How to be an empath without protecting yourself
I'll be the first to admit my sensitive nature, as though it is something I need to formally prepare others for. But if you are a highly sensitive person, you are already nodding along.
As a kid I was quick to assume there was something wrong with me. My sensitivity to the world made me feel like there was some special contraption for dealing with life that everyone was given except me. I'm not entirely sure what this special contraption would do for me, but certainly, keep me from feeling all the feels all the time as others didn't seem to.
The first time I noticed I was a wee bit different I was in grade school and the other kids were teasing a new kid. The story goes that I came home in a huff of anger that such injustice could not only happen but if people knew our interconnectedness they certainly wouldn't impart such cruelty onto another human being. And it only grew from there...
Soon I was adopting every stray cat I could find. I felt a certain kinship with animals, something that continues to this day. My parents were kind enough to let me set up an adoption center in our garage but as soon as I started naming each adoptee, even they knew they had just become the proud parents of a whole host of cats. Some lingered well into my college days.
Not much to fill in for middle and high school; we all experienced it. But as a highly empathetic kid these institutions felt like emotional hotbeds. I was doing my best to navigate them, and I was not doing a great job at it.
Eventually my overwhelm triggered my only defense mechanism: shut it off and stop caring. Being “too sensitive” felt like too high a risk and too big of a distraction to my teenage self.
Here's the thing, though — when you are highly sensitive and attempt to shield yourself from the very world that pings your empathy, you don't stop caring; you start numbing. And numbing is pretty much worse in every way.
While I felt slightly less bombarded on the daily with the sea of emotion I would slog through, I also stopped feeling joy. Not the trade-off I had in mind.
No one was teaching me the beauty of being highly sensitive. No one was pointing out the strength of what would later be called “emotional intelligence” or how to navigate the love/hate relationship with the word empath.
Not that long ago, a highly sensitive nature was seen more as faulty wiring than an intuitive gift. The irony is, sensitive people are the first to accept this diagnosis, hiding the very thing we are here to share with open arms. We are easily convinced we are somehow in the wrong and need to protect ourselves from our true natures, snuffing out the very light empathy yields.
As I shared with a fellow empath recently, when you're a lamp bearer, everything you walk around in can look like the dark.
Being highly sensitive is not a burden but a gift. But in order to benefit from your gifts, you can't move through the world believing it's a place you need to protect yourself from.
I want you to feel empowered by your empathy, not disempowered by it. It is not there to exhaust you but enthrall you. I want you to feel reconnected to something you can be truly proud of and I want you to stop hiding your gifts. An empowered sensitive helper is a huge benefit to the world. We need your light.
Getting myself to this place required that I redefine what it means to be highly sensitive. I had to subtract all associations of sensitivity with weakness, inability, or brokenness. In their place, I created a relationship to compassion, resiliency, vulnerability, and being brave.
Because it IS brave to feel the world. She isn't always a friendly place, and to let her in doesn't always feel like hope or possibility. However, the role of the Sensitive is not to shield herself from the ails of the world, but to see it for what it is.
All pain is just a mask. When we turn away from the mask because we think it's real, we teach fear that it can prevail and win. When we turn toward it, and remind fear it doesn't need to be so scared, we shine our light into the places where darkness typically rules and dispel the myth that fear has created.
The myth says we're “too sensitive” to handle the world when in truth, we're THE Sensitives who can remind the world of her true nature. And if we adopt a few stray cats along the way, seems like a fair trade-off to me.
To being brave,
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