Empaths & Highly Sensitive People- A Curse or a Gift?

  • The definition of am empath is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

  • The definition of a highly sensitive person is someone who experiences acute physical, mental, or emotional responses to stimuli.

Are you finding that these labels fit you even though you don’t necessarily like labels? What does it all mean and why is it important to understand? First, let me give you the reason why you are opening this blog- because you apparently became uncomfortable enough to start looking into why you feel this way or what to do about it. How can you get more comfortable in your skin? In your life?

People end up on blogs like this because they hurt. They don’t feel they fit in. When other people seem to be so comfortable with life as it is, it makes us wonder why we can’t. We find it so damn hard to be like the crowd. To feel satisfied or even capable of having conversations about things we don’t care about. Or to be complacent with spending our lives playing tennis. There has got to be more, right?

What fills you up? What makes you feel comfortable? Who makes you feel okay being you?

Really. Spend a few minutes with these questions. Probably you have the answers right away- if you pay attention to the voice in your head. My guess is some of the answers might go like this: nature, quiet time, people who think about deeper subjects- subjects that challenge us to find out who we are and why we are here and what is it that makes us truly content.

I will use myself as an example. I have lived 60 years so yes, that makes me an expert. Let’s start with sensitivity. I am more keenly aware of my sensitivity now more than ever. As a child, I was told I was different. My mother made me take naps when other kids didn’t. As I grew up more and more people would tell me “you’re so sensitive”! I had no idea what they were talking about. I thought it was normal to feel like a back-handed compliment was life-threatening. Or that an argument between my parents meant certain annihilation. And my brothers rolling around on the floor fighting over which one would make me do their chores? Slayed.

Now, at 60, I get it. This is not going to go away. Ever. So I have learned to be kind to myself. To at least know that that fan has to be turned off or I will get nowhere in meditation. I know I must spend every minute I can in nature. I have not turned on regular television in probably 15 years. And I don’t even try to deal with crowds. Highly sensitive person aka HSP.. yep, I am that. And guess what else? Highly sensitive people are usuallly empathic as well.

Dr. Judith Orloff, a pioneer in the field, describes empaths as those who absorb the world’s joys and stresses like “emotional sponges.”

Do you feel people’s pain as if it is your own? Does it physically affect you? Do you feel uplifted when you see a couple that are obviously so in love? Is anger- even from a stranger make you cringe? That is empathy, raw and potent.

Empaths feel so deeply, Empaths eventually realize that other people don’t feel this way. We do not understand why they don’t – is something missing in them or is something “off” with us? The answer is neither. There is nothing missing in them and nothing wrong with us. We are all human beings having our own personal experience. That being said, it is sometimes excruciatingly hard to be in our own skin! We are a minority. We have extreme emotions. We cannot help it. So is it a curse or a gift?

It feels like both. Being highly sensitive is tough. Tough on the nervous system, tough on the adrenals glands and tough to deal with. On the other hand, we feel joy like nobody else! Oh my gosh, a bunny hopping across my path on my morning walk can transcend anything else that is going on in my life. Most people would not even notice or if they did, they would think “huh, a bunny.” And dismiss that experience at once and go on with their day.

Simultaneously, being super sensitive to energy, emotions, and environment is both rewarding and debilitating. Positive vibes bring you up easily, just as easily as negative vibes bring you down. It is the quintessential roller coaster of a HSP/empath- for life. Why am I this way? What is the point? What does one do?

At this stage in life, I believe the point is to live, to feel alive, to feel. Society has become so numb, so disconnected. I would ask anyone who is not like us- what emotions did you feel today? My guess the answer would start with raised eyebrows, and a “what do you mean”? Numb. Moving through space and time not feeling a thing other the frustration at traffic or a difficult colleague. Is that living? Really? I think not.

Yes it’s hard, but it is so worth it. I feel we are more connected and more alive. I believe those that are not connected to their emotions are not able to feel the juiciness of life. The rapture of the song birds, the immense pleasure of the connection between you and the person holding your hand, the outrageous color of that shade of purple of that flower, how sweet silence can be. That is the point.

What does one do to navigate life with these qualities being your very essence? First, learn about the power of the breath, the benefit of slowing down, the attributes of learning to be alone. Tune in. Go inside, allow yourself to feel the present energy. Spend quiet time in nature, Stop along your walk and feel what it feels like being where you are right now. You will soon realize being who you are, labels and all, is a GIFT.

Revel in being you!