Surviving as an introverted empath in an extroverted world 

By Sarah Cannata

Push the door open. Quickly greet the people at the front desk. Scan the room for a seat away from everyone else in the crowded room. Sit down. Wait. 

And then it hits: that familiar overwhelming feeling of sadness that doesn’t belong to me. A sadness I have no control over. It takes over. The tears form, my throat cries out for a reprieve…

This is a snapshot into the world of an empath or in other words, someone who experiences the world in a different way to most. People who feel emotions radiating from those around them as if they were their own. It’s a unique gift because it allows you to understand, relate and connect with people on a different level.

The feelings are intense and at times, overwhelming 

Over the years, I’ve been told by multiple people who know nothing about me that I am an empath after one look. For so long, I brushed it off. As a young adult especially, I remember being like cement emotionally. It was almost a strange numbness… as though I innately knew what would happen if I ripped the bandaid off and I knew I wasn’t quite ready to feel everything. 

And then life happened

Nothing prepares you for the first death of a loved one in your life. Experiencing the rawness and finality of death was the first time I felt as though I was ‘unhinged’ and I was absorbing everyone’s grief around me. It was almost as if my own grief was shut out because of it. The feelings were intense but it pales in comparison to what happened after my first significant relationship. It’s almost like I had spent years stuffing my emotions down with delight and then, after opening that door and leaving it slightly ajar, the floods set in.

It’s easier for me to walk in other people’s shoes

Often, I find myself writing this line in my articles and social media posts: you never know what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes. And that is true, even for empaths but with a little bit of effort and the willingness to open myself up, I can definitely understand what someone else is going through with ease. I’m not saying I’m psychic (I’m not) or that I am superhuman in any way, shape or form (I am definitely not), but when I truly connect with someone, I do it on a different level than most people.

The most crushing but memorable example I can give of this is with a client who passed away earlier this year. This person was much older than me, had a completely different personality, lived on the other side of the country and within one or two lengthy chats, I felt like I had known her for years. I ‘got’ this person on a different level. 

When I found out this person had passed away rather unexpectedly, I remember sitting at my desk, crying uncontrollably. It seems so unfair that someone who was so full of life and had so much positivity to bring into the world, is gone. Just looking at a picture of this person and their dog still sets me off. Worst of all, I missed their last phone call only a couple of days before they died. That illogical guilt is hard to swallow.

Being an empath doesn’t mean I ‘get’ my own thoughts and feelings

I’ve been very honest and open about my own struggles with mental illness throughout my life in recent times. As a happy introvert, I can honestly go for days without leaving my house or even speaking to anyone. Just because I can, it doesn’t mean I should! I naturally need a lot of space, which means a lot of alone time. My line of work means I am dealing with a lot of people constantly during the week – so for my own sanity, my weekends need to be low key and I spend a ridiculous amount of time alone to recharge and feel ‘alive’ again.

With age, you slowly lose the care factor about what other people think. There are a lot of people in my world who think that because they enjoy filling their weekends with lunches, parties and a minute-to-minute, second-to-second schedule, I should be doing the same. People think I am odd and at times, my thirst for space, can come across as being anti-social. I’m not anti-social, my mind just ticks in a way that is different to extroverts. In a world where people are constantly making noise on social media and wherever else they can, I crave only silence and space.

Blurred lines

One of the hardest things to sift through as an empath is what emotions belong to me and what feelings belong to others. I can be at home and feel like there is a dark, thick fog hanging over me – is that mine to own and feel or is someone else close by clogging my space? By far, my worst case scenario is among crowds. There is just so much energy and it feels like the volume is switched beyond anything that is remotely reasonable or tolerable to me.

As humans, we’re obsessed with labels

Introvert. Extrovert. Ambivert. Empath. Humans are obsessed with labels. Whatever you identify with, I think we can all agree that what the world is in most need of right now, is empathy. Not labels or more platforms where anonymous keyboard warriors can wreak havoc; not more people voicing their opinions without thinking about how those thoughts may make others feel.

Contrary to popular belief, the only weapon we need – and have ever needed – is empathy.

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