Dissertation Title:

The Path of the Porous Being: An Exploration of the Dilated Heart


Heidi Volf

Date, Time & Place:

October 3, 2022 at 10:00 am


This qualitative study uses a narrative portraiture methodology to produce a phenomenological description of the lived experience of empaths toward understanding how their transpersonal experiences affect the process of individuation in themselves and others. Interviews with six individuals, including the researcher, who identified as empaths served as the basis of the study. The research explores the experiences of empaths within the framework of Jungian individuation, the goal of which is to render unconscious material conscious, continually integrating newly conscious material to evolve psychologically. An empath is defined as an individual who psychologically merges with human or nonhuman others such that they experience the unconscious material of those others in much the same way as their own shadow material, leaving them with the task of differentiating what is personal from what originates in another. This research seeks to understand how, as a result of their encounters with the unconscious material of others, their individuation process might differ from C. G. Jung’s description of individuation and might contribute to the individuation of those around them. In what ways might an empathic sensitivity affect the process of individuation? What implications might these ways have regarding how we understand the nature of the Self? Through a deep dive into and a mythopoetic portrait of the research participants’ lived experiences, the findings shed light on the individuation challenges of being an empath, as well as the implications of those challenges and their transpersonal nature for Jungian theory regarding the archetypal nature of the Self and the process of individuation.

  • Program/Track/Year: Depth Psychology Jungian Archetypal Studies, ZZ, 2018
  • Chair: Dr. Sandra Easter
  • Reader: Dr. Evija Volfa Vestergaard
  • External Reader: Dr. Patricia Masters
  • Keywords: Empath, Highly Sensitive Person, Psychic, Transpersonal, Jung, Individuation, Lived Experience, Narrative Portraiture, Active Imagination, Storytelling