“Please be careful with me; I’m sensitive, and I’d like to stay that way.” — Jewel
Ever since I can remember, I’ve been called “too sensitive.” “Don’t take everything so personally,” they’d say. “They” didn’t realize I was taking on “them.” I was a mirror; I unconsciously reflected who they were back to them.
“One possible scientific explanation for why empaths are so receptive is the discovery of mirror neurons. Basically, we all have a set of neurons in our brains that fire up whenever we witness something that another person feels or experiences.”
My experience as an empath started young. It is said that one is born that way. There are some other ways that one can be empathic, but I know that I am an emotional empath; I unconsciously take on the emotions (good or bad) of others, even animals. I am not able to watch Animal Cops even though I respect what they do so much; I just can’t stand actually witnessing the abuse and neglect of animals.
One benefit of having this sensitivity and intuition is that I’ve had people open up and share private conversations with me, often the first time they’ve ever done so. They can see that I will understand and not judge them, and that I likely have helpful insight to share. In treatment, I was regularly told by others that they envy my vulnerability.
“This is because even though empaths often have broken hearts, they remain open-hearted by nature.”
“From a spiritual perspective, empaths are natural healers and their birthright is healing. They come into this world to heal – to heal themselves and others – which can make them susceptible to toxic types looking to exploit their energy for their own agenda.”
Source: Thought Catalog
I cry at every funeral and wedding. I cry when other people near me cry, or even when victims and survivors cry. I cry for most deaths in films, and for the depth of emotion in The Green Mile.
When my grandfather’s second wife died, I cried for him. When my best friend’s mother died, I cried for her.
While I was waiting to be voluntarily committed at 12 years old, I consoled an older woman sitting next to me, something to do with her sons.
When one of my other best friends wouldn’t leave her abusive narcissist and risk losing me because I needed to protect my energy, I mourned.
If if I hear a baby wail, I get very anxious and even kind of upset. I do care that the baby is crying, but I want to avoid it at all costs because it’s so distressing for me to listen to, especially if I can’t do anything about it.
When Hurricane Katrina devastated my beloved city of New Orleans, I collected all the daily newspapers and one night I became so hysterically upset that it actually disturbed and angered my dad to the point that he had to restrain me.
I get very overwhelmed easily. I start to panic in places that are too crowded or compacted. I had to leave my first and only time at Beerfest because of the anxiety. I’ve had an anxiety attack in my car while down in Miami, a heavily populated and chaotic city. I didn’t experience this anxiety while in active alcoholism, though; I drank to numb my sensitivity.
If I am too hot or too cold, or any other unpleasant extreme, I get very irritable and impatient. I almost cannot breathe until I am comfortable again. This makes me seem high maintenance, but it’s just that my threshold for sensory overload is extremely low.
“The blessing and curse of being a sensitive person are that we can feel the world deeply, and while that includes feeling its immense beauty, magic and love (the blessing), it also includes feeling the world’s darkness, cruelty and insanity (the curse).”
I have had plenty of quality friends throughout my life, but in society, I have never fit in. I have always felt different. As I’ve learned more about other empaths, other Bipolars, and the highly sensitive in general, I came to realize I wasn’t alone in my substance abuse and self-medicating. Not at all. I am in very good company there.
“This emotional intensity can be a pathway to self-destruction if empaths are not careful. Many highly sensitive individuals can resort to ‘numbing’ activities to block out their heightened emotions – whether that be overeating, abusing substances or engaging in unhealthy relationships – so they don’t have to confront the weight of their own pain.”
Source: Thought Catalog
There have been some very ugly and unpleasant experiences as an empath: I have encountered, possibly through the Universe’s intention, some true sociopathic and narcissistic people. I was regularly bullied when I was in middle school because of my sensitivity. I have always had at least one female bully me in the workplace. It hurts me and it drains me; it gives them the fuel, energy, and life force they are lacking.
“The disempowerment arises when self-doubt eats away at the empath. After all, their abilities also come from a lifetime’s worth of societal invalidation.”
Source: Thought Catalog
I have had to undergo EMDR sessions in therapy to process the trauma of being gaslit by seemingly normal people. I have been called mean, that I’m a terrible person, that I have no friends, that I’m crazy and psychotic, that my trauma is nothing, all the while, of course, being traumatized!
The more I reacted, the stronger they’d get. They would suck the life force out of me, leaving me a confused and very sad shell. Until I could start to recover, that is, to take my power back. It’s all been about that power imbalance. Energy vampires have always been attracted to me like a moth to a flame.
