"How did you know you were an empath?"
Since opening up over Instagram about my sensitivity to energy and my interest in mystical things, I've been getting a lot of questions asking how I came to know myself as an empath. I'm an advocate for vulnerability in human connection and feel strongly about the role of story telling in normalizing the human experience and creating social change - so I thought I'd get personal and share my story in hopes it might help you better understand your experience, and further how empaths and those sensitive to energy are understood by society.
You know how they say the dots can only be connected in hindsight? Well that was the case for me and realizing I was an empath. It came in waves, and took stepping outside of what the world told me was true - for me to fully accept it. Here's a glimpse into some of the dots that stand out.
Maybe you've experienced some of the same?
As a child I was quiet and shy with many imaginary friends. I also remember very clearly sending my spirit over to sit with people who looked lonely - both in school but also while out and about in my community. Seeing someone in pain, especially homeless people on the side of the street, overwhelmed me - my limbs would go numb and I would feel as if I had to throw up. I had a very visceral reaction to people and their pain.
Somewhere between elementary school and junior high I started waking up every single night at 3am to different sounds and feelings of being watched. Around this age I also saw my first "ghost" but was laughed at when I told my brothers and sisters and decided it wasn't worth mentioning anymore. I remember having strong déjà vu and terrifying nightmares that would wake me up nightly. I later learned one of my reoccurring dreams was a past life.
When I got to high school I would run home from school almost every day to 'counsel' my friends over MSN. I loved to talk about the bigger/deeper things in life and do whatever I could to help people through hardship. At 17 I took a history course and was fascinated by the United Nations and The Declaration of Human Rights; there was something about supporting the oppressed and vulnerable that resonated with my heart. I also took an art class and was told to make art part of my future because I was really creative and the world needed my creative light. My dog was my best friend. I had a hard time connecting with other people in a traditional way; I spent a lot of time in my head and thoughts. I had a small group of friends and was bullied quite a bit throughout high school because I much preferred to stay home and research rather than go out and party. I talked to my "guardian angels" every single night. I also started counselling and learned to record my dreams; dreams were really interesting to me. I felt most "at home" when I was dreaming.
I went straight into university after leaving high school and started a degree in Human Kinetics and Human Nutrition. I was 'smart' and 'well-rounded' and a science degree felt safe. But I didn't enjoy it and my heart kept tugging me towards the humanities. Not doing what I loved combined with some tricky life experiences landed me in the hospital where I was diagnosed with anxiety, depression, body dismorphic disorder and a couple other things - I respected medical professionals, but my heart didn't feel like what they were saying was true. I was firm in the belief that I wasn't mentally ill and was simply coping with an overwhelming world. I wrote a letter to my angels and asked for help. I didn't know why... at this point I had never saw an angel, I just had a sense that something like an angel was working with me. A couple days later I was led to a psychic medium whose reading had profound impact on my heart; I still listen to it today - he predicted the exact life I am living now - which is mind blowing because at the time I never would have thought this would be me. At this point in my life I was only curious about this type of stuff and still felt as if I didn't truly believe it. It was a weird balance between being skeptical and feeling like I finally found my people. I also lost my best friend in an accident and realized life was too short to not follow my dreams; so I dropped my science courses and applied to social work. Around this time I found myself really drawn to crystals especially rose quartz, just holding the stone made me feel calm. I also started meditating and having conversations with my guides in my mind's eye.
At 22 I started social work and began to understand how our world is socially constructed to value one way of thinking/being/knowing. I thought I wanted to be a clinical social worker but quickly realized I was made to advocate through my creativity - and that clinical mental health work would be really tough on me because I'm so sensitive. I was also made aware of my introversion and how important it was to stand in my power as an introvert/ambivert and not consider I was less than because I listened more than spoke and was 'anti-social' by society's standards. I started a blog with a friend and was amazed at the power of social media in meeting like-minded friends and normalizing things society thought were strange. Eventually I was led to a Reiki Master and then a Psychologist who both suggested I might be an empath; both within 24 hours... a big wink from the universe. With help from both professionals I learned even more about energy and how to protect mine through strong boundaries. I got healthy - not in the sense I never felt anxious or down - the world still very much affects me - but in the sense that I know WHY it happens and how to get out of it when it does. I also learned tools for preventing energetic overload. Within a span of a few days my entire world made sense - from my quiet nature to my awareness and curiosity of a spirit world and my need to put others first and advocate for the marginalized and oppressed. After working with the Reiki Master my clairvoyance jumped into overdrive and I started connecting more frequently with the angelic realm.
At 24 I graduated from social work and after declining the opportunity to study Human Rights, one of those missed opportunities I will always wonder about, I decided to apply to traditional social work jobs but broke out in a horrible rash all along my heart meridian. I knew I needed to follow my heart and use my creativity to step outside the norm and create social change in a different way; so I started this blog, an idea that had been living in my head for over 3 years. Today I am feeling more ME than ever before. Some people are worried about me putting my life out into the world in this way - but the people whose opinion I value are proud and excited about my role in bringing this conversation to the social work profession. No social change ever came from playing small and the world needs vulnerability and creative thought if we are going to build bridges and heal the hurt on this planet.
Empath, like any label, is socially constructed and we have the power to determine how it is known and respected in society. While there are some agreed upon aspects of the current definition...
- typically quiet, introverted
- an instinct to put others before oneself
- strong willed about social justice and social change
- deep concern for animals, plants, the planet
- interest in the metaphysical/spiritual understanding of the world
- artistic, creative problem solvers
- strong psychic intuition (clairvoyance, clairaudience, etc.)
... where it goes from here depends on us; how sensitive people are viewed and understood, depends on whether or not we step into our power or avoid it.
If you've experienced similar things, like a need to be there for other people, animals and/or the planet, déjà vu and reoccurring dreams, an interest in the metaphysical, a strong knowing of a life purpose, overwhelming mental health challenges, and/or abilities like clairvoyance - and think you might be an empath, OWN it. Make it yours and share it with the people you love. A lot of time empaths have a hard time accepting themselves as an empath because they worry how it will make other people feel. There is also a strong stigma associated with 'being an empath' - because of the victim mentality in most of the empath circles. But there is absolutely nothing wrong with being sensitive - and when you begin to understand that, and own who you are, you make it easier for other people to find you and learn from your experience!
And at the end of the day - that's what we are here for. To connect and share what we've learned.
Did any of this resonate?