For years I hid and stuffed a large part of myself down deep. It wasn’t easy or ideal and it was exhausting but I didn’t know any different. It was what I grew up doing; not wanting to think or feel as some sort of self-protection mechanism. There was the me that I presented to the world; I was put together, talked and walked with poise and ease *in public* and then there was the me that hid and covered myself up *in private* because inwardly I was a gigantic mess. I was a consummate circus juggler and had too many balls in the air and was *worn thin* from trying to keep them afloat.
Then I attended a life-changing conference in Nashville Tennessee. At the time, I was leading a local Mom’s group at my Church called MOPS (Mother’s Of Preschooler’s). Looking back now, I shouldn’t have been leading much of anything but I had a slew of preschoolers myself and was actually trying my best to be a good mother to them. Besides, God often goes hard after the lost and lonely and has been known to put those who don’t have it together in positions of leadership.
And I swear to God, the conference had me specially in mind from beginning to end when they picked the topic.
Masks: Why we put them on and how we take them off.
It was a simple message with a profound punch. It didn’t make me feel like shit like it could have but instead, empowered me to emerge from the suffocating squalor I had been hiding in. When I returned home from Tennessee, I stood in front of my MOPS groups, in front of women whom I was convinced had it all together and whom I worked hard at convincing that I did and bared my soul. It was like I was auditioning for the movie “Bad Moms” where one of the moms stand in front of the PTA and admits to smoking the weed she finds in her sons bedroom.
I share this moment in life with you because it was the first of many where I mustered the courage to be me *as is* I became increasingly brave and awake, even though I still morphed into some sorry rendition of who I thought I needed to be. I didn’t gravitate quickly *nor easily* to a mask. I walked the Earth uncovered and through it, the whole of my insides was unearthed.
It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.
When you allow yourself to stand naked before the crowd, it invites others to do the same. Nakedness brings up all those things that you’ve tried to keep hidden. All your insecurities rise to the surface. Things like jealousy, anxiety, depression, bitterness…just to do some brain storming. They bring with them thoughts and feelings that are all out of sorts. And when they hit like tsunami waves, they make you believe that staying hidden and numb would have been best.
But it’s not.
Thoughts and feelings are not bad things, in fact, they can be used for a lot of good when kept in check. It wasn’t long till I became aware that I had a deep understanding of what other people were going through…kind of like a sixth sense so to speak. I could “feel” what others were feeling, at least enough to bring me to the realization that I’m a highly empathic person. An empath.
The trademark of an empath is that we feel and absorb other people’s emotions and/or physical symptoms because of our high sensitivities. We filter the world through our intuition and have a difficult time intellectualizing our feelings. When overwhelmed with the impact of stressful emotions, empaths can have panic attacks, depression, chronic fatigue, food, sex and drug binges, and many physical symptoms that defy traditional medical diagnosis.
Here’s some nuggets of gold I’ve learned this past year:
1. Empaths are highly sensitive
Empaths are naturally giving, spiritually open, and good listeners. If you want heart, empaths have got it. Through thick and thin, we’re there for you, and are world-class nurturers. But we can easily have our feelings hurt. We are often told that we are “too sensitive” and need to toughen up.
2. Empaths absorb other people’s emotions
Empaths are highly attuned to other people’s moods, good and bad. We feel everything, sometimes to an extreme. We take on others people’s negativity such as anger or anxiety and make it our own, which is confusing and exhausting. If we are around peace and love, our bodies take these on and flourish.
3. Many empaths are introverted
Empaths become overwhelmed in crowds, which can amplify their empathy. We tend to be introverted and prefer one to one contact or small groups. Even if an empath is more extroverted they prefer limiting how much time they can be in a crowd or at a party. This was one of the most important discoveries of myself this year.
4. Empaths are highly intuitive
Empaths experience the world through our intuition. It is important for us to develop our intuition and listen to our gut feelings about people. This will help empaths find positive relationships and avoid energy vampires *which is a thing* but we have to be careful. I find that if I don’t personally partner with the Spirit of God, I get pulled to make assumptions and judgements about people instead of initially thinking the very best of them.
5. Empaths need alone time
As super-responders, being around people can drain an empath so we periodically need alone time to recharge our batteries. Even a brief escape prevents emotional overload and is a great form of self-care.
6. Empaths can become overwhelmed in intimate relationships
Too much togetherness can be difficult for an empath so we may avoid intimate relationships. Deep down we are afraid of being engulfed and losing our identity. I’m still processing this one but I do realize I often go wide but not deep, even though I believe I walk the face of the Earth masks free. It’s easier for me to intimate with large groups of people rather than not…again, it’s something I’m looking at.
7. Empaths are targets for energy vampires
An empath’s sensitivity makes us particularly easy marks for energy vampires, whose fear or rage can sap our energy and peace of mind. Vampires do more than drain an empath’s physical energy. The especially dangerous ones such as narcissists (they lack empathy and are only concerned with themselves) can make us believe we are unworthy and unlovable. Other vampires include the chronic talker, the incessant complainer and the drama queen…just to name a few.
8. Empaths become replenished in nature
The busyness of ever day life can be too much for an empath. The natural world nourishes and restores us. It helps us release our burdens and we take refuge in every-day-ordinary places like mountains, oceans and my personal favorite…on a boat at my favorite lake.
9. Empaths have highly tuned senses
An empath’s nerves can get frayed by too much excess…
Too much details. Too much talking. Too much activity in general.
10. Empaths have huge hearts but sometimes give too much
Empaths are big-hearted people and try to relieve the pain of others *which often leads us to “fix” or “save”* A homeless person holding a cardboard sign, “I’m hungry” at a busy intersection; a hurt animal; a distraught friend. It’s natural to want to reach out to them and ease their pain but empaths don’t stop there. Instead, we take it on. Suddenly we are the one feeling drained or upset whereas we felt fine before and often leads us to feeling take advantage of.
One of lessons I’ve learned this past year is that it is essiential to have an aresenal of tools to protect my sensitivities such as praying, fierce time management, setting limits and boundaries *NO is a complete sentence* and staying in my lane by and being mindful of the traffic in MY own thought and feeling life. Being an empath is a gift, especially when I partner with the Spirit of God, but I’m learning to take care of myself.
Self-care is NOT selfish.
And I’m learning to not take things personally. The thought life or emotional roller coaster ride that others are on is not because of ME. I am not the axle in which the world rotates itself around.
Friends, we don’t always have to DO something with what is before us. We can actually choose what we pickup and what we put down and when things are dumped on us, we can rise up out of the heap, dust ourselves off and walk out of the crazy.
Sometimes it is one of the kindest things we can do.