I went to see a “psychic” on my birthday a few years ago. I knew something wasn’t right but I stayed hopeful, as I am prone to do. Near the end, this “psychic” told me I had demons that she needed to sage from her home and that I needed to leave. When I got to my car, even though a friend was waiting for me in there, I collapsed. I screamed. I sobbed. I flipped out. I felt that familiar ache in my heart every time my abandonment wound is scratched. I felt so betrayed.
I can’t count how many times I’ve been in such unpleasant situations around others where I’ve cried so hard the panic made it hard for me to catch my breath, and none of this intense pain would affect them. It usually gratified them more, which would in turn increase my suffering. I have been left to feel all alone in my hurting. Only animals have responded to my suffering.
“Deep sadness occurs in a person’s life for many reasons, ranging from tragedy, to trauma, to chemical imbalance. But for the sensitive person deep sadness is usually existential; in other words, it involves mourning the self and its relation to life, and life and its relation to the self.”
“. . . sadness is a normal (and in many cases) necessary human emotion. Without it, many of the greatest lessons of life would never be learned.”
After I came to terms with my alcoholism and self-numbing, I started to recognize and remember my innate intuition. When my intuition is talking, I don’t know what it’s trying to say specifically, only that it’s trying to warn or alert me to something. I’ve had a hard time listening and heeding my intuition, even if it is pretty developed.
Sometimes it works out, though. I went to hang out with a girl one night whose husband or boyfriend was there with us. I couldn’t pinpoint why but there was just something I didn’t like about him, so I unconsciously kept my distance. I felt his presence was really intrusive because I was trying to get to know her only, but he wouldn’t stay out of our space.
I eventually went to sit outside on the balcony to smoke my cigarettes, and so she and I would talk to each other there. I still didn’t feel comfortable being there anymore so when I told her I should leave, at the same moment, the guy summoned her inside to tell her I needed to leave. Mind you, he and I had barely said anything to each other.
I asked her if she would escort me to my car since it was a seedy neighborhood and when we both got down the steps from the apartments, he creeped out from behind the corner again and summoned her to come to him. She paused for a moment, noticing my disapproving expression, but ultimately left me there to walk to my car. When I got inside my car, it hit me that my intuition was at work in there. I knew, by not technically knowing, that this guy was a bad person, and possibly even abusive/controlling.
“Malignant narcissists tend to prey on empaths because they know there is plenty of energy, resources and support to ‘feed’ on.”
Source: Thought Catalog
At this point, I’ll talk about the sociopath and the narcissist my intuition tried to heed me from. These are relatively recent events, so I am definitely in the midst of a healing and hopefully self-empowering journey. The sociopath and I found each other on Tinder one night. I don’t remember a lot of chat at all except that he seemed to have convinced me so quickly that we were going to get along so well.
When I left to drive over to where he lived, I stopped through a drive-thru while on the phone with my friend. I don’t even remember asking her this but she told me I had actually, for the first time ever, asked if she would come along with me. I didn’t consciously know why I needed her company. She didn’t end up accompanying me but I did stay on the phone with her for an hour while I was parked somewhere, when I was supposed to be heading straight to the guy’s house. I didn’t question why I was stalling.
When I got to his place, I think I said to myself, this looks dumpy. Whatever, proceed, go inside anyway. Long story short, we’re talking for hours and I’m questioning everything I believed about myself and seemingly, passive-aggressively, he says he wanted me gone hours ago. Huh? Why wasn’t I picking up on any signs of that? Why did he hang out with me in the first place?
Honest to God, when I realized whose home I felt emotionally and magnetically stuck in, the fear that there was nothing that would stop him from hurting or murdering me if in fact he were that type of sociopath, it was real. Real, visceral fear.
After I was “kicked out,” I had a panic attack at home. I became obsessed with what had just happened, WHY it happened. But through supportive words from someone else’s lived experience, I agreed that these people are the scum of the earth and my fascination is what they would want. I had to try to stop caring about what happened, or why they are how they are, etc.
Then I met the narcissist, which actually happened last night. We found each other on OkCupid and he was totally bombing me with, oh, how much of a perfect match we were and that this was all synchronicity in action, never mind the fact he kept repeating how whatever I’d say was “so Capricorn.” Honestly, I found it kind of annoying.
When we got onto the phone not long into our chat his brain was going a mile a minute, and since I relate to that kind of activity in my brain having Bipolar Disorder, it was stimulating, if not draining. I even told him just talking to him on the phone was making me sweat. But I did feel alive, and I’m addicted to feeling alive.
There was some drama even before meeting him because I couldn’t find where he lived, but I won’t expand on that.
