If you answered yes to those questions, you might be an empath or highly sensitive person.
In our modern culture, where thick skin and extreme extroversion are prized, a highly sensitive person may have difficulty fitting in with friends and family. This can lead to an intense struggle with low self-esteem. So, what can a highly sensitive person do when they want to rebuild their self-esteem?
Ritu Kaushal, the author of "The Empath's Journey" spoke with Heard on the subject, shedding light on what it means to be an "empath," and on what steps one can take to rebuild crumbling self-confidence.
But empaths are especially sensitive to other people's energies and also just energy in general. They might also have a specific gift related to this sensitivity and ability to pick up on energy.
It is also important to understand that not all empaths are the same. If I say I am an empath and someone else also identifies with that word, our experiences might be completely different. So, “empath” is a catch-all term, the best we have right now, to describe a wide range of experiences related to being sensitive to energy & picking up on information intuitively.
Let me give you an example. Some people are very sensitive to other people's physical experiences. So, if someone around them has a headache, they might experience one too. I personally know one person like this. But that's not my exact experience of being sensitive. For me, personally, being an empath means that people's feelings -- their energy, their curiosity, their worry -- almost jump out at me.
I am very aware of the emotional undercurrents in a room. When I walk into a room full of strangers, for example, I know many things about them almost off the bat. I know when someone is feeling angry but acting happy. I know the dynamics between different group members. If someone is feeling something intensely, my attention always goes towards them. It's almost like their energy is screaming loudly.
More than words, more than body language, it's what's felt inside that's the loudest thing I hear.
In the past, when I was younger, I tried to discuss these things I had picked up intuitively with others. But most people didn't seem to notice what I was noticing, and they would look at me with surprise whenever I shared something.
Sometimes, they would disagree. Sometimes, they would just not understand or relate to what I was saying. Whenever that happened, I would end up feeling invalidated, as if what I was noticing wasn't even real.
So, for many years, I discounted these "knowings" I had about people. How could I know that something was "off" about a person without ever having met them before? How could I be sure? I had no rational reasons to back up my feeling.
But with time and experiences, including plenty of interactions where I discounted my own inner knowing, I have learned that my inner sense is almost always on point. The reason that other people couldn't validate me was because they didn't see those things. They were not as sensitive to other people’s energy.
But that didn't mean that the things I was noticing were unreal.
It's kind of like how a mathematician who really loves numbers can see the beauty and musicality of numbers. There is something inside them that is really tuned in to that beauty that most of us don't have access to.
In the same way, I have a certain way of being that is very tuned in to feelings and emotions, more than many people. So, now, I have learned that I need to listen to my own inner sense and follow that.
I am what is called an emotional empath.
There are other empaths who pick up on information in many other different ways. For example, they might see a certain color when they are talking to a person that tells them something about that person. So, there are many different ways of knowing things.
Being an empath doesn't mean that you are necessarily “psychic” or can see what's going to happen in the future. I don't. It's more like you can read the energy of people, the energy of your surroundings, the energy that's all around you.
Being sensitive means you are also more sensitive to beauty, whether it's in music or nature or a painting. I feel like although I do get hurt by the world a lot, I also have a very specific kind of resilience. If I hear something truly beautiful or if I have one moment of delight or insight when I read something, it truly nourishes and helps me. I can then break out of a bad mood I was in earlier. I can pick myself up and start again.
Another benefit is that if you are sensitive, you are also likely highly creative. Creativity is about giving the formless form. Creativity is about working with energy. If you are someone who is very sensitive, you are good at sensing energy, noticing details, and understanding what makes something tick. All of this makes you a very creative person, something you can channel if you can just get over all the terrible things we have been told about "artists" or "creatives" being a certain kind of person. As my favorite creativity teacher Julia Cameron says, real creativity is not neurotic. It's the most life-giving thing there is.
Another benefit of being an empath is that you are also likely highly intuitive. If you can sense the energy right now, you can understand the direction in which it is going or likely to go. The only thing is, you have to learn to trust your intuition because at first, it will feel like; Who the hell am I to do things that I can't support with rational reasons?
But if we can get past our naysaying mind and really trust and follow what we know and be willing to question and experiment, empaths have great intuition that can really serve them in practical ways. It can help us move like water between rocks. It can help us maneuver our way around tricky people and situations.
Some of this is pure empathy. It's something that comes naturally to us. But because we are also just human beings, some of this can also be sympathy masking as empathy. There's nothing wrong with sympathy as such. But if something in the other person's wounds triggers our own wound, then we can get into an unhealthy place of trying to fix the other person in an almost convoluted attempt to fix our own intense feelings.
