Don’t Tell Me About The Weather – The pros and cons of being an empath and highly sensitive person
I’ve been having a lot of heart to hearts with my coach about the skills that come naturally to me, and the fact that I spend a lot of my life denying or pushing away those inherent traits. This comes partly from the belief I have that anything I possess which benefits others has to be ‘hard earned’ with hours of study and research, but mostly from my fear and discomfort around not knowing how to effectively utilise these traits in a ‘good’ way.
Empathy is a powerful thing for me: I’m a very strong empath, who deeply connects with others, but I run away from this because it scares me. I am uncomfortable with how I relate to others – it can put me off socializing, makes me regularly feel like ‘the odd one out’, and can also make others get frustrated with me.
But it’s not all bad, despite the story my brain clings to! So, as much as for my benefit as yours, here’s my take on the pros and cons of being an empath.
Con – “I feel like the odd one out”
As children, we’re not educated in how to show empathy, and so it’s rare to find people displaying it in later life. When I was younger, I was always told to “Stop crying!” or “Don’t be silly!” when I’d express overwhelm at certain situations, and this has stuck for me. The voices back then were my parents’ and teachers’, but the voice now has become my own, engrained in my brain.
In the UK, we commemorate Armistice Day with paper poppy badges. When I was six years old, I took my 50p into class to exchange for a poppy, but as I was sitting amongst the other kids, waiting to put my coin in the collection pot and get my badge, I cried. The teacher told me off, and said I’d only be allowed to buy my poppy tomorrow because I was crying. She didn’t stop to ask why I was crying.
And why was I crying? The thought of all those people dying was so overwhelmingly painful to me. My empathy started early, and it was entirely misunderstood by the adults in my life.
Even now, when I post about my empathy on Instagram, I feel like the reception is ‘muted’ at best. People don’t always understand – it just doesn’t resonate in the same way that, say, a weight loss struggle does. Sometimes, though, it’s about posting what I need to, regardless of potential reactions (or lack thereof).
The real irony, however, is that I just assumed few people resonate with being an empath because they too were running from it – just like I was! Rather than because I had a special talent / gift that others simply didn’t know existed.
Pro – “I get you”
My empathy and sensitivity are so deep that I can feel others’ emotions and what’s going on for them, without them opening their mouth. Empaths have the gift of making people feel comfortable, as we know exactly how to communicate with others at different times: we get that even the same person may need a different approach one day to the next.
Recognising that people are individuals is so important to empaths. It is a struggle for me sometimes to be addressing more than one person because I am so drawn to speaking to people one at a time, so that I can dedicate myself to them.
I am incredibly grateful for this ability to connect, and it is something that is unique to empaths and Highly Sensitive People (HSPs). I listen to people. I concentrate on what they’re saying, and I allow myself to be fully with that person in the moment.
For me, empathy is, in very basic terms, a deep connection with anyone I come into contact with. When I was living in London, taking taxis quite frequently was eye-opening: I found that drivers would want to have deep and meaningful conversations with me. People sense that I am a safe and objective pair of ears for discussions about their most difficult seasons in life. As empaths, we can take for granted just how vulnerable others are willing to become with us because we’re the type of people who ‘go deep’ anyway.
Con – “Am I going too deep?”
I tend not to keep friends for a long time, as I can be quite a ‘heavy’ and serious person to speak to. I don’t, for example, talk about the weather or other shallow matters, as these things seem so inconsequential, when I can feel the energy of the person opposite me just begging me to address it. As an empath, it can be off-putting for others when I want to connect at this deep level, which I do understand, but the truth is that this is so ingrained that I find it hard to ‘turn off’ my empathic, going deep trait.
At first, people love that I make them feel comfortable immediately on meeting me, and often they enjoy feeling so ‘seen’ and ‘heard’ at first, but this can be short-lived depending on how open-minded they are to hearing someone reflect their feelings to them.
The reality is, though, that when I am fighting that empathic energy, that intuitive sense of how I should behave in the moment, those are the times when conversations feel stilted or uncomfortable. The fight against empathy’s depth simply doesn’t work for me: it is actually easier and more comfortable to simply be authentic, and to make people feel heard.
Pro – “I have a unique gift”
As someone who spends a lot of her life not feeling seen, heard or understood, I know how incredibly important that is to people. Empathy is the amazing gift that allows me to offer those things to others.
I’ve spent a long time not seeing empathy as a skill or a gift, and yet when I look at all the people I interact with and see the gratitude they feel for their interactions with me, I realise that it really is a unique thing that I have. Most people, in my experience, simply do not have this level of empathy: it is a precious rarity.
Con – “Am I being too needy?”
I relate to the idea that people should be made to feel like they’re understood, and this makes relationships difficult for me. I think I’m quite clingy and I can be quite needy, or intense, because I’m always looking for the person who can help me with my feelings, or to deal with the overwhelm that being an empath can create.
Compassion for others can be incredibly draining for empaths. We live our lives feeling the emotions of everyone, and no matter how good our boundaries are, it is very easy to burn out from the ‘burden’ that we carry. This has led to me depending heavily on those I surround myself with to help me when I’m fatigued by the heaviness of the compassion and love for others.
Pro – “Films rarely make me cry”
I’m always quite amused that my husband can be tearful about a film or TV series, and I’m not. You might think this is unusual as an empath, and it’s something I’ve thought about a lot: after all, if anyone is affected by emotional scenes, it should be an empath, right?
Totally right, but there’s a huge caveat for me: I am affected by real emotional scenes.
There is something about my empathic streak that also enables me to tell fake emotions from real ones, and so while a documentary will often make me cry, actors in a film won’t. This fascinates me, as there is this real difference for me in what causes me to react.
Interestingly, I bawled my eyes out at the last episode of ‘Schitt’s Creek’ recently. I wasn’t entirely sure why, until I realised that I wasn’t crying for the characters, but for the actors who were all leaving a show they’ve said so much about enjoying their time on. I could feel the ‘end of era’ that the actors were going through, and that really brought the tears for me.
In conclusion, these pros and cons outline what it’s like to be an empath, to be constantly wondering how to balance our own feelings with those of others. It’s a difficult tightrope to walk.