My Journey as an Empath
Merriam-Webster defines empathy as "the feeling that you understand and share another person's emotions and experiences." Most people can experience empathy (which should not be confused with sympathy--simply feeling sorry for another), however being an empath--or clairsentient--is a higher, spiritual level of experience. Empaths feel everything....sometimes quite intensely... through an intuitive filter--a spiritual attunement. They are highly sensitive to the emotional and physical states of other beings (animals too), places and situations...the energetic frequency vibrations. I am an empath. Even as a child I always knew I was somehow different from my siblings and peers, but I didn't know why. (My sister called me "goody-two-shoes" but that's another story :) It wasn't until four or five years ago, with the help of a wonderful mentor, that I began to understand myself and this gift, and while I can say with total confidence now that it truly is a gift, I didn't always feel that way. I thought it was an excruciating, overwhelming curse.
Growing up in a very negative, abusive environment, I felt fear all the time. I could sense the anger and negative emotions swirling around me--a violent tornado of feelings. I just didn't know I was picking up on the fear of others as well as feeling my own. I was highly sensitive to physical sensations, odors (my father's cigarettes made me physically ill), sights and noise. Raised voices made me cringe, and I often sought refuge outdoors or behind my bedroom door, desperate to escape what I was feeling and experiencing. I hid. My stomach hurt a lot, and I felt like a super sensitive antennae...aware of everything. TOO aware. I was a quiet child and always seemed to know how someone would react in a given situation. I knew what they were wanting or feeling...could anticipate it...and would change or alter my actions/words to adapt. I was always a step ahead. School gave me nervous knots. I was a straight-A student but could never understand why I felt so anxious every time I walked in the building. What was I afraid of? I also couldn't understand why some kids were mean to others....why so many were unkind, really. Why did they do it? Couldn't they see or feel what I did? How can you tease that boy when he's obviously hurting? Can't you feel his pain? Emotions communicated to me, even when they were carefully hidden from view.
I knew I was different somehow, but I thought...really believed....that I wasn't normal. I remember watching a tv movie with my entire family, a film with a very sad scene. I was 13-years-old, and as the tears streamed down my face, I turned and looked at my other family members to see their reactions. I was astounded by the dry eyes of everyone around me. No obvious reactions. That clinched it for me that something was wrong...wrong with me. I decided to make an effort NOT to feel. I practiced holding in my feelings, remaining impassive or indifferent...even resorting to biting my lips, tongue or cheek, inflicting physical pain on myself to re-direct my emotions. I did this for years until it just became too much for me. I caved, and resigned myself to being weird. I didn't accept it, still didn't understand it...just felt I had no choice but to let it be. Besides, my tongue hurt. :) I have been called "too sensitive," "too emotional" and even "mentally unbalanced." That latter one was tough to hear at the time, but I now know it was completely untrue. I just wasn't tuned to intellectual baloney. I was empathic. High school was a bit easier, but college...at a large university...was tough. Talk about stress...elementary school times ten. I honestly feel that many cases of diagnosed school anxiety are simply sensitive, empathic children, struggling to fit in.
Fear is not the only emotion I feel from those around me, though it is certainly the most debilitating...and exhausting. Negative emotions can feel like a physical assault on my body...a literal punch in the gut. A trip to my favorite new age store a couple of years ago, usually a pleasant experience, turned out to be anything but. The store was empty except for two women being helped by the salesclerk. They were blocking the aisle that I needed to access, but I was willing to wait as they seemed to be discussing something intently. Suddenly I felt a wave of nausea and anxiety and had to leave the store quickly. Outside, I took big, deep breaths of fresh air and felt immediately better. Still, I didn't go back inside for awhile. I found out that one of the women had terminal cancer. She was looking for healing crystals. Sadness and grief are tough feelings to navigate, and I felt her emotions pretty strongly. I have even felt the collective grief of the trees on my street when many of them...perfectly healthy and mature oaks...were cut down because their owners didn't want them anymore. That experience stunned me, and it took a few days for me to recover from it.
Crowds can be a challenge too.....big stores, shopping centers, fairs and festivals, even family gatherings where you know everyone present, can be draining when you pick up on the energy frequencies surrounding you. Quick trips are my new normal...and hasty exits. I try to avoid certain places or situations when I know the energy is likely to be intense or uncomfortable....the mall right before Christmas is a good example. It looks, smells and feels like anxiety to me. So....does any of this sound familiar to you? If so, what else can you do and how do you manage all this energy when you're an empathic sponge? How do you know what's yours and what's somebody else's "stuff?" I am still learning about the path of the empath and how to manage this gift better, but there are a few things that help me.
First, I feel the emotion, acknowlege it, and then I let it go. I feel it all, no holds barred. I don't want it to get stuck inside me, whether it's my own feeling or someone else's. I simply allow it. It takes practice to just let go and a "who the heck cares what anybody else thinks" attitude. If I cry, I cry. You really need to know yourself well here...your own feelings...to be able to differentiate from another's. Sometimes that's easy...as in my trip to the new age store. Sometimes it isn't, and I'm still working at knowing me better. Solitude helps as I find I really need my space. If I don't get it, I get cranky. I'm sure most empaths will tell you the same. Hiding indoors all the time isn't helpful, however. It might feel better, but fear of the unknown will keep you stuck in other areas of your life. Nature is very healing for me, especially in releasing emotions and grounding. Just the sight of green trees and flowers helps. Water....sea salt baths, ocean swims and even showering helps pull stagnant energy out, leaving me feeling much "cleaner" and calmer. I also use reiki, chakra cleansing meditations and call on Archangel Michael to cut energetic cords that may be binding me to another. While I do pull up an energetic light shield or bubble around me if I know I'll be going to a store or other place where the energy might be iffy, I usually don't do that all the time. I haven't quite decided if that's a good thing...for me. Do I want to place a barrier between myself and others all the time, or would that keep me separated from them and unable to be of service...unable to help? As I said, I'm still learning, and I'm looking forward to understanding the energy more with my mentor's assistance.
Being an empath is a challenge, but what a fascinating journey. If I have come to realize anything from this path, it's this: we are not separate from each other. We can't be. Our energies intersect, weave, dip and glide together...a spiritual dance of unity, of oneness. This ability to connect to others on such a deep, personal level is a spiritual blessing, and I am very content....very happy...to see where this journey takes me next.
I'm feeling my way. :)