I’ve felt residual energy, emotion, etc. from people (and even objects) all my life. However, I never had words to describe it and didn’t even really know it was a thing, so I wasn’t fully aware that what I felt wasn’t always “me.” This was confusing and exhausting and, at times, upsetting, but I had no idea that everybody didn’t feel this way all the time. It wasn’t until my freshman year of college that I began to realize that sometimes I was feeling feelings that the people around me were experiencing. I started researching the concept further, and the internet finally delivered up a snappy little term to describe it: Empath.
It was such a relief to learn that there were people like me in the world, but something still nagged at me. The more research I did, the stronger the feeling got, and finally I understood: being an Empath apparently meant a whole lot of problems and not many solutions. At least, according to what info I was able to find. The general information basically seemed to boil down to a repeat of the following:
“Hello! You are here because you feel dragged around by other people’s emotions all the time. You are confused by this and want it to stop. Well, you are an Empath, which means you are sensitive and special, which is about where the comforting news stops. Your life is going to be really hard and overwhelming, and you will feel the world’s pain every day of your life. The only way to ever feel better is to vigilantly protect and shield yourself from the energy of others. Also, vampires exist and they’re trying to feed off of you all the time. So have fun with that. At least you get to be a spirit martyr and kind of have a superpower!”
I know that’s an exaggeration, but you get my point. It seems that an Empath’s lot is to dramatically experience the feelings (read: mostly the pain and sadness) of others. They can’t really escape this, and the best they can hope for is to spend a lot of mental effort resisting and trying to shield themselves. If you’re familiar with the concept that what you resist persists, you’ll understand why this doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. But what else are you supposed to do? The alternative is to be a sieve for all the world’s feelings and that sucks, too.
Well, all my little Sensitives out there, the good news is, that’s only half of it.
Here’s the thing nobody tells you: That emotional magnification you feel? It works both ways. So you can take that cone that’s being pointed at you, and flip it around into a megaphone. We all affect our environment with our energy/emotions/vibration/whatever you want to call it all the time. That’s just being a person. But because Empaths are already a little more sensitive to these things, they not only feel the influence of others more strongly, but they can then turn around and influence others more easily. It’s as if an invisible door is cracked open a little extra wide in front of you, and you just realized it can swing both ways.
So, if you’re in a space full of feelings that are either negative or just not what you want, change them! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve caused drastic changes in others this way. I didn’t do anything different or act a new way, I just really focused on feeling the way I wanted to and my environment adjusted to match. This isn’t magic, we all do this all the time. I’m just aiming this at Empaths a little more directly because they’re often sent the message that they have more power to perceive but less power to influence or control.
I also take some issue with the term Empath in general. Why? Because Empath is a shortened form of the word “empathy,” and empathy, frankly, sucks. Now, I am not saying that compassion sucks. I am not saying you shouldn’t care about those around you and how they’re doing, nor am I saying you should bulldoze your way through life without giving a second thought to the people around you. That’s just being a jerk and nobody needs that. Empathy and compassion are often used interchangeably, but they mean two different things.
Compassion means noticing how someone else feels and caring about them, but also allows for the possibility of cheering them up or simply modeling to them that life is still going on and things will be okay. Empathy means climbing down into their misery with them and feeling it fully yourself too, but without offering any alternatives. This is not the same as caring. It’s often done with good intentions or to try and make someone feel less alone, but you suddenly being miserable because someone else is miserable isn’t going to make them feel any better. If anything, they’ll probably feel worse. I’m not saying you should always try to jostle someone out of feeling unhappy because sometimes the best thing to do is to just give them a little space to let them feel their feelings. However, the whole empathy circle just piles on more misery, so now they’re dealing with their own unhappiness and yours. Ironically, that’s the exact dilemma Sensitives often face. The fact that highly sensitive people are called Empaths only furthers the expectation that we have to feel all the world’s pain and sorrow to our core, whether we want to or not. It’s expected, largely because it’s in the freaking name! I don’t yet have a really good replacement name, but I think about it a lot and I’d love to hear other people’s suggestions.
I’ll leave you with a great exercise to help with this, taught to me by my dear friend Leslie Villelli of Happy On Purpose (check her out, she’s awesome). The exercise is called “Buddha Breath.” Basically, you breathe in whatever unpleasantness you’re feeling (self-generated or from somebody else). Then, you breathe out whatever it is you want to feel instead! This is the reversal of the new-age “breathe in good, breathe out bad” but this way you’re making your environment more the way you want it, not less. Don’t worry that you’re taking in negativity to make the world feel better, either. Humans are natural energy transformers (I can explain that more in another post) but that negative energy doesn’t stay negative. You change it, so it won’t hurt you.
I’d love to hear from you all what your experience is with emotions, energy, and changing your environment, whether you’re an Empath or not! Do you have any ideas for a term to use for HSPs besides Empath? I’ll also be happy to answer any additional questions you may have. Sound off in the comments below, and I’ll see you next time!