My Life as an Empath – Sensitivity is a Superpower

<i>My Life as an Empath – Sensitivity is a Superpower</i>

Photo credit: Unsplash – Blaise Vonlanthen 

-A 10 minute read

 

Definition –
Empath: A person who absorbs the emotional energy of people and places, often without realizing it, causing the emotions and/or physical sensations of others to be felt as their own. A person of extreme sensitivity who cares deeply about others, and the planet, and feels an intrinsic desire to help people/make the world a better place.

 

The room is crowded and stuffy. People are chattering and laughing and live music is being played somewhere. Figures loom through doorways, vague and shadowy. The lights are too bright. It’s too loud. There’s too much happening all at once. I start to cry and can’t stop. I know my mom will be annoyed because it means we have to leave before she’s ready.

I’m five years old. This is one of my first memories of total overwhelm. My childhood was peppered with unexplained stomach aches and “temper tantrums”, the result of my inability to cope with overstimulating situations. At school the teachers were concerned because I preferred to play by myself at recess than to join in on the games of the other children.

What they didn’t understand was that when I was alone I could feel myself in my entirety. Around others, I became a blurred line with no clear indication of where I stopped and others began. I felt everything strongly, joy, excitement, sorrow, fear. I expressed everything with conviction. All I knew is there was no more room to keep it inside, because inside I was a buzz of questions, stories, feelings and observations about everything and everyone. I experienced life viscerally, as though what happened around me was happening upon my skin.

My teacher took my inquisitiveness for impertinence and often punished me in front of the class, giving the other kids license to torment me, a confirmation of my intrinsic wrongness. It was a badge I carried. “You’re too much. Don’t be so loud. You’re too emotional, too intense! Don’t be so bossy. You’re too sensitive. Grow a thicker skin!”

It’s my 9th Birthday and my Grandma made me a beautiful red velvet cloak trimmed with faux fur. I sit in front of the class on the Birthday stool. A smiling Mrs. Gregor places a golden paper crown upon my head. I sit tall, a queen before her subjects. The cupcakes are waiting at the back of the classroom to be devoured. I feel thoroughly delighted with myself and with the day of shimmering October. Each person gives me a Birthday wish and I smile politely, a queen receiving her audience. Ellie wishes me lots of presents, Alex wishes me lots of happiness, Tara wishes me lots of friends. “Thank you, but I already have a lot of friends,” I reply, in acknowledgement of my standing as queen. I hear giggles and then a stony silence. Mrs. Gregor isn’t laughing now. Her mouth is a cold hard line, her eyes ice blue. “You are the rudest child I have ever encountered! This Birthday celebration is over!” And just as suddenly as it began, my crown is ripped from my head, and I am cast from my throne, a queen no more. My eyes pass over my classmates, faces poised in jeering laughter, and I realize I was never a queen in their eyes, only in my own. If my eyes made such a misperception, they must not be very trustworthy.

“You’re too much. Don’t be so loud. You’re too emotional, too intense! Don’t be so bossy. You’re too sensitive. Grow a thicker skin!”

Fast forward fifteen years and I’m living in New York City.

No one ever told me that the walls of the city could be like the bars of a cage. I feel clogged up, immobile, stodgy. The misery of the city festers inside me and I fester. Who festered first? Every person on the subway is a maze of sensation, either heavy, light, or neutral. I can feel their presence near me, even with my back turned. The man with the sunken eyes, the shuffling, dodgy youth, the moody girl, the crying child and the indifferent mother. Even at home I feel the collective energy of the city like a river inside my body, rushing, rushing.

Who am I? Where do I start and where do I end? What do I want and what do I feel? And ultimately who could ever love this mess?

“You’re too much. Don’t be so loud. You’re too emotional, too intense! Don’t be so bossy. You’re too sensitive. Grow a thicker skin!”

When I met my husband, it was both the moment when all my dreams came true and the moment when I discovered my dreams couldn’t save me. Because no matter how much he loved me, I didn’t know how to love myself.

Who am I? Where do I start and where do I end? What do I want and what do I feel? And ultimately who could ever love this mess?

But somehow he didn’t leave. He loved me with a fierceness I couldn’t understand. And I gave everything to loving him. I was sucked into our relationship until I disappeared.

It was like a spiral going deep inside my chest. There was nowhere I could go to escape myself; there was nowhere I could go to find myself. I had forgotten how to be alone with myself.

The whole world seemed broken; all the people in despair, the environment being destroyed by the daily demands of our society that seemed to lead us closer and closer to the edge of the cliff that meant the end of the world. I learned about the absolutism of war, the cruelty of factory farming, human trafficking, the brutality of colonialism that paved the way for the capitalist, elitist society we have today. I learned about fracking, and offshore drilling, the mass extinction of species, and the true cost of plastic waste. It felt like the whole world was dying. I wanted to help! I wanted to do something! Anything! But I saw homelessness on the streets of New York City like a plague and the people walked by like they didn’t care and the whole world seemed so desensitized to suffering. And yet I was like a wire fine tuned to it. It was an empathy beyond empathy, a compassion so deep it shook me to the root. I felt like there was something wrong with me, like I was fundamentally too sensitive for this world. I could sense the potential for peace, harmony,  and love in the world and I longed to go home to that place, to escape the darkness of this existence.

The darkness was inescapable.

That was the bottom. The darkest hour.

The disentangling of myself from all of that has been the last four years of my life. Embracing being an empath has both hindered and helped that process. Hindered because inheriting my sensitivity made it so acute it was almost beyond tolerance. Helped because it has been the pathway through the darkness, a beacon leading me home.

I had to accept that the darkness in the world is also inside of me. I am both light and darkness, both chaos and peace. I had to develop the ability to radically love myself, to give myself the room to embrace all the pain, fear and joy I experienced as a child, as an adult. Life leaves the traumas of experience written upon our skin. I had to learn to trust myself enough to pick out the stitches and let the scars heal.

I had to determine what was mine to feel and what belongs to others, to our society, and to the world. It is not my burden to save the world. What I came to realize is that through entering into love for myself, I can develop the capacity to truly love others, not from a place of trying to save them, but from a place of universal acceptance of what is.

In the same way, I can love our hurting world. Every wound is just looking for the salve. Love is that salve.

In my relationship it was the difference between enmeshment and true partnership. The fierce love has become fiercer in direct correlation with my burgeoning sense of self.  

I have come to trust that even if I can’t save the world, I will be able to do good. That is all I can do. And that is enough.

I am enough.

My sensitivity is a gift because it allows me to feel so deeply, to see the incredible beauty and joy of existence while also understanding the depths of the darkness.The world may be inherently chaotic but I deserve to feel peace. I deserve to be free and stand in the center of my power.

It is the birthright of us all.

As a wise woman, Erin Rachel Doppelt, once said “You playing small does not serve the world.”

And so I reclaim my sensitivity as a superpower. I will never play small again. 

 

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Resources:

The work of Luna and Sol has been instrumental in helping me learn how to become an empowered empath, especially their book, Awakened Empath.

The book Eastern Body Western Mind, Psychology and the Chakra System as a Path to the Self, by Anodea Judith was a life changing read that I can’t recommend enough!

Rise Sister Rise by Rebecca Campbell is another one.

I also want to shout out an immense “thank you!!” to my therapist, Alison McQueen, who gave me a safe space to heal. “No one heals alone.”

And to my incredible husband, friends and family who have loved and supported me through these tumultuous times. Big Love to you!

 

* Photo credit: Unsplash – Tony Ross

 



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