Owning My Empathetic Badass-ery

April 10, 2017

And I got way too many feels, way too much emotion
I don’t even know what’s real, I just say f*&k it, keep on going

-Kiiara ( & Avery)

I am a feelings girl–my heart bleeds on my sleeve. I cry when I get excited. I cry when I laugh too hard. I cry at sad movies, like real, belly-deep ugly cry that keeps me up at night. (I avoid sad books and The Fault in Our Stars and movies where animals die for this very reason.)

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I cry when others cry. I cry at concerts when the music is just so good. I cry when I sense my sisters’ pain even from across the country. I also literally shake with happiness at good news, and can hear my heart crack under the weight of disappointment and unmet expectations.

For the majority of my young life, I thought this was wrong. I thought I was faulty. Too sensitive,  they said. Drama queen, they said. Toughen up, they said.

So I tried.

I stuffed down emotions only for them to explode later. I buried myself deep inside my head, weaving myself up tight in lies questioning my self-worth, my purpose, and my mistakes. Relationships and close friendships imploded.

It wasn’t until my senior year of college when years of depression and eating disorders became unignorable, a very wise woman (my therapist, God love her) brought me to a life-changing realization:

the very trait I was seeing as my weakness is actually my strength.

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“Being a highly sensitive person doesn’t mean you have a disorder that needs to be fixed. It simply means that you process sensory data more deeply.” – Psychology Today

I am a Highly Sensitive Person. Yes, this is a real, researched, personality-type thing. About 15-20% of people are thought to carry this trait.

Researcher Dr. Aron discovered this personality trait through brain scans. She saw how certain people experienced sounds, feelings and even the presence of others more strongly than others. During her studies, she discovered HSPs are often marked by feeling more deeply, being more emotionally reactive, are more prone to anxiety and depression, and may grow uncomfortable around loud noises and irritating sounds. (Sirens, hearing two different songs at once, nail clipping and knuckle cracking and eating noises are near unbearable to me).

I read the world around me. I’ll notice the details–your new shoes and haircut, I pick up on subtle glances, feel tension or joy or discomfort of those around me, and can be easily drained by overstimulating environments–though I sometimes crave them (my love of heart-pounding concerts).

I have a hypersensitivity to my surroundings and the emotions of others. While at times this can be draining, I have discovered it is the way I am–and it is good.

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For a second let us break down this word sensitive because it seems to have taken on a negative connotation: our society values toughness and tenacity and strength, and sensitivity being the opposite, seems like a weakness. An area one must work on. That one must toughen up  and carry on.

This is where the isolation and the misunderstanding happens. The issue lies in the way as a society we undervalue sensitivity and applaud “toughness”.

What we don’t see, what I didn’t see before, is the immeasurable power of intuition that is generated by hyper awareness and sensitivity–the intense reading and feeding off of the emotions of others and the space I am in.

While experiencing the sadness, frustrations, hurt and stress around me can bring me down, it allows me a greater sense of empathy through total immersion. It lets me feel what you are feeling, though on a lesser scale. Once I accepted this trait, I began to use this as a tool to develop more compassion toward others. It made me get a better sense of who was–or wasn’t–good to be close to in my life or in the lives of the ones I love.

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Empathy, vulnerability and the true connection it fosters, is the bread and butter of my life. I may have a greater chance of getting my heart broken, feeling the loss of a close friend, and suffer from depression. But after working through acceptance the past few years, I am learning I wouldn’t have it any other way.

After hearing this is a thing  and that I am not alone in it all, I have been better able to work with my therapist and others by discovering ways to harness this superpower for good  and develop tools for managing the not-so-fun parts, such as lack of emotional boundaries or overwhelming environmental stimuli.

It is something I now try to discuss with the humans I am closest with. I have to give grace to myself and to those who may not understand. I learn how to make accommodations. I learn how to use this heightened awareness to live as whole-heartedly as I know.

After acceptance, I stopped seeing my sensitivity as a bucket of flaws and fix-its. Instead I see me. Whole. Imperfectly, beautifully whole.

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It is time to stop blocking the feels out of my life, to stop apologizing for my tears or giddiness and embrace my sensitivity and the intuitive power that comes with it.

I am an empathetic badass. And I am no longer ashamed.

Are you HSP? Take the test >>

Learn more about HSP traits in this Psychology Today piece >>

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