Thursday, January 2, 2020

The Myth of the Rational Empath

I've written before about being an empath. Not of the supernatural variety, but of the highly sensitive, deep feeling, empathetic to a fault variety. It may be why I startle easily. It probably contributes to my over-apologizing. It absolutely causes me to feel things differently than others. And, like anything in life, it has its good parts and its bad parts. 

This is a subject I have a hard time with because I fear judgment. I want others to think that I'm strong and capable and sane, and I worry that my empathicness (is that a word? It is now!) is more likely to be seen as a weakness, something that makes me somehow less capable and less rational than others. 

And so I've put this off. I've started it again and again. Drafts have been deleted or rewritten to no avail (pretty sure I started drafting this iteration at least 3-4 weeks ago). Then I was reminded of this: 
With my semi-recent #sorrynotsorry challenge (which went well, for the record!) and the looming thoughts surrounding my own insecurities about being an empath and HSP (highly sensitive person), this tweet opened the floodgates. I still didn't write it all at once, because I'm easily distracted this time of year, but here we are getting it done (finally).

The big thing to know is that I feel things deeply. Sometimes unnecessarily so, or to my own detriment, but it's just how I've always processed emotions. And it's not always a bad thing!

It's why I enjoy putting thought and energy into giving gifts to people (even strangers - I loved being a part of Reddit's Secret Santa this season!) in hopes that it'll bring them a smile. It's why I don't really like cooking or baking for just myself because the real joy I find in it is when someone else enjoys what I've made. It's why I get weirdly attached to characters in shows, movies, and books (like when I cried because Weebo "died" in Flubber) and go through a brief mourning period when I end a particularly good series and why I like to rewatch and reread those series so I can visit those characters over and over. Whether we're lifelong friends or new acquaintances, if I feel like we've connected, then you're part of my circle - that means you have my friendship, my respect, and my loyalty (even if I don't have yours).

On the other hand, it's why when my depression starts spiraling, it often happens so quickly that I can't even recognize what's going on until it's too late. It's why the thought of my friends or family in pain makes me hurt - sometimes physically - especially when there's nothing I can do to help them or nothing I can say that will ease that pain. It's why things that may cause small amounts of anxiety in some people result in me having panic attacks (or damn near) out of the blue. When my heart breaks, it takes a long time for me to pick up the pieces, and I've probably even lost a few bits along the way. 

I wear my heart on my sleeve for all to see and, in doing so, it gets scratched, snagged, and scarred along the way. My heart is easily bruised and sometimes that can be really hard. But I believe that having my heart at the ready also means that I can more easily find great love and appreciation for even the smallest things. It often means that I don't have to dig deep to find my compassion. And though I'm not always happy about it, one rarely has to guess how I'm feeling - it's all out there to be seen, whether I like it or not. 

And I'm not sorry for any of it. I would rather feel things too severely than not at all. Numbness may seem easier, especially when things get bad; trust me, I've been there. But to experience positive emotions as strongly as I do? It's worth every sob session, every soul ache, every piece of my heart I've left behind on my path through life. 

What I AM sorry for is the lack of understanding others seem to have regarding empaths and HSPs. It's easy for people to just see that part of someone and make assumptions. People frequently have this notion that the higher one's emotions run, the less rationally they think and act. And for some empaths, maybe even the majority, it does work that way. But as with any group of people, assuming we're 'all the same' is useless at best. Being sensitive and feeling things intensely does NOT mean I am an inherently irrational person. 

Are there times I act largely based on what I feel? Of course. Are there times that my emotions - or the emotions of others - hit me so hard that I get overwhelmed? Yep, that happens, too. Nonetheless, strong feelings and a tender heart don't mean I'm incapable of thinking rationally and reasonably. Logic and emotion are not mutually exclusive, nor are they inverses of one another.  

Maybe we need to stop seeing everything as one thing or another. Maybe we can challenge the ways in which we think of people - including ourselves - so that we stop believing in limitations that don't have to exist. Maybe we can stop judging those we barely know and instead focus on learning more about them and finding who they really are.

Or, maybe I'm the exception to the rule. Maybe I'm a mythical being: The Rational Empath, she who is the veritable "riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma." The elusive creature of great beauty and wisdom, who will bring you good luck if you catch her!

But probably not. I'm pretty easy to catch...

1 comment:

  1. My darling bonus daughter, thank you for sharing this. So right you are. While I don’t qualify as an HSP, the emotional swings of bipolar disorder have resulted in not being taken seriously as well as pretty harsh judgments from others. Can’t say as I always blame them either. But, like you, I am also very rational and can and do make well thought out, researched and rational decisions.

    One thing I’ve realized lately is that what I perceive as “judgment” is, at least sometimes, fear for me and my safety. So I’m trying to accept it and the person with love and in progress.

    Congratulations on your self-knowledge and your willingness to take risks and to see yourself as a whole person. I’m so proud of you! Your Other Mother