To be an empath…

by Dr. Ken Larsen

I remember an old Star Trek episode about a woman who was an “empath.”  She had the ability to touch an injured or wounded person and take that person’s wounds onto and into her own body, where they would dissipate and heal.

helpWe can’t reproduce this fictional gift of total empathy but we can reach out to one another to share some of the turmoil and pain that come at all of us from the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” that is very much a part of life.  This empathic attunement starts very early in life.

I’ve been studying attachment theory.  Not because I’m a therapist, but because I’m interested in human development and learning about what is helpful and what is hurtful, especially in the critical early years of life.

A while back I heard Dr. Allan Shore describe the “dyadic dance” between a mother and her baby.  It reminded me of the Star Trek empath story.  Schore described the attunement that takes place between a loving mom and her baby.  He went on to describe the emotional and neurochemical co-regulation that takes place within that relationship.  Recently I came across the following that further amplified this idea.

“The psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion (1962) proposed that the supportive mother mentally contains emotional experience that the baby cannot manage on his own but manages to evoke in her. Such containment requires the mother to bear within herself, to process, and to re-present to the baby in a tolerable form what was previously the baby’s intolerable emotional experience.”  From Attachment in Psychotherapy David J. Wallin

The ways that we understand and support one another emotionally is a vital component in our quest for mental health and happiness.



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