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To be human is to feel.
Some of us feel way too much, though.
We are often labeled as being oversensitive. Sometimes we are even called emotionally unstable. In therapy terms, we may be categorized as a “highly sensitive person.” Society often shames us into toughening up because we are too soft and fragile. But in my experience, we are empaths and love too much.
It can be both a gift and a curse.
We all experience the essence of life through the lens of our personal feelings. Feelings can take our awareness out of our analytical minds and daily robotic routines and into our hearts. Feelings are intimately connected with our thoughts and can take us to heaven or hell in the exact moment. Our perception and approach to life is filtered through our emotions which can protect us, deceive us, torture us, or heal us.
As empaths, we love so much that we often lose ourselves in the sea of other people’s emotions. Then, as if the burden of sorting through our complex web of emotions isn’t enough, we willingly also take on the emotions, especially pain, of others.
We are sort of like “emotion sponges.” It’s as if we are sent to this world to carry other people’s pain, and we do it willingly. It takes a lot of work to create awareness of our empathic qualities and grow past the limitations of this way of being.
In simple terms, empaths can feel other people’s emotions as if they are their own.
We embody the emotions of others strongly that we sometimes confuse our feelings with theirs. We don’t necessarily plan it either. Sometimes we are so open, and we take on the energy of our surroundings by default. There are many times I have sat on the New York City subway and felt immense heaviness and sadness in my heart out of nowhere, only to look up and see someone crying across from me. When I started my Reiki practice, I often cried during the sessions because I could feel the client’s pain as they lay peacefully resting on my massage table. I would even carry their emotions home with me and struggle with dreams about them at night.
Being an empath is beautiful in the sense that it builds compassion.
We can often see beyond the surface of people who portray themselves as they think they are. We are sensitive to their feelings, especially their pain, and can rationalize their actions or words, even when they are obnoxious, selfish, or vindictive.
Empaths are often friends with people who can be difficult to like. We can see deeper than a person’s personality and perception filters, empathize with their life’s journey and wounds, and recognize who they are at their core self. We love people way too much and constantly make excuses and forgive them, even when they hurt us.
Considering we live in a competitive, self-centered, sometimes cruel world—being an empath and loving too much is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a gift. Life has taught me that we need to learn how to use it in a balanced and healthy way, though.
The problem with being an empath is that we can quickly lose ourselves and prioritize other people’s emotions over our own needs. As an empath my whole life, I always prioritized other people’s feelings and completely dismissed my own. Having the ability to feel other people’s emotions without them necessarily expressing them made me adjust my behavior or words in advance to avoid causing them more pain or discomfort.
I didn’t have a concrete identity. I was fluid (well, okay, the truth is I’m also a Pisces) and adjusted myself according to the needs of others. I was a people pleaser. This led me to foster toxic relationships and keep emotionally draining people who didn’t always have the best intentions for me, close to me. I had no boundaries, and people walked all over me. I allowed myself to be trapped in these relationships because I was a passive person who always took the least resistant path and avoided confrontation. If I did speak up, however, I suffered. My heart would break because of the pain I caused people when I hurt their feelings, and I would drown in guilt and remorse.
It wasn’t because I was a weak person. If anything, I thought I was strong. My delusional ego was structured so that I believed that I was strong enough to take on other people’s pain and play with their shadows. I thought I was helping them. I always felt sorry for people who mistreated me or took advantage of my kindness because I convinced myself they didn’t know any better.
It seemed I had created some form of codependency on others relying on my kindness. I felt that my gift of empathy meant I needed to help others, but I did in a martyr-like sense. Maybe I was subconsciously begging for love and acknowledgment. My mind had been trained to think I was doing the right thing and was being the “better person.”
I identified with being this person most of my life until I started to get sick. I awakened to the fact that I had completely lost myself in this way of being and became depressed. I realized that I was a bystander in my own life. Nothing in my outside world represented who I was on the inside. I had formed these constructs that were based on the needs of others, not my own. It was scary. Life pushed me to my limits, and I had no choice but to change, or I felt I would die.
My whole world subsequently came crashing down afterward. It’s true when they say that suffering brings growth. I went through a dark period and could not see the end of the tunnel. It was a journey of mental confusion and agony that lasted for about six years.
