Something in me cringes when people describe themselves as an “empath”, and I’ve come to see a very different side to being empathetic – both through my personal experience, as well as working with clients.

I’m not talking about compassion, kindness, basic caring for others. I’m talking about feeling other people’s pain. That’s what people who describe themselves as “empaths” think they’re doing when they’re affected by someone else’s experience. They think they’re feeling that other person’s pain. But they’re not. They’re feeling their own unresolved pain, which has been awakened by that other person’s.  

It’s your pain you’re feeling – not theirs.


A friend and mentor describes it in terms of ‘harmonic resonance’. As a singer, I know that when I sing certain notes, specific piano strings on an untouched piano will begin to vibrate and sound. That’s harmonic resonance. There’s a lot more depth we could go into, but we don’t need to here. The point is that the strings on the piano (the ‘empath’) are set in motion by a related frequency (the pain of the other), but the empath is only experiencing that pain because it’s in them to begin with. They’re already operating in that frequency.


We need to resolve our own internal pain, before we can be unaffected by others’. This doesn’t mean coldness or lack of care. The thing is that when you’re experiencing your pain in response to theirs, you’re not helping them resolve anything. You’re jumping into that hole with them and joining them in digging it deeper, rather than offering them a way out.  

In jumping into that hole you’re disempowering both yourself and them. So, you “empaths” out there, consider being in a position to reach into the hole and show that other person a way out of their pain instead. Wouldn’t that be better?  


I was invited recently to put together a proposal for a legal organization, addressing prevention of vicarious trauma. Sure, there are some ways to teach mindfulness and management techniques, engaging the parasympathetic nervous system etc, but that doesn’t prevent vicarious trauma. It may help people manage better, but it’s not a solution.

What needs to happen is for each individual’s internal pain to be resolved. That has to happen first. Once that’s done, then they can learn how to prevent the accumulation of ‘stuff’ as life goes on. Unless their pain is resolved, they will keep being ‘set off’ by the pain of others. It’s just how it is.  


I know people who have been through the most horrific trauma, who had extreme PTS(D) among other things, and who remain unaffected by the pain of others now – in a good way. In a way which allows them to relate deeply to that other person, put themselves in the other person’s shoes (not just another pair of their own!) and help show them the way out of the dreadfulness.  

They are in a position to lead people to the other side of their pain. And it’s a beautiful thing. There’s no concern that they will be victims of vicarious trauma, because there’s nothing in them which can be set off in resonance with it.

So – how do you prevent vicarious trauma? You’ve got it! Resolve your own pain first.  

Reach out if you need help. Your ‘FANTASTIC’ is much closer than you know.

About Sally

As a former international opera singer, Sally Wilson knows a thing or two about being at the top of your field. And she’s discovered first-hand what it feels like to step away from the spotlight and lose your identity.

Through coaching, Sally helps her clients let go of their self-sabotaging beliefs and discover freedom, joy and fulfillment. As an accredited TRTP™ practitioner, Sally uses evidence-based practices to create changes that are quick, safe and lasting.

Tell me more

other good reads

No items found.