It took me 33 years to understand I am an empath. To break that down, we’re talking around 17 years of ‘Oh you’re too sensitive.’ Then 5 years of falling deeply for every lost cause to cross my path. This was followed by at least a decade of feeling other people’s emotions which I mistook for my own.
Add to that a lifetime in which I assumed everybody felt everything the same way as me. With the painful confusion this engendered it’s little wonder I thought I’d gone doolally.
By 33, I’d seen more trauma than most, having gone through life naively assuming everybody ‘felt’ the same way. Each emotional shafting that came my way brought with it physical pain, in increasing severity.
Highly Sensitive Person
I’d been shamed out of analysing my feelings from an early age. It wasn’t their fault or mine, simply nature’s plan. For a highly sensitive person (HSP) to be birthed into a family of emotional dwarves? Clearly there were lessons we all needed to learn.
But oh, how painful the journey. As children, our elders are who we look to when we’re learning how to react appropriately. Most parents will remember the first time their child fell, and instantly focused on mum or dad to see whether or not they should cry. I know I do. It was a seminal breakthrough in terms of understanding the workings of my son’s tiny mind, and defacto, the workings of the world.
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In my family, excessive displays of emotion are highly disapproved of. I don’t remember being told that it was a sign of weakness, but the implication is unmistakeable. We are do-ers, not thinkers. My mother had no time for theatrics and little patience with angst. Any self examination was dismissed as wallowing, and brutally discouraged.
My father would ask how we felt, but I quickly learned a positive response was required to avoid an extensive lecture. So when I left home at 16, it was into a chaotic maelstrom. I finally had the freedom to express myself, minus the tools to actually achieve this.
This post wasn’t intended to be my life story, so I’ll move on now, but the scene has been set. For anyone thinking they’re probably an empath, check out my pointers below.
You’re Probably An Empath
When I hit rock bottom aged 33, all of the disparate puzzle pieces of my life I’d tried to discard along the way suddenly aligned. I cannot tell you how grateful I was, and remain, to the wise person who informed me of this:
‘It’s ok, you’re not insane, you’re probably an empath.’
So, how do you know if you’re an empath? Well, I call myself ‘The Undefined Witch’ for a reason. Society loves a label, but at this stage in my life I’m trying to move away from being pigeon holed. Rather than give you a definition you could easily find on google, I’m going to tell you what having the traits of an intuitive empath and HSP mean to me.
What Makes Me ‘Probably An Empath?’
☆ Feeling Hurts So Very Deeply
Every break up, be it a friend, partner or perceived love of my life; after a single week or matter of years, HURTS. Rejection for me yeilds a physical pain that I struggle to overcome on a daily basis.
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☆ Over-Analysing Everything That Is Said To Me
Throwaway criticisms that you make without a second thought can leave a lasting scar on my psyche. You’ll likely never know, however, because I’ll never tell you. It’s too much of a risk that you’ll either tell me I’m too sensitive, or worse, feel guilty for hurting me. Guilt is a pond I seem to perpetually wade. It cuts me to the quick and I’ll never want you to feel that way. This goes hand in hand with my next point:
☆ Realising I’m In The Minority
Understanding that not everybody feels emotional pain as acutely as I do was another seminal moment. All of the hours I’ve wasted trying to understand how you could be so heartless, when the answer was always there. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s glaringly obvious: if you knew how horrific it felt, you would never do that to me.
Feeling utter despair and confusion at how people walked all over me, yet seeing it happen time after time? They say the definition of madness is repeating the same destructive behaviours and hoping for a different outcome…
☆ Having The Ability To Feel Other People’s Emotions
It sounds cool, and once you get a handle on it, it really can be. Especially when you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that someone is lying to you. But as with all of the empath traits, it is both a blessing and a curse. Yes, it’s useful to be able to spot a fibber at 20 paces, but that doesn’t make it any less hurtful.
It also makes big social gatherings and public spaces incredibly draining. You can run the entire emotional gamut from euphoria to despair in the time it takes you to get your weekly shop in.
☆ Having A ‘Knowing’ About Things
For me, my strongest ability is being able to tell a person’s true motive, despite what they may say. I spent years thinking it was obvious, then, when others couldn’t see it, assuming I must be wrong. Nowadays I listen to those gut feelings, but am much more likely to keep it to myself.
☆ A Compulsion To Help Others
This one is a bit of a bugger. Having a true understanding of a person’s feelings when others do not. The sense of responsibility I feel to that person can be overwhelming, and has led me down countless dark paths over the years. Particularly if I’ve ignored my inuition, when it knows I’m being lied to, but my heart is intent on wanting to help.
☆ Being Opened Up To, Often By Complete Strangers
That part isn’t so bad, but only because I’ve now got a handle on it. You simply cannot take everything you’re told at face value.
It’s a depressing truism that emotional vampires are drawn to the empath like the proverbial moth to a flame. They thrive on the attention that I so desperately need to give. It’s a deeply unhealthy dynamic that the average person may experience once, maybe twice in their lifetime… not so for those of us pre-programmed to want to make everything better, usually at the expense of our own wellbeing. Shine your light in the world and watch them flock towards it.
☆ Learning How To Handle All Of The Above
In truth, it’s a one day at a time job. It’s been exercising my intuition like a muscle, strengthening it and nurturing it. In a world that, for me, is a pretty savage place, my intuition has become my closest ally. Survival has been learning how to protect myself by shielding, grounding and reigning in my strongest impulses.
Survival has also been coming to terms with the fact that self care is not selfish or self indulgent. It’s essential.
So, 5 years on from my big awakening, what would I tell my younger self?
I’d shower her in the compassion I’ve been so quick to show others over the years. I’d hold her tight and tell her it really is ok to not fit into any of the moulds they expect her to. That one day, in the future, she’ll be making a very public statement about being undefined. And yes, for all my talk of no labels, I’d most likely tell her
‘It’s ok, you’re not insane… you’re probably an empath.’