Ericka took a silent breath and touched her patient's shoulder. She hated to do it, but needed to understand better. Marco was reclining on the sofa in her office, talking about his wife's recent exit from his life. Never having been rejected in such a relationship, she had no emotion to draw on.
With most of her patient's problems, Ericka could Empathize. Grief, despair, fear, perfectionism, pessimism - if she'd had similar experiences, she understood. She could feel with them instead of merely sympathizing and offering platitudes. She didn't always need to connect physically.
Ericka first heard her mom call her "Empathetic" as a young child. They were at a park and she heard her mom talking about her to another mother. She could only have been four or five at the time and didn't understand what her mom was saying, but the memory stuck.
All her life, Ericka recalled feeling jolts of emotion as she played or interacted with others. Unexplained jolts that didn't fit. Sudden confusion when she wasn't confused, or a hollow feeling in the middle of being happy. Jolts that felt "off". She'd instinctively known they weren't her real feelings, but it wasn't until Middle School that she recognized where they came from.
When Ericka was 11, her best friend's dad died and Ericka went to the funeral. The funeral was sad, of course. Naturally Empathetic, Ericka was sad for her friend. But when she hugged her friend she felt a sense of such loss and despair that Ericka nearly choked on the emotion. She hugged her a few times during that afternoon, feeling the sudden jolt each time. Over the coming days and weeks she made sure to physically connect with her friend, telling herself she was checking on her.
Her young friend would say she was okay, but Ericka always knew if she was masking sorrow, or was truly having a good day. Ericka realized then that she had more than a normal amount of Empathy.
Some might use that special Empathic ability to scam people: fortune teller, magician, mentalist. Instead, Ericka took to wearing gloves as protection against "contact emotions" and focused on her studies. She went into psychology and was now one of the most highly acclaimed therapists in the city.
When Ericka needed to, she could use her gift and open the physical connection to allow her to Empathize specifically with a patient. Like now, sensing Marco's rage as stronger than any sadness over the end of his marriage. She could better help people by understanding their true emotion - sometimes more than they did. The relief people felt at being perfectly understood... well, that was where referrals came from.
But being Empathic was not without its downsides. Ericka guarded herself not to feel another's emotions too often or too long. They could become mixed with her own emotions and then she was useless to her clients. She had chosen a lonely life, not letting anyone in too close because it could become too confusing.
Ericka comforted herself by thinking of her Empathy as a superpower. Everyone knew superheroes led lonely lives hiding their true identity. No one needed to know she had a superpower.
Do you think of empathy as a superpower? A form of ESP? Are you empathic?
Thanks for visiting my #AtoZChallenge! All month I'll be writing flash fiction, with the theme "Audience Participation".
That means it's your turn, lovely audience member. Do you have a writing prompt to suggest? Don't worry about choosing a letter of the alphabet, just leave me a word, a thought, a place, a concept... anything! and I'll add it to the list.