“Being an empath is when you are affected by other people’s energies, and have an innate ability to intuitively feel and perceive others. Your life is unconsciously influenced by others’ desires, wishes, thoughts, and moods. Being an empath is much more than being highly sensitive and it’s not just limited to emotions.”
Forgive me ahead of time for this post because this is one of those topics for me that is so large in my head but I can barely put words to it when I try to talk about it.
You know when you start hearing the same thing from people over and over again, both as a side conversation or a direct comment to you, and you have to mull it over and ask yourself “why am I hearing this all the time right now?” Well, I started hearing the word “empath” being used all the time used in various ways – talking about people who they know that are empaths, reacting with empathy, being empathetic as a state of mind, and most importantly, myself being acknowledged as an empath. I found it very curious that this would randomly start coming up – and come up so frequently from so many different people – that I had to address it…am I in fact an empath?
I began reading a lot about what it means to be an empath. The deeper into my research I went, I started to fear that being an empath would actually be a BAD thing..the fact that you truly do physically feel everything the people around you are feeling despite the fact that you have not directly gone through their experience(s); you quite literally take on EVERYone else’s baggage. Not only that, but you’re also highly prone to being taken advantage of throughout the course of your life because you naturally give everything you have away, physically, emotionally, spiritually etc. sometimes to the point where you lose a sense of your identity. You naturally attract those who need the most because you can give the most. It’s weird to say that even after being called an empath a million times and reading all about it, I still did not acknowledge myself as one, mostly because it freaked me out to think that if I accepted myself as this that I was welcoming the rest of my life to be one, big drain-fest. (and how scary was that, having JUST gotten out of being in a relationship that drained everything in me for the last 8 years, and I had only just gotten a hold of myself again?) So when the discussion of empaths came up at one of my Yoga Teacher Training weekends, my ears perked right up.
Let me backtrack for a moment — there have been many times that I have “just known” things. In a few cases, I was called psychic/intuitive/clairvoyant. Due to the manner in which I was “accused” of this, it automatically made me think that this was a bad thing to be. In some circumstances as I met new people, I began to forewarn them about this with me, just to save myself the trouble of having to explain myself later on. I struggled A LOT with this as time went on. I mean, how DO you explain it? I would try to explain it right now but I’m not sure I have the words, to be able to generally speak about what it’s like to walk around and just understand what’s going on with every single person around me, to be able to somehow just know what is going to happen in a situation that I’m not a part of whatsoever. At one point, I didn’t understand that everyone else on the planet DOESN’T feel/think/know all of that as well; I thought being this way was just standard human nature. I started to feel very frustrated when I found out that this was not in fact how every person functions. And thus was when the word “empath” began presenting itself to me.
Jumping forward in time back to my YTT weekend, I was shocked to hear the word “empath” being used (yet again) and in an environment like my yoga-pod. This training is much more than just yoga (I won’t go on that tangent in this post) but you learn A LOT about many, many things and these discussions can get very intense, sometimes to the point that you can barely wrap your brain around how large the discussions become and how insane it is that it all makes sense somehow, both practically-speaking and spiritually, how much everything is connected. I was fascinated with the way the direction of the topic went. After all this time when I was lead to feel that this was a negative trait of mine, these highly respected and extremely knowledgeable instructors were referring to empathy as an ability. They spoke to the group about it and explained what it is and how it feels etc. I was amazed that they were able to put words to it! But interestingly enough to me, they were speaking about it in such a way that acknowledges the fact that not everyone has empathy, that some people have to really work very hard at it and some people will just never have it at all, but also that some people are just gifted with it as a natural ability. The moment it struck me was when my instructor said, “Sometimes a lot of empaths can be seen as clairvoyant because they are able to sit in another person’s experience so naturally, as if they actually WERE that person.” I felt my heart pick up its beat almost immediately. This was EXACTLY what I was told (or scolded over). So this really did explain who I am.
I really wanted to share this particular experience for a couple reasons…
- For so long, I allowed myself to be punished for this. Every time a moment passed where I felt what someone else was feeling or thought I knew something that would happen, I hated myself, and had to literally tell myself not to acknowledge that empathetic voice. I convinced myself I was judgmental, a know-it-all, close-minded, told myself that this was something I was going to have to work on actually stopping in my personality, because that’s what I was being told I was and what I should do. But in this process, I began to realize that I was not in fact passing any judgment on anyone, I was not predicting anything to happen out of historical context; there was absolutely nothing wrong with the way my brain worked. In fact, it was a tremendous gift. But it’s so sad for me to look back at a time where I allowed myself to believe that it was anything less than that.
- To any person reading this – empathetic or not – I see you, I hear you, I feel you. Sometimes, that’s all we really need. Sometimes we don’t need someone to use words to acknowledge their presence. Sometimes we just need to know that there is someone close by that understands. And isn’t that what we should all really strive for, to realize we are all living this human experience imperfectly and it’s worth the energy trying to step into another person’s shoes? However, most importantly…
- This does not give you permission to be trampled on. It’s a beautiful thing to not allow your negative experiences to harden you. In fact, I believe it’s a much harder thing to keep your heart open after it’s been broken. And thank you to those who have that strength. However, don’t for a second believe that just because you selectively put up a shield, or graciously reject some thing/one, that it means you are closed. It is our job to learn from our experiences, and if you are an empath like me, it’s even harder to react differently to a life-lesson that repeatedly visits you. Your strength will continuously be tested and if you don’t learn your lesson the first time around, the same one will come back around and make itself even more obvious (and unfortunately oftentimes, more painful of an experience). So learn from your experiences and find the strength to remain open but even more of a strength to close when necessary.