It’s not easy being one who feels. Sometimes, feeling the happiness, the sorrow, and all of life’s nuanced emotions that others are experiencing leaves me so overwhelmed that I have to shut the world out for days. I silence my phone. I ride my bike. I hike alone. I write. I escape into solitude and work out the hot lump in my chest the only way I can.
The word for people like me is “empath.” Many writers, artists, and other creative types seem to fall under this category. What makes us good at what we do is that we do not see the world, so much as we feel it. We connect with others and, through a process I can’t explain, we feel their energy or their emotions, almost as if they are our own.
It is a gift. We see the world in colors more vivid and in depths more vast than many people do. We are able to show and full love completely. We can sense bullshit from a mile away (most of the time). We can forge deep and lasting friendships. And we can connect—truly connect—with other people.
It is also a curse. When there is too much pain around us, or when our own heartaches strike, they consume us with a ferocity that many people—our families, our friends, our co-workers—don’t always understand.
The beauty of all of it, though, is that it is all part of living. We can choose to let fear of rejection, fear of pain, or fear of simply being wrong rule us, or we can step into the beauty of what we are created to be and choose to let down our walls knowing that, even though some people will not know what to do with our bold authenticity, we’ll eventually attract people into our lives who see our soft spots as beautiful because they have them, too.
So here are a few things that, as a person who feels all the time, I’ve figured out along the way:
1) We’re not here to be happy. In our society, we are so overly enthralled with the idea of being happy. If our jobs, spouses, homes, friends, or whatever trigger du jour doesn’t “make” us happy, we believe something is wrong and that we need to leave it/them behind and do what brings us joy. But here’s the thing: Relationships are work. Careers can be tough. Kids can suck the life right out of you. Life is not always fun or happy, and those times that aren’t so fulfilling are just as much part of our journey as the ones that make us happy. We don’t become strong without being forced to flex some muscle, and we don’t become stronger as human beings without facing some tough times and learning what it takes to come out on top.
2) It’s OK to sit with your pain. As I looked back through painful times that I’d written about, my first reaction was to be critical of myself and my raw vulnerability. After all, how many times in our lives are we encouraged to “suck it up” or to “be strong”? We end up stuffing our pain into our bellies, and every time it comes up for air, we shove it farther down and numb it with alcohol, sex, drugs, or whatever we have available to keep us from feeling it rise. We may forget about it, but until we deal with it, it stays there like a cancer, tainting future relationships, stifling future happiness, and fueling fear of being hurt again. If we let it rise and come out through our words and our tears, it leaves our bodies and we become whole again. The secret is not in holding it tightly so no one can see it; the secret is in watching it rise and releasing it.
3) Loving is better than not loving. I was in a relationship not long ago in which I truly thought I’d spend the next forever with a man. We spent every day laughing, smiling, supporting each other, and we were blissfully happy. He told me I was his everything, and that he had never met anyone like me. I was his inspiration, he said, and I believed him until the moment I discovered he was telling another woman the same things. I cried. I languished. For a short time, I became a crazy woman who couldn’t get him out of my mind. But the truth is, I gave him all I had, but he didn’t have it in him to give me everything back. I am no longer angry or hurt because I was enough; it was he who feared he wouldn’t, couldn’t be. And that’s OK. I was reminded that I am fully capable of loving someone unconditionally, and that, when the time is right, I have that gift to give. I also know that, for a brief time, he felt what it is like to be cherished, and like any gift, I don’t need to expect that in return from him. But I will recognize it in someone else, when I see it, and I know that I put a little bit more love out into the world, and that’s enough.
4) Scars are good. Scars mean we have been through things and that we have healed. All of my closest friends have scars. They have all been cut deeply in one way or another—so deeply that they’ve had to look inside their wounds and see what kind of blood and guts they’re made of. I love that about them, because not only do they wear their scars like gorgeous jewelry, but they also see mine as interesting and beautiful, too.
Life is full of lessons, and they often come disguised as pain, failure, heartbreak, or grief. Don’t ever be afraid to feel it. Feel it all, because the joy is there, too, and we can’t pick and choose. This life is a gift—every bit of it. Live it fearlessly and ferociously, and don’t ever numb your soul. You’ll only dim your light, and that light is what makes you shine.