I started to seek answers. I grabbed on to any healing method, teaching, or person that gave me glimpses of hope and understanding. I wanted inner peace and freedom from my suffering. I read endless books on spirituality and self-development. I went on yoga and meditation retreats in Thailand. I lived in an Ashram in India for two weeks. I took a job in a Buddhist monastery and meditation center.
I practiced yoga as much as I could because it was the only thing that helped my overwhelmed mind focus on the present moment. I went to different types of energy healers. I even decided to learn the Japanese healing method of Reiki myself. I promised God that if he got me out of this insane torture I was going through, I would give it back.
I also prayed every day. Well, kind of. I have always relied on my deep sense of prayer since I was a kid, but I had utterly lost that part of me. My prayers were empty words that were devoid of spiritual connection because my heart was blocked. To pray is to have faith or hope in some higher power. Unfortunately, I felt that this higher power had abandoned me, and I was left alone in this abyss of darkness.
I also tried to meditate. My mind was constantly shooting with anxious thoughts like a machine gun. There was no space in between my thoughts for stillness at that time. It was as if my mind had been taken over, and I was no longer in my body. I recognized that whenever healers would do energy work on me, I would be perplexed at how quiet my mind would get. It’s as if I would reconnect with myself in these brief moments and breathe in life again.
All these experiences truly helped. With time and the help of amazing people who came into my life, prayer, meditation, and my relentless determination to do the work and get better, I eventually did. I unleashed stronger versions of myself that I didn’t even know existed. I reconnected with my true self. I started to feel authentic, aligned, and alive. I began to embody the once-foreign concepts of self-love and healthy boundaries.
This suffering journey was a blessing because I had to break through the concrete molds of my conditioning and the perceived reality holding me hostage. It taught me a lot about life and myself. It taught me about my role in relationships with others. It taught me to trust and surrender. It taught me faith and hope—that as bad as things may feel or appear to be in our lives, we are constantly being guided to our highest good. At any point in time, we have the innate ability to draw from our infinite spiritual power and heal.
Did I stop being an empath after all of this? Of course not! I was born this way. Generations and generations of ancestors have held this trait in their genes and passed it on to me. I am grateful for this gift. However, I have a different relationship with it now.
I’ve awakened to the fact that our behavior and who we identify with as a person is an intricate conglomerate of our perception—our feelings, thoughts, experiences, culture, societal influences, immediate environment, and learned behavior from our parents, genes, and ancestors. We all see the world through our personal lens, and it influences how we act, how we think, what we feel, and how we behave. We are an extension of the stories in our heads.
Being an empath doesn’t mean we enable people by feeding these stories, though. While we respect their story, I believe honest and sensitive communication is key. Using our gift of empathy to feed people’s stories (in this case, shadows) can be a disservice because we promote their stagnancy instead of their evolution. At least that’s what I did my whole life. I fed peoples stories in hopes of protecting them and not hurting their feelings. I let them overstep their boundaries because I thought that was true compassion and love, but I ultimately hurt myself and the person involved.
Empathy is being compassionate to people and their stories. It’s being human and opening our hearts. We can use empathy to support people and help pull them out of their darkness and suffering. We can provide a safe healing space for people to dump and process their emotions. We can share our love. We can hug them and be present. We can inspire them to find hope and faith again and get back on their feet.
Being empathic doesn’t mean we have to absorb their pain and energy or drown in their despair along with them, however.
Suffering is an inevitable part of life; feelings, circumstances, anger, perceptions of lack, limitations, and pain all come and go. If we genuinely want to help someone, we shouldn’t feed their perceptions of despair, lack, and limitation. I’m not saying we should dismiss their feelings. I’m saying we can give them the space to process their thoughts and share compassion, but we do not need to allow ourselves to get pulled down into the darkness along with them. Don’t empathize by joining in their misery and pain and giving power to their negative thoughts and feelings. Instead, we can hold a vibration of light, hope, and faith in our hearts for them and be a reminder of their true, inner power.
Visualizing the situation as if they are engulfed in darkness, and we are standing in the light, we can hold them in our heart—the light always wins.
One of my favorite quotes in the bible is a quote by Jesus that says, “What hinders you?” when approached by a person who needs healing. I interpret that to mean that at our core, our true, authentic self, we are always whole and complete and have the innate ability to heal. The spiritual part of you is infinitely powerful.
Life has taught me that when we hold that space in our heart for someone and recognize them in their true light, that’s when true healing occurs. That is true empathy.