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After years of not understanding why I am so hypersensitive to large crowds, why news reports tore me apart inside, and why seeing acres of cut-down trees hurt me so intensely, I finally figured it out.
I am an empath.
I don't just feel my own emotions. I absorb and feel the emotions of others. If I'm not mindful of this, I end up reflecting those emotions that don't belong to me.
It's overwhelming to say the least, and can make being around others difficult and exhausting. Think of having an argument with your spouse. You're both upset, both angry; but rather than just being your own angry, you're also feeling your spouse's anger (as your own), and that reflects back to them, intensifying the fight to unbelievable and damaging levels.
I've learned to block much of that through visualization and careful meditation practice. Moving out of the city, to a small town near the ocean has helped considerably, as well. I now might feel how another person's emotions, but more often than not, I can identify that those emotions are not my own.
Right now, I'm reading Inside the Miracle by Mark Nepo. It is a collection of essays and poems about his journey with cancer and recovery, the loss of friends and family, and finding peace in the midst of life's storms. Among the pages of this deeply touching volume, I found a poem that reflects the empath's experience beautifully, titled Susan Means Lily.
...After all these years, I know you / have no choice. You're one of those / born with no skin but your heart. / You can't turn it off. It's why I fell / in love with you. Why I learn from / you and care for you by turns.