Even if it is true empathy where we see things from the other person's perspective (and nothing in us is entangled), sometimes, this “seeing” can feel like a huge burden. Many of us have grown up in cultures or families that tell us what exactly a "good person" is. Many of us think and believe that being good means we are responsible for "helping" others, which can become very murky depending on the situation.
The thing is, first, people need to want to be helped. Many empaths get entangled with people who only want to vent or use them as an emotional dumping ground (of course, we also bear responsibility in this. We need to say No.)
I also think that in certain empath circles, there is this belief that empaths or sensitive people are here to help process other people's emotions. I don't think that's a true or healthy belief. I think we do have the Healer archetype inside us. But that doesn’t mean that we become dumping grounds for emotional problems. I know this because I have lived this dynamic/belief many times with different people in my life. All it does is make you feel resentful and used.
I think as empaths, our journey is to recognize who to give to and how much, find ways to channel our natural empathy in healthy ways that create change instead of leaking energy by giving to people who might be taking advantage of us and set boundaries and standards for our giving.
For many of us, I think it's hard to find our tribe. We are not the majority of the population, so that makes it that much harder as well. There is sometimes this nagging sense of never quite belonging.
A big reason is also that our best traits are actually not highly valued in today's world. I feel like, as empaths, we also internalize this discounting and almost internalize the values of the majority. I have been thinking lately about how I need to really examine who I admire and why. I think it's easy to go along with what everyone values even if you don't value it yourself. Why don't we value thoughtfulness and perseverance as much as bluntness and outward displays of strength, for example?
Then, there are also some really practical reasons. I spent more than a decade in New Delhi (the capital of India) before I relocated to the States. Delhi is a highly overstimulating city. At the time I moved, it's population was around 17 million. That's the population of a country! I remember how using the metro when I couldn't take office transport was so excruciating for me. I didn't or couldn't push to get into the bursting-to-seams train. I had a headache every time I got off at my stop. Being around so many people and feeling their energy did leave me feeling overwhelmed.
This feeling of overwhelm can feel like a huge weakness at times. It's so easy to feel like you are "less than" because so many things that others just get used to bother you so much. So, those of us who live in overstimulating, crowded cities or environments where you really have to be impervious to many kinds of overstimulation can feel like our sensitivity makes us sitting ducks.
Not understanding or providing for our needs and comparing ourselves to others all add up to low self-esteem.
That was definitely my experience for many years. I saw myself through other people’s eyes. I compared my weaknesses to their strengths. Or rather, I couldn't see that my weaknesses were not exactly weaknesses, but essential qualities that had two sides, just like what I thought of as their "strengths" were also qualities that came with their pros and cons.
I also need plenty of time to do things. For example, I don't like scheduling too many things in one day because I tend to get overwhelmed and frazzled. So, now, I don't over-do it.
Paying attention to these basic things about us and taking care of them can help rebuild a sense of feeling good in our own bodies. Instead of feeling overwhelmed because we are trying to keep up with someone else’s pace, we can feel calm by sticking to our own pace.
The other thing is to really think and learn about boundaries. I think letting people take advantage of us in the name of love or being "good people" also wears down our self-esteem. In this regards, instead of only focusing only on the energetic piece, it's important to put real-world, practical boundaries in place. I think because we are such upper chakra people and also tend to hate confrontation, we think more about processes like energetically shielding ourselves instead of just putting a clear physical boundary in place.
So, for example, if there is a certain person who really tries to provoke a reaction from us in some online group we are in, we can choose to check in to the group at a later time instead of checking updates right in the morning. We can be available for phone calls only at certain times. So, building containment, some healthy separation is very important for empaths. I think the better we can provide for our needs and claim our space, the more self-esteem we have.
When I came across it, I had already had experiences with people I suspected were narcissists or narcissistic. I found that everything this YouTuber talked about matched with all I had learned on my own through painful trial and error. Of course, she also goes beyond that. She is very in-depth and insightful. I highly recommend empaths and sensitive people check her out.
Empaths and Sensitive Creatives might also like to check out my book The Empath's Journey. It's a memoir of redefining my relationship with the words "too sensitive" and talks about the tools and insights I have used in my own journey till now.
It focuses on figuring out the difference between true empathy & unhealthy co-dependence, learning to channel our intense feelings, especially anger, to build better boundaries and developing intuition by tuning in to our dreams & the unconscious using principles from Depth Psychology.
Empaths might also like my website www.walkingthroughtransitions.com where along with my own experiences, I share books, resources, tips, and insights from all the amazing people I am constantly coming across and learning from in the Highly Sensitive/Highly Creative/Empath space. There are lots and lots of amazing people out there, all with their own journeys, their own insights. We are all helping each other find more new pieces every day.
You can also visit her website below.