It’s not as fun as it sounds.
My husband and I share an office at home. He does IT work while I write, and the arrangement works out well. We sit back to back in our office chairs and hunker down except for the occasional joke or comment that passes between us. We enjoy each other’s company even when we’re not talking.
The other day, he was on the phone with a client who frustrated him. I didn’t know this because he told me. He actually sounded calm on the phone, but his irritation grew the more he talked. I know because I felt it coming off him in waves I picked up that become so intense I had to leave the room for a while. Suddenly I felt highly irritated and frustrated right along with him for no good reason.
Such is the life of an empath, walking around carrying emotions that don’t belong to me. If somebody is mad at me, I feel it on them before they tell me. My heart for other people is bigger than for myself, and my intuition is even stronger than that. I can tell when people are lying or depressed or at peace with themselves. It’s a blessing and a curse.
When I was five years old, I had a cruel babysitter named Mrs. Jones who watched all the kids in the neighborhood. I never really got the brunt of her anger. Some of the other kids had it way worse than me. I remember one new little girl whose parents dropped her off with Mrs. Jones. She was crying at the thought of her parents leaving her behind. Mrs. Jones assured them the girl would be fine in her sickeningly sweet voice reserved for parents, but as soon as they left she began screaming at the little girl and shaking her up and down in an effort to stop her crying.
It was the first time I ever felt another person’s fear. Not only was I getting the angry waves from Mrs. Jones, but I felt every ounce of terror coming from the little girl. I ran away to hide in Mrs. Jones shed in her backyard. I remember standing there with the door closed in the dark unable to breathe. I didn’t even know this new girl, but somehow I felt bonded to her. The other kids came looking for me and promised everything was over, but I couldn’t stop shaking or control my shallow breathing. It was as if the beating happened to me.
There was no word yet for what I experienced that day. Adults called me “nervous” and dismissed me. Nobody ever mentioned the word “empath.” I thought everybody felt the way I did until I read up on it as an adult. Empaths feel and absorb other people’s emotions. They are extra sensitive and filter the world through their intuition rather than their intelligence. They are the first to tell you when something or someone is not right. They become overwhelmed with other people’s feelings and take them on as their own.
Many empaths are also highly introverted. In a crowd of people, their empathy becomes overwhelming and crushing, so many prefer to spend time alone. It’s hard to find internal peace when you’re picking up on everyone’s emotions around you and feeling them as your own. We tend to overdo it, feeling like we have to go to great lengths to fix another person’s troubles. If they feel better, chances are we feel better. There have been many times in my life when I’ve tried to help another person at the expense of helping myself. It’s not admirable or healthy.
When you add bipolar disorder to the mix, it causes even more complications. When I was first diagnosed with it and given medication, part of me hoped it made me less sensitive. In the depression phase, I lament over all the injustice and sadness in the world. When I’m manic, I go to great lengths to solve everyone else’s problems. It’s a bit selfish. I just don’t want to feel their feelings anymore.
My ex-husband was an emotional vampire who sucked the life out of me for seven years. I left him several times, and my friends couldn’t figure out why I kept going back. Not only was I an easy mark for his narcissism, I actually felt sorry for him most of the time. When I left, I worried about him being isolated and lonely. He’d accuse me of not loving him anymore, and even though it was true, I couldn’t bring myself to say it. I was so tuned into his feelings I ignored mine and put myself in danger every time I returned to him. It was as if his feelings were somehow more important than mine.
He knew how sensitive I was, and he used it to his advantage. He’d hurt me and know all he had to do was cry and plead to get me to forgive him. He told me I was unworthy of love, and I believed every word. The last and final time I walked out on him, I realized I had no sense left of who I was and what I wanted. His needs engulfed mine for so long I never even considered it. I lost myself in him, and it took years to recover from that.
I crave time alone probably more than most because I need it to decompress and shake off all the emotion I carry around. It’s hard for me to make friends, and I don’t spend a lot of time trying unless I click with somebody right away. Everyone has drama, but only an empath will make someone else’s drama their own. Sometimes listening to somebody vent can knock me out for the rest of the day. It’s hard to cover yourself with other people’s frustration and sadness. It makes me feel almost ill and like I need to take a shower to get them off me.
I’m grateful for the person I am today, and I feel more comfortable setting boundaries to find my own peace. Today I trust the intuition God has given me to make better decisions.
Living with too much empathy is harder than it seems. It’s okay to want to help people, but now I’ve stopped making myself responsible for their happiness. I’m sure I’ll always be introverted, and there is no cure for bipolar disorder, so I’m doing the best I can with what I have. It’s good to have a heart for people, but not at your own expense.
If you want to learn more about empaths, I recommend this doctor’s website to get you started…
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