What is an empath and how this identity motivates my writing

Empathy is a state of perception that allows you to actually feel the emotions of others (people, animals, plants, the Earth). An empath describes an individual who has a natural ability to detect and absorb the emotional energies of others. Neurologists have identified mirror neurons within the brain that give us the ability to feel or “mirror” the feelings of others. Mirror neurons could be the biological mechanism of empathy.

The perceptions and abilities of empaths range through a spectrum of sensitivities from highly sensitive to fully empathic. I believe that I fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum.

My research about empaths has informed me that I can cultivate and control my empathic sense. I’m trying to learn how to consciously evaluate the energies of others instead of just letting the external emotions bury me. Ultimately, I hope to improve my ability to insulate myself and recognize the difference between my feelings and outside energies.

I realized early in life that I had natural empathy for my surroundings. When I learned the word empathy as a child, I thought, “Oh yeah, I feel that all of the time.”

When empaths receive the emotions of others into their inner beings, that outside emotional weight bears down on them. It can feel like being an emotional landfill. For this reason, empaths must make a conscious effort to clear away or segregate external feelings to protect their physical and mental health.

Before empaths realize their situation, they typically suffer from overwhelming stress as they strive to please everyone around them. If they can make everyone happy, then they can feel happy.

How My Empath Identity Made Me a Novelist

I struggled in this state of stressful overload all of my life. Writing was my way of coping with the constant barrage of emotional energy. By creating characters and stories, I was processing all of the feelings overlapping with my own. When people ask me where I get my ideas from, I’m almost at a loss for an explanation because I’m buried in ideas and experiences every waking minute.

Writing stories gives me a space where I can process many emotions and attribute them to various characters. This activity is very therapeutic for me. I always emerge from a fiction writing session feeling cleansed.

Writing also grants me entry into what is known as a flow state. In a flow state, a person achieves pristine focus and the rest of the world drops away. When writing fiction, I transcend myself and find relief and even pleasure.

It took years to grasp that most other people did not possess empathic sensitivity in the same way as me. Most people experience empathy to a much lesser extent, and some not at all. People can cultivate a sense of empathy, which is an admirable goal, but it’s not the same as natural ability. Empathy for me is like the five senses. It just happens.

Expanding My Empath Skills

Now that I am actively researching the empath concept, I’ve learned techniques for processing the emotional overload. I’m currently developing my ability to sort my feelings into two piles so that I can identify which are my feelings and which are external feelings. I’ve found this practice to be very rewarding. It’s such a relief sometimes to recognize something as external because it helps me stay grounded in myself.

Identifying the sources of feeling also gives me an opportunity to process energy strategically. I can either deflect emotions or let myself digest them.

An Example of Deflecting Emotion

As someone who works from home, I have unfortunately been privy to an ongoing domestic dispute at the home next to mine. The owner of the home had moved in with his fiance and was fixing up his house to list it for sale. While he was doing this, his young adult son broke into the home and started squatting. (I witnessed the break in.)

Every week the father would come by the day before trash collection and fill up the bins and get into a huge fight with his son because he did not want him there. This went on for weeks. I overhead profanity-filled arguments that were very vile and heartbreaking. The final fight culminated in violence. During the final episode, the emotional tornado was so extreme that I went outside so that I could stand barefoot on the ground. (This grounds a person to the Earth.) I said aloud, “Not my feelings!” and felt a liberating clarity as I rejected the overflowing sewer of emotions. It was a glorious and empowering moment to push away the anger and despair of two dysfunctional people.

The son is still squatting there, and the father has not been back for a few months. Everyone in the neighborhood is hoping that the home will be listed and sold eventually, but that remains a long shot with a loser squatting in the house.

An Example of Processing Emotion

The devastating wildfire that destroyed Paradise, California, affected me deeply. Having lived in the neighboring town of Chico for 12 years, I was very familiar with this town. At one time, I even looked at houses in Paradise but rejected the location because it was obvious that the entire place was doomed to burn. I of course followed the news about the deaths and survivors very closely and eventually took some time to invite in the collective agony of that disaster. I consciously let it overwhelm me and gave myself time to cry. Then, I consciously shifted the feelings away from me. I chose not to deflect the devastation because I wanted to honor the suffering.

Hurricane Katrina was another disaster that burdened me significantly. It occurred before I learned some skills for sorting and processing energy. When Katrina happened, I simply slogged along in misery for a long time even though I was thousands of miles away from the disaster.

The truth is that there is misery all around us. I notice it, but I have to keep myself somewhat aloof. Part of me is processing the daily tragedies and joys that unfold around me, but for the sake of my health I have to maintain some distance.

Fiction writing remains a place where I can let myself feel everything in a psychologically safe way for me.

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