This morning, I was sitting at home with one of my misfit rescues, Casper. Enjoying the touches of sunshine on a crisp spring day on the back deck, me sipping coffee while he chased birds and I lazily threw him a ball around the yard.
I had some favorite music on the speakers.
And I was crying. Fully streaming tears that I brushed away with a sweatshirt sleeve.
This is a big deal for me.
See, a few months ago, I wouldn’t have been crying. And that would have been a shame.
I have been learning about my particular flavor of emotional self. Jane has been a salvation in this regard, because she’s helping me give myself permission to be the person that I really am versus what’s easy for others to handle.
I am an empath. A deep, feeling, empath.
This mornings tears were tears of joy, of gratitude. For Casper, feeling his trust and freedom and knowing that he feels safe here with me. For my trainers, who have worked so hard with us the last few months. For my new dog class friends who welcomed me with open arms and friendly acceptance from the very first moment, and how good it feels to belong somewhere.
I was grateful. That’s all. And my tears were simply gratitude made tangible, flowing over in the swell of emotion that was too much for just my heart to bear.
And while it may not seem like a “problem” per se, being an empath has been fraught with challenge, mostly because I didn’t identify it or understand it or what to do with it.
In short, I’m highly emotional and sensitive. But it doesn’t stop there. I take on the emotions of others around me, too. I feel others’ pain viscerally, sometimes physically. I am painfully attuned to the feelings and moods of others.
This isn’t some kind of bizarre superpower where I’m claiming to read people’s minds or anything. I don’t have a bunch of crystals and chakras or whatever else woo-woo stuff. It’s just that I *feel*, to a sometimes extreme degree. To a point where it becomes uncomfortable, painful, difficult and blinding and sometimes it gets terribly in the way of functioning in life. This does not make me better or worse than anyone else. Just different than some, though as I understand this part of me more, I’m connecting with more people who are similar to me.
One sticky point with this kind of thing is that my gut-level reactions to things are often make other people uneasy. I mean, if someone saw me sitting on my deck this morning crying and I explained to them where the tears were coming from, they’d likely do one or more of the following:
- Tell me they think it’s beautiful that I feel so much, maybe meaning it or maybe silently thinking I should take a Xanax
- Mumble “Wow, that’s…” and quickly go find another cup of coffee
- Make a joke to try and “lift” the mood
- Talk to fill the silence and discomfort
- Maybe share something they’re grateful for and share a few tears of their own
- Ask questions about what I’m feeling
My sister is wired like I am. We had a conversation about this yesterday over lunch because she’s coming to terms with the same things about herself in a lot of ways. She’d do the last couple of things (and has, many times).
This kind of emotional wiring means that I have compensated for it for years, not always in healthy ways. Because extreme emotion isn’t always healthy or useful, because it’s sometimes inappropriate and out of place in mixed company or professional situations, you learn to manage those feelings.
Some of it is just everyday stuff, like learning to shush and count to ten before speaking in reaction to something, or playing that obnoxious armchair psychologist to everyone to tell them what you think they’re feeling.
Sometimes it’s keeping away from the news, because stories of war and tragedy can actually make me physically ill. It’s why I can rescue dogs but not work in shelters (props to those who do, and apologies to those who saw me try and then barf in a corner because of the grief I felt ).
Less healthy is suppressing feelings because you are concerned that they won’t be accepted (whether true or not). So you overcompensate and become aloof, detached, and difficult to know while those unprocessed feelings turn into anger, resentment, confusion, depression, all sorts of fun things. I’ve ignored the overwhelming joy and gratitude and appreciation for beauty or rapture of simple daily things because it felt like it must be contrived, I mean no one is THAT happy about anything are they?
And let me be really clear: I don’t expect nor need everyone to understand. Not anymore. Nor are people who do get it “better” than those who don’t.
One of the best lessons from Jane in recent months is learning to let go of the need to be understood. Some will, deeply and naturally. Some won’t, ever. Many will be somewhere in between. But I am not them, they are not me, and being understood is not a prerequisite of loving or being loved, giving or receiving kindness or empathy, nor is it something we’re entitled to, strangely enough.
It does mean, quite naturally, that I will truly trust few in my life, because doing so puts some very powerful vulnerabilities in another’s hands with the understanding that they could use them to do serious damage to me. And that’s okay. That used to make me sad. Jane has helped me see that it’s pretty human. All the more reason to cherish the people with whom trust comes naturally and easily.
So, this morning on the deck was homework of sorts. I’m in a safe place – home.
I can feel freely, and let the results of those feelings be whatever they need to be (today, tears and some goofy laughter with my dog in between). I wrote my morning pages and there was a jumble of happy, lots of feelings of newness as I keep exploring this newfound freedom of self and understanding more about who I am.
I’m writing about it to own it, to live it out loud, to embrace this as part of my learning about who I am, giving myself grace and compassion first, and to let you other empaths out there know you aren’t alone.
Comments are off this time. I’m just going to go grab another cup of coffee and find that spot in the sunshine again. Let the tears come if they will.
Happy Sunday, my friends.