Starting Where You Are

So, what does it mean, then, to be a highly sensitive empath? If you need to know who you are so you can more forward from there, what qualities and strengths will you have to accept and respond to?

First, you must understand that your emotional sensitivity will tend to the negative.

Within yourself, emotional information can be difficult to manage. The messages your body will send to itself are often very negative. Highly sensitive empaths hate making mistakes. They’re people pleasers. They want to make other people happy. And they’re really hard on themselves. They can be highly compassionate towards other people, but beat themselves up constantly.

And dealing with external stimuli can be just as complicated. Having a highly sensitive heart can feel really painful. Since you’re so empathic, you tend to pick up on other people’s pain more than you pick up on their happiness. Unless you know how to refocus yourself, it can be immensely depressing. Also, these “massive ears” have roots that go straight to the heart. You simply take things a lot more personally. To a highly sensitive empath, an offhand comment can be really hurtful. You might tell someone “I’m fine,” but really mean, “I need help.” And when they go on chatting about the weather, and miss your emotional cue, it will feel like an intentional slight.

Highly sensitive empaths must realize that not everyone is as emotionally aware as they are. As a result, they will often say things that they don’t mean, especially in anger. While highly sensitive people are very careful to say exactly what they mean, the average person rarely is. This is why it’s really important not to take things personally. When people don’t notice that you’re sad, it’s not because they don’t care. It’s just because they don’t notice. They still love you. They’re just don’t “hear” what you hear. I find this really important for highly sensitive empaths to understand, just like you can’t change, those who aren’t sensitive can’t change (at least not without massive effort). It’s similar to having psychic abilities. I believe that everyone has these abilities, but highly sensitive empaths are closer to getting in touch with them then those who aren’t highly sensitive. The potential is always there, but the reality on who reaches it is strongly skewed. Highly sensitive empaths are just more aware, that is their biggest struggle and most impactful gift.

Second, highly sensitive empaths struggle to separate themselves from others.

You will constantly pick up other people’s emotions, and it’s really important to know what is your information and what is not. Many highly sensitive people struggle this way. They feel sad and don’t know why, and after a day or two, they realize that it wasn’t even their own sadness.  It was actually due to the person they talked to on the bus a few days before. For highly sensitive people, it is important to recognize that you are always picking up emotional information, and you must be constantly on guard to keep it from affecting your own emotional health negatively.

Another way that highly emotional people struggle to separate themselves emotionally is by taking responsibility for what happens around them. They overanalyze every event and circumstance and blame themselves for anything that went “wrong.” While they rarely verbalize this belief, it’s as if everything that goes wrong happens because of who they are, and everything that goes right happens because of outside circumstances or other people. Because of this tendency, they will take the blame for someone else’s grumpiness even if it is completely unrelated to them; as if there is always something they could have or should have done differently.

I had a life changing moment that really taught me the truth of choosing not to take responsibility for other people. I was walking down the street, and this guy came up to me and said, “I like your jacket.”  I said, “Thank you very much,” and kept on walking. He followed me into a store where I was looking at magazines. I smiled at him, and he came up and said, “How would you like to make a million dollars?” At that moment, I genuinely thought about him and his question and said, “You know what? No, actually I’m not interested in making a million dollars.” And right in the middle of the store, this stranger just lost it. He started yelling, “What do you mean you don’t want to make a million dollars?!!?  Are you a –bleeping- idiot? Do you know any friends that want to make a million dollars?”  Now, I hate being the center of attention, and I hate people looking at me, but all I could think of in that moment was, “Wow – I was completely polite to him. There’s no way I could have interacted with him differently. This is all him. This has nothing to do with me.” And in the middle of the store while this man was yelling at me, I had this immense feeling of ecstasy

These moments of clarity do not happen often for highly sensitive people. They know that every person is responsible for his or her own actions and attitudes, but like Van Wyck, they somehow believe that they have to bear the responsibility of the whole world.

Highly sensitive people have a natural tendency to think everyone else’s issues have something to do with them. They struggle to separate themselves from the people around them. They take responsibility for others’ emotions and difficulties, even when they bear no blame at all. But even more than that, they worry about being wrong. They struggle to make decisions because they see all the different outcomes and how each outcome is going to affect everybody around them. And this extra pressure they put on themselves only exacerbates the overwhelm that they experience as a normal part of life.

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