Inspiration, mental health, self-care, The Anxious Introvert Series

There's Nothing Wrong With You: Living Everyday Life as an Empath

Recently on The Anxious Introvert’s Facebook Page, I received quite a nasty comment from someone who considered my posts to be too emotional. She didn’t want to hear about the Anxious Introverts of the world – perhaps emotional content left a bad taste in her mouth – and she was sure to let me know in the comments section of my page.

“No thanks,” she wrote. “There are too many of you in the world already.”

Right.

She might have a point – maybe there are “too many of us” in the world. So why, then, do Anxious Introverts like myself constantly feel as though we are isolated and alone? Why do we have to work so much harder than other personality types in order to make meaningful connections with other people? And why is it that other people, like the individual mentioned above, constantly misunderstand how we think and feel?

There are a multitude of personality types out there (the Myers-Brigg’s scale is a popular one, but the Enneagram Test has recently ascended the ranks as well), but no matter how in-depth these breakdowns go, they fail to address one extremely important detail about what it means to be the Anxious Introvert. We are, by definition, empaths.

Before you leave this post and hang it on the ‘Rachel’s talking crazy wall’ I want to explain what I mean by this. No, we don’t have psychic powers like in science fiction that allow us to read the emotions of other people like a book. A real empathetic ability is more nuanced than that. In the real world, an empath is someone who takes on the emotional burdens of others.

I run into this a lot. Whether my friend has just received promotion or the news that their dog has to be put down, usually when they confide with me, I feel whatever they are feeling, too. This is not, however, due to a supernatural ability – this is simply a sensitivity on my part which picks up on others’ emotions extremely well. I am observant without telling myself to be of how others function in the world, and I match my energy with theirs, allowing myself to either sink or rise to their level, for better or for worse.

What this means, however, is that I get worn out really quickly. Too much emotional stimuli will exhaust me and leave me in emotional tatters, and this is when the crazy stuff happens. All of the end-of-the-day tears, the explosions over unwashed dishes, the screaming fights with my roommate about the stupidest things that only seem to happen in the middle of the night…I can trace almost all of it back to emotional exhaustion.

So, that being said, I can see why other non-empathetic people may misunderstand what we Anxious Introverts go through on a daily basis, and why we might misunderstand others. It’s hard to communicate something which seems so obvious to us to others who really have no idea. And, being empaths, it might be tempting to take on their emotional disdain towards us, too – but this is dangerous, my friend. As soon as we start believing that empathetic selves are remotely irrational, we cease to trust ourselves and then things can go really wrong.

The opposite to the empath, the logician, brings logic and rationale to the world – and these things are, for good reason, highly valued in all areas of life. It can be easy, then, to feel that next to the logician, we empaths are less needed and maybe even less valuable. However, this is simply not true!

Think of all those times a friend cried with you, or a teacher coached you through a difficult subject, or a loved one stayed with you will you were suffering the doldrums of life. All of those people – whether they were empaths or not – impacted your life because at some level, they understood what you were feeling and maybe even felt what you felt. While it is important to have people in our lives that can tell us what the solution to a problem is (think about doctors and technicians who we call when things go wrong) it is equally important that we have someone with us who understands not just how to fix the problem, but how we feel about it, too.

Whether we like it or not, we are that person for a lot of the people in our lives. I find it strange when I pour out my heart to another person, because for so many people, I’m the one they go to when they need a hug and a listening ear. Knowing that I can help people in this way gives my life joy, but there is a serious drawback to it, as well – I often find myself bottling up my own emotions in order to feel the things others around me are feeling.

This is the reason that many of us feel so isolated and alone. We are mainly givers – we give so much of ourselves to so many people that, no matter how willingly we do it, we run out of emotional energy all the time. I often have those “nobody gets me” feelings, not because nobody actually understands what it is to be me (because let’s face it, like our friend who commented that there are too many of us in the world, I know that there are plenty of us out there) but because my empathic ability has drained me to the point where I am no longer able to give anymore to my relationships.

