Awhile back I wrote an article called “Category 1 Empath” in which I wrote about my inclination that I might be an empath (the inkling was put in my head as I thought about my own emphatic tendencies after watching the entire series of Charmed) and how crucial it is, for that very reason, that I surround myself with good people. Since then, I’ve added a few more experiences to my arsenal that confirm my suspicions that I am an empath. I struggled to explain why certain things affect me the way they do to my new friends at college because to me, that was simply the way I was. I became intrigued with the idea as my music theory professor whom I absolutely adore began sharing articles, very scientific ones at that, on Facebook about being an empath. And so I did a little digging. For the real novice or the motivated curious, here are three great articles (http://liveboldandbloom.com/08/self-improvement/empath-traits-of-highly-sensitive-person and http://themindunleashed.org/2013/10/30-traits-of-empath.html and http://www.elephantjournal.com/2015/05/loving-understanding-an-empath/ ) about empaths upon which I am going to expand, via my own experiences, this guide: “An Empath’s Guide to Empaths.”
At their simplest description, empaths are “highly sensitive people” or those who are able to sense others’ emotions to the point of taking them on as their own. For this reason, empaths are commonly told “You’re so sensitive!” If I had a dollar for every time I heard that… Now, some people are much more understanding about it than others. My voice teacher throughout high school was very understanding and always reminded me that being sensitive wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but more often, people found it to be inconvenient because it forced them to watch what they said or how they teased me. Similarly, crowded situations tend to be overwhelming for an empath because it overloads their senses. I really hate crowds, partially because they stifle my superwoman walking pace, but mostly for the previously inexplicable reason that it was just an emotional overload: I was taking on the energies of too many people at once.
I also find situations in which emotions are running high difficult to handle, and the more negative the emotion, the more tense I become. This was the first sign I noticed that clued me in to the fact that I’m an empath. Starting in middle school, I would walk in the house and based off of the energy that greeted me, know how everyone in it was feeling and what the night was going to be like. If I sensed strong negative energies, I would lock myself in my room for of much as the night as I could to protect myself from taking on those negative emotions. This was the first thing about being an empath that I attempted to explain to my college friends about myself. A bunch of us were playing Apples to Apples one night when the energy became tense. Some of my friends were frustrated with one another but weren’t saying anything about it, and being an empath, I readily picked up on that even if no one else did. Because of how in-tune they are with others’ emotions, empaths can usually sense when someone is lying or hiding his true feelings. For this reason, my roommate is frequently both frustrated and amazed at the fact that I can tell if something is wrong or bothering her within thirty seconds of her being in the room, and there’s no way for her to hide it from me. But anyway, that night in particular, the tension became too much for me to handle, and I had to leave the room to cleanse my palate and I had a mini-blow up as I tried, somewhat in vain (although I don’t blame them; they were trying to understand, it’s just a difficult thing to wrap your head around), to explain what those sort of tense situations do to me.
There is this running joke in my friend group because not only am I sensitive, but I’m easily made nervous. My Nana used to cut the tags from inside articles of clothing with no explanation other than “The tags make Baby nervous.” I explained this to my friends on campus, and now it is a generic phrase thrown out there when anything makes someone nervous, although typically used in reference to me. Sometimes they use it when a situation begins to get tense or emotionally riled and the signs of me beginning to get nervous emerge (I do this “hedgehogging” motion where my shoulders rise up and my chest collapses inward; it very much mimics any animal that retreats into its shell at the sign of danger), but what they’ve never understood is that this is another function of being an empath (again, I don’t blame them at all! I don’t come with a sign that says “Do your research; I’m an empath.”). I can feel the negative energy building, I know it will be overwhelming to my senses, so I do what I can to either prevent or diffuse the influx of negative energy.
Empaths also tend to be extremely sensitive to pain, both personally and when it comes to others, whether physically or emotionally. They have difficulty watching others being mistreated or hurt, even if it’s only on TV, which I can easily attest to. Even just hearing about someone’s experience breaking a limb can make me wince. When my ex brought a Nazi flag that his grandfather took during the liberation of France into our AP U.S. history class during the World War II unit, just seeing it and thinking of all of the innocent lives destroyed through torture and murder at the hands of the Nazis made me feel physically ill. And on a much less serious note, I hate watching this video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SEBLt6Kd9EY), which the rest of my friends find hilarious, because I can’t stand the thought that those ducklings might have gotten hurt. And yes, I also have an incredibly low pain tolerance, which I also get ribbed for frequently, and sympathy pains are not out of the realm of possibility either; just seeing my little brother get a flu shot is enough to make my arm hurt. This, of course, is not uncommon among empaths.
In addition to these major characteristics of empaths, there are several others that I identify with that I will merely list here briefly: the possibility of intense mood swings, the need to “talk it out,” being a listener to others’ problems, having creative outlets (particularly music and acting- I always thought of acting as a great emphatic trait and through the research I’ve done, I’ve found that to be quite true), needing a sense of independence and space and freedom, searching for truth and knowledge (I have always been the type of person who would rather be told a hard truth straight immediately than find it out later), and lacking tolerance for narcissism.
I realize that this is a difficult concept for those who are not empaths to understand. But being an empath is a very real thing. So, here are some friendly tips for fostering a happy relationship with the empath you love:
- Don’t tell her she’s crazy (don’t go all pronoun freaky on me, “her” just rolled better and since I, a female, am writing about my experience I have elected to use her rather than say “him or her” all the time. Cool? Cool.), belittling the things she’s feeling. The emotions she feels are very real, and more likely overwhelming and possibly scary. Saying she’s crazy is the fastest possible way to alienate her from you.
- Give her her space when she needs it. If she doesn’t want your comfort in the form of closeness (particularly physical closeness), it’s not because she doesn’t love you. It’s probably because she needs a recharge from whatever emotions, energies, or auras were draining hers.
- Conversely, understand if she needs to stay by your side in crowded situations. You may be the rock she needs at that dinner party or while walking through a crowded street.
- Learn to read her signs (example: my hedgehogging thing). If she starts to show signs that she’s overwhelmed, do what you can to bring the energy levels down (now this is not me saying that you’re never allowed to experience intense emotions for fear of breaking her; it’s just that if you know there is needless negative energy happening, do what you can to curb it).
- Be sensitive to the things that trigger her. While she may be able to handle teasing about things that make her nervous or her low pain tolerance sometimes, making jokes about those things can also be dangerous because they set off intense emotions in her. Accept that just because those things wouldn’t incite such strong emotional responses in you doesn’t make them any less real for her.
- Listen to her when she needs to talk it out. She may be purging all of the excess emotions that she’s picked up off of other people.
- Be honest with her. One of the worst things you can do is ever lie to her because she will (almost) immediately know. Just be honest.
- Above all, receive her with open arms and lots of love. Empaths frequently give of themselves much more than they’ll ever take from anyone, even if they’re exhausted and really need to do some taking. Because you can bet your bottom dollar that she’s going to love you fiercely and beautifully with every last fiber of her being.
And so, after some research into being an empath, I am no longer unsure. I am most definitely an empath. And that’s a great thing, both being one and knowing that I am one, because now I can best learn how to use my abilities for the good of all. Hopefully, after reading this post, you’ve come to understand empaths better, maybe identified one in your own life, and now know how to better coexist with these lovely creatures. Because, really, all they want to do is feed the world by loving you.