The word Empath pops up regularly and it is often associated with the highly sensitive person, another buzz word of the late 1990s.
Empath in and of itself never seemed to have a negative connotation for me. After all, we are encouraged early in our lives to be empathetic. Someone who lacks empathy is often considered cold, non-caring, sometimes even labelled as a sociopath.
Reading about and analyzing my behaviour traits over the years has been an on again, off again personal research topic and interest. These days, the highly sensitive person has morphed into the Empath. There are hundreds of personality tests on FaceBook, when using Google and in mindfulness magazines.
And as with everything, there are pros and cons to be considered. Alright, I admit it, according to the “expert” literature, I am an empath. I score high in all areas which of course switches on warning lights pointing toward the importance to balance one’s skills and insights as an Empath.
In her highly informative article from June 15th, 2015 Alex Myles writes “…It is vital that to thrive, the empath personality type needs to work towards learning to trust their own judgment and intuition so that they can be at one with the inherent superpowers they have been born with.
If an Empath does not have a good understanding of themselves and how to work with energy rather than pushing against it or absorbing it all, not only can this be emotionally debilitating, it can also result in physical illness with depression, stress and anxiety taking a toll on the body and a very high chance of suffering from the effects of burnout…”
Thank you, Alex, for this insightful article. While it was easy for me to identify with the traits of the Empath I must also admit that, as the years advance, I find myself more and more often in situations where I go to great lengths to avoid larger groups, speakers who loudly project their voices and work that involves groups. I used to be a teacher…
After years of observing and internalizing the energy of people around me, anticipating a specific group outcome or the way someone receives ideas and acts of them have taken their toll. Years ago I owned a shop where creative individuals congregated and after ten years of managing the establishment, I had nothing left to give. I was able to quickly assess the mood of a person passing through the door, was able to anticipate a disgruntled customer and how they could potentially affect the environment of the retail establishment and I was running out of enthusiasm and patience as a result. I burned out!
It affected me so strongly that I withdrew completely. I closed the store and cocooned myself in my home studio, often trying to avoid all outside contact. I would not answer the telephone or front door, I didn’t even go shopping for groceries. (My husband enabled me in many ways, took care of the shopping and supported my withdrawal from social activity, a self-declared introvert nothing seemed out of the ordinary to him.)
After nine full months of rarely venturing outside I made small steps toward re-integration into a select few social groups, however, my Empath traits by that time were fully exposed. I began to develop coping strategies by mostly pushing the hypersensitive recognition skills aside, trying my utmost to ignore them altogether, and I was swept up by personal success through exhibiting several bodies of artistic work followed by invitations to share techniques and knowledge. Travel and teaching soon claimed long stretches of being away from home, the studio, my safe place.
And then it hit again, the Empath traits pushed their way to the surface and no matter how much I used the mantra to stay in the moment, to breathe and let go. Tired of this recurring cycle it was time to seek, identify and implement lasting measures on how to push through my antisocial behaviour to protect myself.
I still seek out encounters with nature on a daily basis for the healing and strengthening effects it has on me. It greatly helped during the winter blahs last year. Mind over matter seemed to be my most successful mantra there, even a – 40 C day would not keep me indoors.
The most difficult situations for me continue to be those where I am interacting with a group as one of the crowd. Some may call my reaction narcissistic and here is why: I am ok when I am invited to speak, or when I am facilitating a workshop organized by me. The difficulties arise when I attend a regular meeting of a group. As long as I know what I can expect my emotions are in check and I can integrate seamlessly. My goal is not to “stick out from the group.” I observe people’s reaction toward speakers, friends, my social group, myself and I find it difficult not to internalize facial expressions, the rolling of the eyes, the physical turning away when someone approaches a small conversation group. I am still hyper-empathetic toward everyone around me.
What are the solutions to overcome this? I have observed that I am better able to participate in a group when I have followed a meditation routine. Two 15 minute sessions, morning and night, bring great relief and stamina for venturing outside of my studio. Contemplative writing has aided me in identifying issues I would never have put into words even a year ago. Mindfulness practice once again has helped in gaining insights into general Empath traits and this practice has revealed how I may balance them to avoid depression and physical illness.
I have not made contact with a therapist. The main reason is that we live in a remote area and connecting with the “right” person is difficult. A good friend I trust has taken on the role of the listener. She provides carefully formulated feedback and encouragement. Ultimately the onus is on me.
I have identified the traits and root causes for my cyclical withdrawal from society. I have adopted several healing measures and it is my hope that I will find balance with continued contemplative practices.