However, would I change that? Not at all. I have looked into someone’s eyes and seen the exact moment they realized that they are not alone in the world too many times to give up the one part of me that really connects to others. While it leaves me tired and sometimes miserable, I don’t think I would know how to live if it wasn’t part of who I am.

I want to take a sidenote here and point out that the anxiety we feel in everyday life – the Anxiety that gives me the right to call myself The Anxious Introvert – is linked to this empathetic ability. It is a serious side-effect of being worn out and overly sensitive to the world around us, and my anxiety is at its worst when I am emotionally burnt out and unable to rest. That being said, I wouldn’t give it up for the world. Why?

I explained it once to my friend this way: Anxiety can be debilitating, yes, but it is linked to a sensitivity to the world which allows me to experience it in full color, every single day. For me, anxiety happens when the world comes at me too loud and too fast – but I still wouldn’t give it up, because in order to cut out the bad things, I’d have to cut out the good things, too.

There are ways to coping with anxiety, for sure, and I take advantage of them whenever I can. I have medication I take to even out the serotonin levels in my brain. I meditate. I make sure to eat well and often. I exercise. I take time to rest when I’ve had too much stimuli. But I repeat: I WOULD NOT GIVE THIS PART OF ME UP FOR ANYTHING.

The Anxious Introvert has too much to give to the world even in its raw form to crawl back into a cave forever, never to be seen again. As such, I refuse to yield to people who think that “there are too many of us in the world” – including, as difficult as it can be to realize this, myself.

It is my firm belief that God created the Introvert with the same intention with which He created the Extrovert. Fear is a consequence of sin and the Fall of Man (which you can read about in Genesis, if you feel so inclined) but introversion is not. The side-effects of hypersensitivity many introverts feel, anxiety, can also be attributed to the curse God placed on creation after sin, but the sensitivity it stems from is not a punishment in any form. It is, believe it or not, a uniquely powerful gift.

For the longest time I felt as though it would be better to be an extrovert, and I also thought that if I just tried hard enough, I could turn myself into one. As you can probably guess, however, this was an effort doomed to fail; it left me frustrated and depressed and feeling as though I would never really experience the world in the ways that others do. It took me some time to come to the realization that there is no “better” personality type – we are all equally valuable and equally necessary as contributors to society and the lives of others.

I may never be a strictly logical person. I have a logical brain, but my instinct always tells me to lean towards my emotions when making decisions, and so far that has done well for me most of the time. In fact, I think that when other people are concerned, the introverts of the world might just be better equipped to handling social situations. We are sensitive to the world, to other people, and to the needs that arise around us. With the help of extroverts, who often bring the energy we may lack, we can see that these needs are met.

What I want to drive home, my friend, is that even if you feel as though being an Anxious Introvert leaves you vulnerable and isolated from those who appear to be living better lives, there is nothing wrong with you. Perhaps there are ways you can go about coping with your emotions and your feelings such as I have, perhaps with clinical help or through understanding why your mind works the way it does, but this does not mean that there is something inherently wrong with how you are made.

Every time someone tells me to stop being “so emotional”, my reaction is, surprise, an emotional one – because this is a key part of who I am as a person. I refuse to believe any longer that this part of who I am is flawed. Just as purely logical people sometimes fail to understand the humanity of a situation, purely emotional people sometimes fail to communicate in logical ways – and in a world filled with so many permutations of human personalities, there is room for this!

Do not let anyone tell you that your emotions are a flawed part of your existence. Maybe you need to train yourself to exercise self-control (as we all need to do at some level) with how you express the things you feel, but never ever let another person convince you that your emotional responses mean that there is something wrong with who you are.

Perhaps one day, we will live in a world where everyone is a little more empathetic with everyone else, and we will all get along and understand how and why everyone behaves every day. But until then, my friend, my hope for you is that you experience life just as vividly as you can, and that through your empathic abilities, you are able to understand not just the world, but yourself a little more.

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