“Lately, I’ve been in a constant state of sadness….
I can’t tell if it’s me or the world who is hurting.”
– Scarlet Jei Saoirse –
This post is dedicated to the many people who feel that there is something ‘wrong’ with them because they cannot shake the underlying sense of sadness that has become their travelling companion in these strange times. Your tears, that are so distressing, also shine a light on what it means to be truly alive. To be truly alive can often hurt like hell.
If you feel constantly attune to, or aware of, the pain and emotions of others, picking up the vibes of their lived experience, feeling their pain in your body, you probably fall into the empath description. An empath is slightly different than having empathy. Many humans experience what it means to feel empathy. However, an empath can feel almost paralysed from the grief of another.
Judith Orloff, in her book ’The Empath’s Survival Guide’, says this: “Having empathy means our heart goes out to another person in joy or pain. But for empaths, it goes much further. We actually feel other people’s emotions, energy, and physical symptoms in our own bodies, without the usual defenses that most people have.”
It took me a long time to figure out I was not some freak of nature for experiencing what felt like being hit with lightning bolts whenever I walked into a crowded room. Before entering such a room I can be at total peace, then walk in, hug someone (pre-COVID days!), and immediately feel sad. A conversation with another person who shared similar experiences many years ago was very helpful. It was such a relief to realise that there were other people who had this bizarre superpower of deep connection. It’s like walking around with radar that picks up on the emotions and well-being of those we come into contact with. Since then, of course, the study of empaths and discussions around such experiences has been so invaluable.
There is so much to be said about being an empath and picking up on emotions like a sponge and living another person’s feelings as if they are our own. However, amidst a global pandemic, I have just two words to describe it: It Sucks!
* It sucks because there are a thousand and one distressing messages and images that head our way every day. A lot of energy is spent trying not to let these ‘get’ to us.
* It sucks because we pick up on the vibe of heartache and despair that we encounter in everyday life, including visiting essential stores.
* It sucks because there is not much we can do about it.
* It sucks because it’s exhausting, like trying to run when you are up to your armpits in mud.
* It sucks because other people can look at us incredulously and say things like, “You really can’t let that get to you like that. It’s ridiculous.” Yes! Damnit! It might look ridiculous, but an empath cannot simply ’switch’ this superpower off. Oh, how I wish it was as simple as that!
* It sucks because the anger that accompanies these feelings when encountering stories of injustice can be difficult to placate.
So, empaths, I want to speak to our superpower for a minute. I want to make a few comments that may be helpful. If not, please disregard them.
First of all, there is NOTHING wrong with you. Every human experiences life differently. We all have a variety of skills, understandings, and connections, that makes us ‘us’. Empaths simply feel more deeply, more intensely, and more persistently than those around them. We must not forget that our modern understanding and acceptance of emotions is a Victorian cultural and social creation. It came from the admiration held for the good old British reserve (stiff upper lip) and stoicism. People who expressed deep emotions were considered with a certain degree of suspicion and pity. There is a slow shift happening here as people again seek to connect to soul, to each other, and to the world, in a meaningful, deep way. However, the path for empaths will still be filled with many people who simply don’t understand. Don’t waste precious energy trying to validate yourself or your feelings. Let them be. Wish them well. Just keep going.
Secondly, learn to say ’No’. When a recent tragic event began to unfold on the news, I walked out. I simply could not go there. I knew what would fill the screen – death, heartbreaking images, and pain. Suffering that I could do nothing about. People who feel empathy can watch this, shed tears, and comment on how sad it all is. Empaths can feel like they are going to stop breathing… our whole body hurts. Saying ‘No’ can also feel like a betrayal – to ourselves and others. However, our health and well-being are dependent on our ability to say ‘No’ to things that we simply cannot engage with at times.
Thirdly, know your anchor points and sanctuary. What is it that energises you? Empaths often find that environment is crucial for recovery. Quiet, tranquil spaces, a love for nature, rhythm and routine, and meaningful relationships with safe people. Appreciate your friends who have different superpowers and don’t share this empath space. Their way of seeing the world may at times seem ‘cold’ to us, but the yin desperately needs the yang (and vice versa).
Thirdly, don’t let yourself die on every hill. Empaths can have a habit of throwing themselves between perceived danger and injustice, and those who are bearing the brunt of it. This makes them great advocates but also puts them in a constant state of exhaustion. This exhaustion, left unchallenged, can bring all sorts of ‘friends’ along like resentment, self-righteous pity, and judgment of others. Embrace justice, embrace advocacy … but also know you cannot run full-speed with every cause – you are not the Messiah (what a relief). It is okay to take time out, to not engage, and to recover.
Lastly, trust your gut. In the religious tradition of my past, I was distrustful of my heart as I was told it “was deceitful above all else” (Jeremiah 17:9). It is interesting how sacred text can be twisted to serve as a form of control. Empaths smell bullshit a mile away. Intuition is something that just hangs around. Maybe it’s time to invite it to speak more often around your table of life?
Self-care practices are important for everyone. Amidst a pandemic, they become vital. For empaths, looking after your needs and emotions is not selfish. You would not hesitate to give that advice to anyone else. So why not begin to look after your own? In global pain, the emotional noise of the world can become overwhelming. So take the measures you need to protect your well-being and recover.
“Create boundaries. Honor your limits. Say no. Take a break. Let go. Stay grounded. Nurture your body. Love your vulnerability. And if all else fails, breathe deeply.”
– Aletheia Luna –