My name is Allison. I am an empath, and a highly sensitive person.
What is an empath? Well, that’s sort of the interesting thing. We appear to defy real explanation. Basically, we are people who share a combination of these traits (and others that probably aren’t mentioned here):
- We are highly sensitive.
- We become absorbed in and by other people’s emotions.
- We are often introverted.
- We are highly intuitive.
- We need alone time.
- We are targets for “energy vampires”, namely narcissists.
- We renew ourselves in nature.
- We have highly tuned senses and can become frazzled in large crowds, or in loud environments.
- We are easily manipulated unless we’ve learned to say no, and even then, we feel guilty when we do.
(All information in this list was taken and paraphrased from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/emotional freedom/201602/10-traits-empathetic-people-share%3Famp)
I think this might be the most personal post I’ve ever shared. I’m telling you that up front, because the subject matter here is difficult for anyone who doesn’t share the aforementioned traits to an extreme degree to truly understand. And because of the aforementioned traits, I feel like I sound like a jackass for pointing that out, as though, if you are not a self-described “empath”, that I somehow believe I am better than you.
This is where the internal conflicts of an empath begin, but certainly not where they end. I personally believe these internal conflicts about who we are and how we’re afraid of being perceived often attribute to our need for that alone time – because those conflicts lay waste to our very soul and, in being alone, we can have some relief in our ever-relentless surge of feelings.
It has been said that empaths “absorb” the emotions of others. This is very often true, and our intuition about people is so often correct, we often feel the underlying pain and struggle of their own internal conflicts. It’s very hard to talk or write about without sounding like (a) one is crazy or thinks they have some kind of “superpower” or (b) that one is “whining” or (c) bragging. I would venture that most empaths have tremendous difficulty in talking with many people about this aspect of their personality, simply because of insecurity about how it will come across to others, yet another curse and internal conflict of the empath: the fear of being judged for something that we cannot help. Or that we will be be shut out by those we love the most because they have trouble with the intensity of our emotional range.
Yes, we can control our reactions in situations. Yes, we can choose to avoid certain types of people when it’s possible. Yes, we can learn autonomy and detachment. But I’m just telling you, all of these things, for a highly sensitive personality type, often feel overwhelming and exhausting. It’s just, for lack of better phrasing, a lot of damn work sometimes to come across like a “typical” and well-functioning member of society. Those of us who have finally figured out that we’re not crazy did not reach that conclusion overnight. It likely came about as the result of years of trying to understand ourselves. And that, my dear readers, is not an easy task for a personality that is fraught with numerous internal conflicts.
The point of this post, and I’ve second-guessed publishing it about a dozen times since yesterday, is simply this: 1. Maybe some of the people who know me and read it will get some insight into how it is to be me, and why I can be the way I am sometimes and 2. Other empaths can receive the validation they crave because it is exceedingly comforting to know you’re not alone in what and how you process life.
Think of a crowded room. With people everywhere. And they’re talking, not loudly, but there is that noise of dozens of conversations happening at once. That’s the equivalent of being inside an empath’s brain and/or emotional HQ. And probably the reason we need alone time. We generally have plenty of companionship within our own thoughts to keep us from really feeling alone.
Things like this most recent tragedy in Las Vegas? I have to carefully pick and choose what and how I gather information about such events. The horrific loss of life, and the influx of insensitive comments and news in the aftermath of such events is beyond overwhelming to an empath. As an emotional sponge, we naturally absorb every grief-stricken reference to someone that was lost, every angry post from either side of the argument about gun-control (be they right or be they wrong – because we absorb the emotion, not the argument or political opinion), and every fear of those who just feel lost and uncertain and afraid that our world is lacking in any good things.
Empaths feel it all.
And the conflict arises even in mentioning it, because we are so often judged for being “too sensitive”.
We are often perceived or afraid of being perceived as “weak”, even though many of us have survived mental, emotional, physical and/or sexual abuse.
We are often the first person sought out for encouragement or support, and yet people often feel rejected when we don’t champion their causes. And it’s not that we don’t care about their causes, or have strong feelings about them. We simply have to carefully choose our battles because of the emotional devastation those battles often leave behind for us to process.
I think, at our core, most empaths are peace-seekers. I don’t even say peace-MAKERS, because we’re not so naive as to think we can create something so elusive where tensions run high.
It is constant conflict to live as an empath.
I honestly believe, in addition to the multiple genetic reasons I have for needing medication, the anxiety that often comes as part of the package in extremely sensitive personality types also contributes to the need for prescription assistance to calm our brains at times.
This is one reason I included the cartoon at the top. It spoke to me, and is resonant of another struggle within many empaths: our highly tuned radars for emotion often make us artistic and expressive, but the need for peace and emotional balance are also present. And, to our dismay, many of the things that we require to regulate our emotions can wreak havoc on our artistic desires, eliminating or at least handicapping our abilities to dig into that aspect of ourselves. It’s why I’m not writing as much anymore. I cannot. It does not come as freely to me as when I am not medicated or in therapy. But I do have more emotional stability. It’s a trade off. A compromise. But it is, again, a conflict. One of many.
We crave companionship and intimacy, and yet cannot stand to be smothered, desperately needing solitude from time to time.
We desire to stand up for good, right, and just causes, but see truth and empathize with even some of the most misunderstood and misarticulated sides of a debate, or at least those making the argument.
We need alone time and yet often over-extend ourselves to the point that self-neglect is just a way of life because we have an extremely difficult time saying “no” and stepping away from those who use and take advantage of our giving personalities.
We are highly intuitive, but constantly doubt ourselves if we have been lied to, or ever been fooled by someone we thought we knew.
Do I sound like a crazy person yet?
If not, you’re probably an empath.
If so, I can totally see why you’d think that (see what I did there?). Because that is, perhaps, the greatest struggle of all for those who self-identify as empaths: we know we sound like we’re crazy to those who aren’t like us, and we desperately want to be understood, valued, and not raked over the coals for being emotional sponges, but we also understand why we’re often regarded as “overly sensitive”. Because we are.
But we are capable of loving deeply, offering unconditional validation and acceptance, and fiercely defend those closest to us.
It’s both a blessing and a tremendous curse to feel so deeply and so constantly. To be able to love so deeply also means the possibility of feeling the most powerful, gut wrenching types of emotional pain. And while we can learn to manage our sensitivity and implement ways to avoid being used and taken advantage of by narcissists and the like, the thing most empaths crave is that which they give away without trying.