therefore, where we are pushed at our edges lies our greatest potential for fulfilling our soul contracts. It is where we can identify and work with both negative and positive archetypal energies.

Where within all of this does the gifted, empathic child fit who may experience much trauma, even while channeling the pain of others? And why would we choose such a soul contract, particularly in a context where there is much suffering for those around us and for us?

Our feelings are the real drivers of our life, more than the mind. The limbic system, said to be the most complex area of the brain, is the generator of the heart. The heart is actually the true brain. The physical brain is fundamentally meant to be moved and driven by the knowing, feeling and sensing of the heart. When heart and mind are working in harmony, there is a balanced intersection between thought and feeling, intention and action. This is where we are able to shift the forward momentum of a particular destiny line to our most productive and authentic self-expression and service to others.

The unbalanced archetypes that can develop within us due to the immensity of holding a family’s or group’s unprocessed, often unconscious shadow, can ultimately be debilitating and trigger the creation of a false identity that covers over a other archetypal forces operating from the shadow: the Co-dependent, the Invisible Child, the Orphan, the Addict, and so on. Therefore, it is often critically important for we empaths to do our inner work and to heal our wounds. While doing so, we can consciously use the productive power of the Empath and the Healer archetypes to transmute family, ancestral and even collective trauma. This activates the power within the archetype and pivots the wound from being debilitating into an potent engine for our individuation and integration.

When we grow into our Soul Gift in this way, we become the healers, therapists, teachers, and inspiring leaders. We may skillfully use our talents only within our family or community, or bring them out onto a larger stage—in work or creative projects. Therein lies the ability to harness our highest possible destiny line, which is the greatest, most fruitful expression of our authenticity, or medicine, as I call it.

The Soul Contract of the empathic child is therefore often in the very center of the journey from personal woundedness into the transformation of the wounds of the world. This is where my own path has guided me as I have slowly healed the loneliness, isolation and fear in the deep shadow of my empathic self. I have been able to bring the spiritual gifts that have accompanied it into my work in the world as a shamanic healer and spiritual teacher.

So can you!

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