I didn’t come across the word ’empath’ until I was in my 20s, and at the time, I didn’t think much of it. I equated it with something ephemeral and over-the-top, like psychic or fairy god mother, and hardly considered it real, let alone a descriptor. And not once did I think it could apply to me.
Diagnosed with anxiety in my early twenties, I came to associate my tendencies and identity with a lot of negative terms. ‘Overly sensitive’, ’emotionally labile’, ‘reserved’, ‘anti-social’, and the ever-relevant ‘chronically stressed’ were among some of the descriptors that I came to internalize, to the point where I was practically pathologizing my own personality. For the longest time, I honestly believed that I was some socially-awkward failure of a human being, not fit for life because it all felt like too much. It wasn’t until some years later, going through a few counselors for strategies to cope with my anxiety, that that fantasy-like word ’empath’ came up in conversation. Suddenly, a lot about my personality, my habits, and even my anxiety began to make a lot of sense. I wasn’t just some emotionally-sensitive wreck of a person, and there was a word that fit the bill for everything I experienced.
An empath is loosely defined as someone with the ability to apprehend the mental and/or emotional states of other individuals. It’s not magic; just hypersensitivity to the energies of others, influenced by their thoughts, feelings, and intentions. It made sense, now, why I felt so unsettled and unhinged around people, why I was so hesitant to open up to certain others, and why I felt the dire need to limit my ‘people time’. I was always eager to step in when a friend or loved one needed help, only to end up feeling completely overwhelmed and over my head if the problem could not easily be solved. In a room of emotionally-charged individuals, at the best, I’d feel crawly and uncomfortable, and at the worst, light-headed and mildly nauseated. More often than not, I found my decisions were largely influenced by other peoples’ thoughts and moods, and it wasn’t that I was ‘flawed’; I was sensitive to everyone else’s energies. And, with that clarification, I was finally able to better manage this sensitivity on a daily basis.
Years later, I don’t meet someone and introduce myself as an empath; for the sake of simplicity, I try and chalk it up as part of my introversion. Since the word itself still maintains that mystical, fictional feel to many people, it’s not something I’m particularly comfortable with bringing out in the open. Many empaths I’ve encountered over the years feel the same way, which is rather unfortunate; that those of us so intuitive to others emotional needs aren’t comfortable being as open about ours.
That said, if we were to sit down and have a conversation, this is some of what we would divulge:
5 Things that Empaths want You to Know
1. It doesn’t take much for us to tire out. If we leave a party early, or happen to cut socializing short, or turn down an invitation to go out, try not to take it as an affront. Unfortunately, life requires us to to more often than engage other people, which can be mentally, emotionally, and physically draining. Chances are, after a work day, a lot of us are mentally and emotionally run down to the point where we need to be alone to recharge. This is particularly prominent in occupations that are guaranteed to involve other peoples’ thoughts, feelings, and problems, such as in many human services professions.
2. We’re not necessarily aloof, standoffish, or even shy: if we seem this way, it is because our mental/emotional tolerance has reached its capacity, and we are withdrawing to protect ourselves. You know how when you’re pumping gas into your car, and suddenly you hear that ‘click’? Don’t bother trying to pump more to get that even number on the meter, because that click is signifying that your tank has reached its capacity for fuel (and that everything you continue to try to pump is as good as air). The same goes for empaths, when they become overburdened by everyone else’s energies, particularly negative energies. We might seem fine and chatty in the morning but shut down by the afternoon, and make every effort not to socialize. Or, if we know we are entering a particularly emotionally-charged situation, we might steel ourselves against the onslaught of emotive energy coming our way. We’re not heartless, and we’re not disinterested–it’s a defense mechanism, and we’re just trying to hold ourselves together.
3. Holding a grudge is toxic to us; we WANT to forgive you, even the time is not right. Many a time, I have seen people take advantage of the innate kindness and generosity that many empaths are so willing to hand out. We WANT to be of help, because we want to be liked, because being liked incites positive energy–and often, we find it difficult to say no. The trouble is, there are a lot of people that take that kindness for granted, and as such will emotionally manipulate an empath to get what they can from them. And yet, time and again, we forgive over and over, thinking that ‘this time, it will be different’. The negative energy of holding a grudge is suffocating to us, and as a result, forgiving and hoping for the best next time is far easier to swallow. If for whatever reason we have a falling out, know that an empath is EXTREMELY open and willing to let the water flow under the bridge, if your intentions are genuine. But if they’re not, as difficult as it might be for an empath to decline you help, I guarantee it is only a matter of time before the pattern of being used time and again wears on them, in which case you are putting yourself at risk of being shut out from their life entirely.
4. If we tell you we feel sick to our stomach, chances are, we are not just making it up. Many empaths experience digestive illnesses, as well as lower back pain, when enduring too much of other people’s emotive energy–something that I was surprised to find I had in common with other empaths. I’ve suffered from upset stomach and IBS symptoms for as long as I can remember, all of which tend to flare up the most when I’ve overburdened with the emotive energies of too many other people. This is likely because the abdomen happens to be where our solar plexus chakra–where emotive energy collects–is located at the abdomen. Too much negative energy can cause imbalance in that chakra, which will lead to related symptoms and illnesses. Since learning to channel and tolerate energies takes years of practice, empaths might try to avoid situations that will incite this illness (really, who WANTS to feel sick?), so try and be patient, and don’t pressure them in to sticking out situations that might land them in the bathroom for hours.
5. We trust our gut feelings. You can try and use as much reason and logic as you want, but if an empath has a bad feeling about a situation, then no amount of persuasion is going to change their mind. They’re getting that feeling for a reason, because they’re tapping into energies that are setting off alarms, be it the dishonest intentions of other people, or just a bad, natural chemistry that predicts an unfavourable outcome. Once, on picking up my phone and hearing the voice of my soon-to-be boss calling me for an interview, red alarms went off inside of me. I had never even met this person, and only had a 30 second phone conversation as any basis of judgement, but something just didn’t feel right. Needless to say, that job turned out to be a living nightmare. Don’t brush it off as just ‘nerves’ if an empath is hesitant to dip their toes in the water; it might just be that they see the sharks swimming in the depths, long before you do.
Can you relate to any of this, or–as a self-aware empath–do you have anything to add? I’d love to hear it!