My older kids have always been described as “sensitive.” This word has been used both as an insult and a compliment at various points in their lives. Having grown up self-conscious of my own quick-to-cry nature, I always thought it was one of my flaws.
It took me a long time to realize that this part of me was actually a superpower. In fact, it wasn’t until long after I had my first two children that I discovered I was an empath.
When someone was about to get fired at my workplace or there were a lot of closed-door meetings, I could feel it in the air and my anxiety would go through the roof. I would be so affected by the energy in the office that I couldn’t focus on work.
I thought this was me being “overly sensitive.” I even mentioned it once when an employer asked us to write down our strengths and weaknesses. (Yep, you guessed it; I filed it under weaknesses.)
I learned to keep quiet around big personalities or energy vampires; I would let them lead situations or conversations, too scared to speak up for myself. Their energy was already so draining for me, I didn’t have the strength to go toe to toe with them.
The energy vampires in my life made me feel inferior and small. I knew that if I opened my mouth to speak, my emotions would get the better of me and whatever I felt would be dismissed as an overreaction. I’d be embarrassed of my tears and ashamed of my inability to hold them in.
So when my children began to show signs of feeling things on a deeper level than other kids, my guard went up. I became hyperaware of situations or people that might upset my kids and did my best to protect them.
If we were in a group of people and someone made a seemingly harmless comment that I knew would bother one of the kids, I would immediately remove him or her from the situation just in time for the waterworks to flow out of sight from others.
If that wasn’t an option, I’d do my best to diffuse the situation. I would quickly say something to shift the focus from my kids to myself or someone else. Or I’d take their place in a conversation and answer for them.
I could see it in their eyes… the discomfort turning into tears. My mama bear instincts would kick in and I’d wedge myself in between them and whoever was causing their reaction, metaphorically speaking (usually).
I mean, I could not NOT do anything; leaving my children to fend for themselves in such a vulnerable spot, especially at the mercy of a tactless audience, was not an option. I have always been so emotionally connected to my kids that it would physically pain me to see them in an uncomfortable situation.
Even before Elliott was born, Jillie and I had a knowing bond. I knew what she was thinking and feeling at any given moment. For awhile I thought that this was because I was a young mother. I figured that since it wasn’t so long ago that I was her age, I could easily relate to her present experience.
It also crossed my mind that we had a strong bond simply because she is my daughter. Obviously I know what’s going on in her head because we’re blood. Of course, I can recognize signs of distress on her face because she’s just like me; we are the same.
Then Elliott came along. My poor little boy had a rough start. (A story for another post.) He was in pain and in tears for most of his first couple months, and so was I. This was the first time I felt utterly helpless as a parent.
As an empath, you are absorbing all of your little one’s feelings on top of whatever you are already feeling in the present moment. The weight of their struggle makes you feel like your legs are going to give out at any minute.
At the time, I didn’t realize what was happening. I just knew that I felt so low and blamed myself for things that were out of my control. I let myself get lost in the darkness.
To be honest, I’m still struggling, after all these years, even after knowing what’s going on behind the curtain. And with the kids growing older every day, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to know where my emotions end and where theirs begin…