I have always been a magnet for feelings. If I see someone crying, there’s a good chance I’m going to cry. If I see someone laughing, I’ll laugh even if I don’t get the joke. I feed on the emotions of other people, and in doing so they become mine. Even when I was a little kid, a person could cause me to feel any number of things just by feeling that way themselves.
I remember a time when I was in preschool and I was very rude to a little girl who wanted to come into our “hideout” and play with us. She looked so sad and I immediately regretted everything. I sat in my little hideout feeling terrible and just waiting to get in trouble for being so mean. That moment has obviously stuck with me, and I still consider it any time I say something that I feel may have been too strong, especially to someone who didn’t deserve it.
Recently, I had a day when I was just feeling down. I had been doing okay, but I talked to someone that wasn’t. This person just seemed down in the dumps for some reason. I don’t even know the story, but they were projecting their feelings even if they didn’t mean to. I have an uncanny ability, likely because of this empathy thing, to tell when someone is carrying some extra emotional weight. This person definitely was, and I picked up on it. Everything about my demeanor changed. I sat down on the couch and just stewed in this anxiety.
I’ve been trying to pay attention when things like this happen and not just be sad or anxious, but to figure out why I feel like that. I had a few quiet moments so I sat there and explored. I considered what may have happened. I searched my brain to try and figure out where the feeling was coming from. Stephanie even asked me, “You were fine a little while ago, what’s going on?” I sat quietly, because there are plenty of things that could be wrong, but I wasn’t sure if any of those were what was actually causing the problem. Then she asked the real question that I needed, “Is this feeling yours, or did you take it from someone?”
I zeroed in on the problem and it wasn’t my feeling. It was totally someone elses, and I was just sitting around stewing in it. I had lost at least a half hour of my life being worried about something that I had no business worrying about. I was up, bouncing, and feeling great as soon as I learned that it wasn’t mine. It was freedom. I had picked up an emotion I didn’t understand and realized that I didn’t have to. I was as shocked as she was about how light I felt after that weight had been lifted. I’d never had that experience before.
I’ve come to the realization after thirty-three years that I need to sit down when I feel sad and look for who might have transferred it to me. If I can do that, then I can get over it. It’s not always a solution, but it’s another tool in my toolbox to help me work through things. I very rarely have anything to be too sad about, so generally it is someone else. I guess I’m what they call and “empath” but I don’t have the issue with physical pain that some of those folks do. Some people don’t just absorb emotions, but they also absorb people’s physical pain.
I see a lot of this in Sam when he is with his peers and one of them is really upset. He feels so bad for them. You can see it in his eyes. It makes him anxious and worried. The good news is that I see it in him now, and if I can figure out how to work through my own issues with it, then I can help him out too.
Maybe some of this has helped you as well. If you have experiences with empathy being a bit too strong, how do you deal with it? It can be pretty intense. I’m the worst at cheering people up simply because I can’t stay happy when they are sad. I just get down in the dirt and wallow in it with them. Don’t call me to perk up your friends or visit sad kids at a hospital. I’m definitely the wrong person for that job.