Ever since Maryam Hasnaa introduced the idea of ‘retiring as an empath’, I found myself mulling over the concept. Is that really possible? Her work has informed some of my practices, and I have found a lot of her writings useful and accessible.
Well, my answer is yes, if you follow her reasoning. I think she takes issue with how many people conflate suffering with what being an empath is all about. Of course you want to fix people when you ‘can’t help’ but feel what they’re feeling. Who wants that, all the time? We all know how exhausting it is. We all know how crazy you can feel when all you do all day is take on the moods and drama of others.
So yes, retiring from taking on others’ feelings reflexively and not from a place of your own volition makes complete and total sense.
I think it’s also a kind of reaction to how the concept of ’empath’ that has been romanticized. I started this blog a few years ago and for better or worse, the ‘spirituality’ scene has blown up. And I remember how stumbling upon explanations of first being a HSP and then an empath was so mind-blowing to me. It was like, wow, I’ve finally found an explanation of how I have been feeling all these years.
But since then, these terms are all over the internet – e.g. easy-to-digest and weirdly compelling lists ’10 Signs You’re an Empath’, Instagram posts and memes… Distortion and over-simplification are inevitable. It’s the nature of the Internet – people’s attention spans have become shorter, and we demand increasingly for bite-sized information that’s easily snack-able. McSpirituality. If it’s not easy, convenient, in a 10-point list or shorter, forget about people reading it. (I sometimes worry about the consequence of this, and am consciously trying to guard myself against this short attention span epidemic…)
(Also, it’s actually pretty tough to find good quality information and guidance out there now on this trait. I still turn to my trusted sources (books I’ve listed on the sidebar), and my own experience to guide me.)
But ultimately, I still find utility in the term. For me, the label ’empath’ is something neutral. It is just a word that describes a person who is able to absorb the feelings of others. The key word here is ‘able’ and not ‘must do so at all costs’. It is an ability. And for convenience, it serves as a useful label to help organize the information around this trait. Especially to differentiate between the more technical/scientifically researched trait of ‘highly sensitive’ versus ’empath’. And so, it’s not necessarily something I can retire from. I can’t change the way I was wired, but I can change some of the ways this wiring manifests in terms of thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
Why the term ‘Empath’ has been romanticized and distorted
One of the reasons is probably because people get caught up in wanting to feel special and unique about this trait – I know I did, and sometimes still do – and so perhaps have trouble committing to learning the proper ways to master this ability. Taking on other people’s emotions and participating in drama can also become a habit, and like any other habit, needs conscious, dedicated effort to unlearn. Many people are also perfectly content being caught in a drama triangle, because despite the emotional turmoil, it’s still a kind of homeostasis – there’s something predictable and thus comfortable about the devil you know.
Learning the proper ways to master this ability does take a lot of work – but it’s really more about having a willingness for self-inquiry. Some level of insight and patience is needed. There’s no way around it: it takes mindfulness and awareness to learn how to stay within the bounds of your own consciousness; it takes a lot of work to be aware of any potential drama that one is stepping into; it takes work to unlearn and unravel patterns of victim/rescuer/bully behavior. When for whatever reason I haven’t been scrupulously watching over my own emotional state, I can still find myself sliding into drama patterns I’ve not yet healed or cleared. And then it takes work to figure out the emotional truth underlying whatever just happened, and to confront and clear it.
All empaths have felt at some point singled out, alienated, or victimized because of their feelings. I think it is a perfectly normal and natural thing to say ‘But I feel so much in this world that feels so very little’ – and wanting to be somehow applauded and seen as special for it. But the truth is, wanting to feel special for it can still come from woundedness – we’re still seeking external validation to make being who we are all okay.
The goal is to gain our main source of validation from ourselves. To know, believe and embody that we are intrinsically okay and that we have a right to be who we are – simply because we exist.
How about you? Do you still find the term ’empath’ useful or accurate for you in terms of understanding your traits and abilities?
Side note about this blog
On an unrelated note, I think the blogging landscape has changed SO MUCH and as a human being with multiple things going on and being easily overstimulated, I have honestly been too overwhelmed to keep up. I think I let it discourage me from writing for quite a long while. I thought: how could I ever compete for attention? How am I going to keep producing shiny new content when some things just need to be…lived out, and that takes time? But I have recently come to the conclusion that I LOVE writing, I love sharing. I do it primarily for me, because of this need I have to express and share, and if you get something from it, then great. So many of my favorite writers or poets have disappeared from the Internet or are planning to… And I have nostalgia for those days, when it was all more.. organic?
Yes. I am old-fashioned.
And above all, I have a relationship with words. I love how they sound, how they vibrate, the nuances of different languages. I have a love-hate relationship with the way we are oversaturated with words on the Internet and I will always crave for authenticity and connection. Which of course, I am cultivating offline – but it was nice when that wasn’t an entirely naive hope when it came to the online space!
So all that to say, I will still be blogging. I am not abandoning this blog. It may take on different forms, especially as I grow professionally. But I will still be writing. And if you’re still reading this, then maybe you’re totally an old-fashioned person like me, and that means I like you already 😉