If you're the parent of an empath --- a child who feels other people's feelings -- what are you supposed to do? How do you nurture their empathic abilities in a world that is set up to crush them?
Ashleigh Boyd, an empath and a mother of empaths, asked me this question in an interview she released today as part of her series "I Feel Everything Parent." Watch it, please, but I can summarize the most important point:
DO NOT INVALIDATE YOUR CHILD'S EMOTIONS.
Let me say that again. To parents of empaths. Here's your one sentence commandment:
THOU SHALT NOT INVALIDATE, DISMISS, RIDICULE OR GASLIGHT YOUR CHILD'S EMOTIONS OR INTUITIONS!
There is nothing you have to do to nurture it. Your child's sensitivity is a natural gift that will unfold according to its own nature. Our job, as adults, is merely to get out of the way. To allow.
This does not mean you need to put up with everything your child does. Not at all. As a parent, it's within your rights to decide what behaviors you will or will not tolerate. You can say, "This behavior is not okay." Or "Because you did this, I'm taking your TV away." But what you cannot say -- or what will cause all sorts of problems later, and resentment, and potentially thousands of dollars in therapy bills -- is anything along these lines: "Why the hell are you sad right now? Toughen up." Or: "You have no reason to feel that way." Or the absolute worst of all: "Don't be angry."
All emotions are okay.
The child has no ability to control what they're feeling. Sometimes, they can control their behavior. Sometimes, they can control the expression of their emotions. But no matter what you tell them, they cannot control what they are actually feeling (or sensing or intuiting). When parents invalidate the inner life of the child, they are telling the child to shut off an aspect of self. The feeling aspect. The intuitive aspect.
Don't do that. And if you've already done it, or already do it, or will do it in the future, check yourself. Apologize to your child. Tell them that no matter what they're feeling, those feelings are okay, and that your inability to deal with their feelings is your problem, not theirs. And tell them that there's a world of difference between feeling angry (always okay) and punching someone (rarely, if ever okay). And that you expect them to make that distinction, too.
If you want to go further, apply this same principle to yourself. Do not beat yourself up for having feelings. Do not suppress feelings or numb feelings. Accept your feelings as much as you can. Acknowledge your own inner life as valid and beautiful and unique to you. And thus set an example for your child to follow.
It's simple, but it's not easy. As my dad would say, "You'll see when you have kids." Fair enough, Dad.