Sunday, September 21, 2014

On Being an Empath

On Being an Empath

According to Google, an empath is: "(chiefly in science fiction) a person with the paranormal ability to apprehend the mental or emotional state of another individual."

To me, an empath simply is a person with an especially strong sense of empathy and emotion in general. I identify as an empath and a number of my friends do as well. Based on what I know about MBTI personality types, empaths tend to score high in the areas of intuition and feeling, as opposed to sensing and thinking, respectively.

For me, being an empath impacts my emotions, relationships, and life in a number of ways. Sentimentality in regards to people, places, and things; emotional investment in work; and emotional sensitivity in relationships. In the past, I have thought of these characteristics as separate personality traits or quirks, but more recently, I have come to conceptualize all of these aspects as falling under the umbrella of my identity as an empath.

Sentimentality for People
I miss people. A lot. I miss people that probably haven't given me a second thought. I miss people who I have known only briefly or met only once, or even only know online through mutual friends. Perhaps missing is not the right word. I believe that everyone has impacted my life in some way and have intended to write extensively on this topic because of it's significance in my life. With this belief, and with my empath personality, I feel a deep emotional connection to everyone I know or have known. This is incredibly clear to me through how I write about my interactions with others and in the vivid memories I have of people, even of the briefest connections. I miss people I knew from my first job, I miss people I knew in high school, I miss people from college, I miss people from grad school, I miss others I have known more briefly, and someday I will miss you too.

Sentimentality for Places
I have multiple places I call home, for different reasons. Each place I identify as home was formative in some way. I feel a tug when I visit these places and I become homesick when I leave them. I was homesick after after a recent visit to where I went to grad school. I became homesick after spending a lot of time thinking about where I grew up. I will become homesick next month. after I visit where I went to college. Places are tied to experiences and experiences are tied to emotions.

Sentimentality for Things
Similar to people and places, things are also tied to experiences, which are tied to emotions. I also carry the hoarder gene, which makes this worse.

Emotional Investment in Work
I believe that empaths are more likely to work in helping professions, such as counseling, nursing, social work, and so on. In helping professions, helpers are likely to take work home with them because of emotional investment in their work. As an empath, this is even more likely. Anyone in a helping profession will tell you about the importance of self-care and preventing burnout. I believe that burnout is even more likely for those who identify as empaths.

Emotional Sensitivity in Relationships
The main trait of an empath is sensing the emotions of others with intensity. For empaths in relationships, this can cause strain because the empath deeply feels his or her partner's emotions and can get stuck in them with his or her partner. You're sad? I'm sad. I'm not only sad that you're sad, I'm also sad because I truly feel that you're sad. Sometimes, both people in a relationship identify as empaths, which makes this process even more continuous. You're sad? I'm sad because you're sad AND I'm sad because I truly feel that you're sad AND now you're more sad because you truly feel that I'm sad. And so forth.

These can be the difficulties of being an empath, but they are also the blessings of it. I am deeply thankful for the people I have known, the places I have been, and the things I have had. I am deeply thankful for the people I know, the places I am, and the things I have. I love my job. I love building connections with clients at my job. I love being invested in clients at my job. And, even though dating an empath can complicate both of our feelings, it also greatly increases our communication skills and overall understanding of one another.

Would I trade being an empath if I could? No.

Would you?