Not only a super cool alternative rock tune written and performed by J Mascis and, coincidentally, one of the very first beats I learned to play on the drums, but—if you pay attention to the minimalistic lyrics—also a pretty accurate description of what it means to be an empath. Was J trying to tell us something?
It recently became quite apparent to me that, as an empath, not only do I take on the emotional suffering of those around me, but I realized I can literally feel their physical suffering as well. Sound crazy? Well, it is.
After my father survived cardiac arrest, I would get bouts of pain and pressure in my chest, around my heart, and have difficulty breathing. Same when my brother had his bypass surgery. And my mom her heart valve replacement.
When my mother broke her arm, I felt the nagging ache she felt as she healed. When she gets excruciating cramps in her legs from her cholesterol meds, I get the same cramps. If my husband has a headache, I have one, too. If he feels restless, I feel restless. If I even glimpse at one of those “almost dead” videos, I get a shooting, tingly pain up my legs, straight into my abdomen. I just can’t do it. In fact, I can barely handle watching tv or reading the news these days—although, I am so mesmerized by Liev Schreiber, he can shoot ten villains dead during one ep of Ray Donovan and I still watch religiously, even though I tend to look away during those scenes. On the flip side, I had to stop watching shows like Real Housewives, The Bachelor/ette, and Grey’s Anatomy due to dramatic overload.
At the same rate, if I am hanging with someone who is anxious, angry, irritated, or sad, I energetically take on whatever it is they are feeling—their despair sticks to me like Velcro. Again, it may sound crazy to you, but, alas, it is real for me. It’s called empathy. And I am an empath.
Until recently, I didn’t quite have the ability to decipher others’ feelings from my own. So freedom, to me, just meant freedom from the suffocating energy of others. Was that annoying fibromyalgia pain my own, or was someone nearby suffering with arthritis, or depression, or something else? Was the gut-wrenching anxiety I felt every time I hung out with one particular friend mine or hers? It was hard to tell. I would feel differently around different people based on their mood and energetic vibe.
It wasn’t until I started practicing yoga again and meditating regularly and intensely that I started to connect with me. With my own feelings. My own joy. My own pain. My own energy. I am now well-equipped to protect my energy so that my empathy does not become crippling.
Now, I don’t want you to go around thinking empathy is a bad thing. It is actually really healthy to have empathy and feel pain, especially our own, as long as we are able to acknowledge what is ours (compassion for self) and what belongs to someone else (empathy for others). This way, we can stay grounded and set boundaries to keep us safe and centered. I still totally embrace empathy with clients and friends, but I now know how to manage it better than ever.
Still, some may argue that the empath is codependent. I agree the dynamic can be very similar, but when it gets physical, or involves another’s energetic frequency, there is a clear distinction between the two.
Another trait of the empath is unusually strong intuition. Intuition that picks up not only on what’s best for oneself in a given situation, but what might be best for anyone else who’s around. Others’ needs and discomforts. The empath then does a backwards tap-dance to make sure everyone in his or her presence is taken care of, all the while completely neglecting his or her own needs and comfort. This fact actually backs up the argument that the empath is codependent. There’s a fine line, for sure.
Either way, the struggle of the empath is real. I find, now that I am more centered and comfortable in my own skin (energy and emotions), I feel significantly more at peace than ever before. This shift has changed my life in ways I cannot describe in one post.
If you are reading this and you suspect you are an empath, too, please feel free to reach out to me privately. As much as it may feel like it at times, you are not alone.