I feel the feelings of those around me. I always have. If someone scrapes their knee, a tingle will shoot up my leg. I get headaches around anxious people. I get knots in my stomach around angry people. I completely short circuit around liars. I know what people are feeling, whether they are in the room or a thousand miles away. I am an empath.
I used to make a living at it, years ago. I put myself through college as a professional psychic. I could tell others where they had been emotionally, and where they were going. I had lots of repeat clientele. People feel validated when they know someone understands what they are feeling. My spidey-sense has been helpful in steering me toward kind, compassionate people, and away from jerks. It is a part of who I am, and I value being tuned in to others. The very best parts of me can be attributed to the fact that I feel and care deeply for others.
However, there is a dark side to feeling so much. It is difficult to turn it off. Toxic personalities are literally toxic to me- they make me physically ill. Also, it’s common for empaths to be groomed by narcissists. Narcissists can’t/don’t/won’t own their negative feelings, like guilt, shame, or remorse, so they push it on to the kind of people who absorb it for them. I was groomed since birth to absorb the toxic feelings of my narcissist parents. I am an overachiever at this. I recently realized that I was still holding on to guilt because when I was a baby, my cries made them angry. In my family, I wasn’t allowed to have needs or feelings of my own because I was supposed to be tending to theirs.
With all my sensitivities, you’d think I’d choose a career path in social work, nursing, or human rights, where these skills are valued and appreciated. Just kidding. I work in Hollywood. The only place with more malignant narcissists is Capitol Hill, but Hollywood narcissists know they are prettier. I am a sheep among wolves.
You’d think with all this awareness I could spot the patterns sooner. I often do, but then there are some people with whom I fall into an empath-narcissist pattern because it happens slowly over time. At first I have good boundaries, but over time things shift, and I feel myself taking on the emotional responsibility of the relationship. I’ve learned to step back and let go, for the sake of my health. Even so, I feel like a fool when I pull back and the relationship dies because the other person puts nothing into it. When an empath is no longer useful to the narcissist, she will be discarded.
Thankfully, I married a fellow empath. We’ve been playing a goofy game ever since we got married, where I will unexpectedly jump up and run off. My husband has to be quick to catch me. We play this at home and in public, at parties, and “serious” venues. Our kids get involved, chasing Mommy in circles through the living room, dining room, and kitchen. It’s a little thing we do between us which, I’ve found, has been tremendously beneficial for my psychological health. When I run away, he chases after me. He will drop everything to go after me. He will catch me and gently guide me back to where we were. It’s fun and silly, and it makes us laugh, but most of all, it makes me feel safe. It makes me feel wanted. As someone who grew up wholly unnoticed, it makes me feel seen.
Sometimes, it really is all in the thrill of the chase.