Fast forward to me taking my second dab on his rig, and I’m immediately incapacitated. I’m miserable, can barely breathe, and I’m begging desperately for help. I’m so scared and anxious and all I want to do is be home in the safety and comfort of my own bed. Why haven’t I learned my lesson yet? Even if it is just smoking pot, why do I keep okaying myself to go over to do it at a strange person’s house? What is (still) wrong with me? So much of the misery from that dab hit could’ve been avoided if I had been in a secure place, meaning my home, with a secure person that I already know cares about my well-being. Face-palm.
As I’m laying there, trying to relax with my head in his crotch, things don’t seem to be that bad. I don’t know why the hell I’m responding so bad to the trip, but I do secretly sense it’s because of him and where I am. It’s not a safe place, at least, as I’ll soon come to find, not emotionally. I don’t know when it happened, but I remember trying to relax by laughing at myself being high and regularly asking him if he liked my sense of humor. I know I wasn’t really a fan of his and let him know that. No, he didn’t find me funny. Huh? Most people find me funny. What’s wrong with him?
The next thing I know this guy has gone into a full-on rage. He wants me the fuck out of there. I’m not funny; I’m a complete psycho. What? Was I a psycho laying in your lap as you played with my breasts? Or am I just all of a sudden a crazy bitch? What did I even do? I can barely focus on making sure I don’t forget anything while he’s literally screaming and raging at me like a wild animal. I definitely want the fuck out of there but once again I’m so unbalanced by this energy that it looks like I’m taking my time. I wasn’t trying to; the more he pressured me to leave, the less I could think. This makes total sense psychologically.
I am so unbalanced and destabilized as I’m leaving that I trip over a parking block right onto the asphalt, scraping my kneecap and elbow. I’m sobbing out there in the night with no one around. A part of me wants someone to hear my cry and console me. But as I stumble back and forth down the block trying to locate my car, no one does. I manage to get into my car and try to get myself back together enough to drive.
The next thing I know, the narcissist is outside my passenger window. Why? I only scroll it down a little bit because I don’t trust him anymore, and you know what he has to say? “Just so you know, I’ve called security about you.” Seriously? How evil. Way to gaslight me again. I had to get out of there, but not without another friendly panic attack. I try to call my dad but it’s 4 in the morning and while he usually always wakes up to my crisis calls, he must’ve been too asleep. However, I got ahold of that aforementioned friend who had endured this kind of abuse, too. I might make it out of this, too, again.
I usually turn to Pink Floyd when I’m having an anxiety attack. They helped put me to sleep after the ordeal but when I woke up, I was still shaking, so I decided to go get a full body hot stone massage to rid this risidual negative energy in my body. I have so many tight and stiffened muscles because of my overly stressed internals, so a lot of the massage was painful. But I pulled through because I wanted the most efficient job done for the most desired outcome: total relaxation. I asked for another half hour for a foot massage, too; reflexology is the best.
While I’m pretty resourceful when it comes to self-care (at least after the fact) and self-soothing, I know there is work to do on my boundaries. I need to learn how to better avoid these traumatic booby traps. At my most recent therapy session, we agreed that people I’ve just met maybe aren’t ready for the kind of depth that comes naturally to me; I need to serve it out more gradually. She pointed out that perhaps I should heed my intuition more seriously because, after all, shrugging off the red flags hasn’t yet panned out positively.
“As adults, empaths have the unique predicament of navigating a world that shuns and invalidates their experiences, while at the same time relies on them for their wisdom.”
“While [this type of] trauma can occasionally cause hypervigilance, it can also lead to a tremendous amount of intuition into the human condition. Empaths find that they are more often right than they are wrong – and as they learn from their life experiences, what they dismiss as ‘paranoia’ turn out to be accurate reflections of what other people miss in their hurry to make decisions based on surface-level interactions.”
Source: Thought Catalog
My weakness (as opposed to a more empowered empath) is that I give people too much benefit of the doubt; I focus too heavily on the good in others, especially if I am in need of that social interaction, instead of finding a healthy balance. I don’t give myself time to assess the risk of interacting with someone I don’t know. As an empath, this is something that is necessary to do. I need to look out for myself and work on establishing healthy boundaries.
As my depression has lifted and I’ve been more stabilized, I’ve gotten back onto my enlightenment path instead of drowning in existential anxiety. Teal Swan, a spiritual adviser (or “guru”) has been immensely helpful for me. One of her videos on YouTube saved me from relapsing recently after I was triggered by my ex’s engagement. I am asking less whys now and more hows.
Common signs of being an empath include:
The tendency to soak up other’s emotions and even physical sensations, like a sponge
Strong intuitive abilities or claircognizance
Chaotic or fluctuating emotions
Inability to watch violence
Tendency towards anxiety and addiction
Tendency to attract wounded people
Gentle and caring nature
Chronic fatigue + digestive issues
Drawn to healing professions