It ain’t easy being an empath. Especially when you’re a newbie at it. Factoring in that 2017 was also a shit year on many levels, this here empath finds himself left with a mixed and somewhat depressing set of feelings in late December. Let me be really straight up front – this year most assuredly saw amazing progress related to finding my personal center again, reconnecting to my inner muse, and releasing old baggage, but it was overall a shit year for things outside my control. The sheer amount of ‘straight out of nowhere’ disasters that struck me were far beyond expected boundaries of normal. But I still learned a lot.
Learning a new skill over time can feel like a pendulum. You first make a lot of progress and feel on top of the world, but then after you level up and start learning more it feels like swimming upstream in a river of thick syrup. Rinse, and then repeat the process until everything’s shiny. Extreme levels of empathy are a very tricky sense to master. Not necessarily because I’m building strength and increasing sensitivity, but instead I’m trying to metaphorically put reins on a horse that’s run free for decades. Feeling something and controlling it are two different things, and I’ve made a lot of progress on both this year. Interpreting those senses is, however, much further out on my timeline. And I’m not always so patient a person.
The problem I’m having that I can’t always control the emotions I feel from others, and worse- I often don’t interpret them correctly. The latter point is probably the most poignant lesson I can take from 2017- just because I feel an emotion from someone doesn’t mean that it’s exactly what they’re feeling, or even how they interpret and process that feeling.
It’s been a really hard lesson to learn.
I’ll start with a pretty obvious example. I was seeing a fantastic woman for a while and it seemed like things were headed in a really good direction. However, in retrospect she wasn’t necessarily forthcoming in her verbal communication either, so I leaned back a lot on my empathic senses to try and ‘figure out’ what was going on.
I’m reasonably sure I misread most of those empathic cues, too.
What I sensed as her need for space and independence was likely more a need for me to take more initiative. What I sensed as pushing back on my schedule was probably more her trying to get me to suggest more options, maybe push harder towards a common ground. I know I loved her a ton, and often felt something close to that in return. But when things got really tough for me on legal, emotional and physical fronts this autumn, I expected she’d understand on an empathic level as well, and reach out with support the way I would have. I didn’t use my big boy words and ask for help, let alone know how to. And as a result, I ended up without attention, love or support and we went on separate paths.
It gets so confusing. And heart-wrenching at times. To know you can completely misinterpret the emotions you’re feeling, to not implicitly trust them. To feel like Forrest Gump trying to explain them – let alone interpret them at the time. It feels foreign to me at times. I’m really working on that, swear.
My former wife was incredibly empathic, and over the course of 18 years we didn’t always have to tell each other how we felt. Most of the time we understood each other wordlessly, though that wasn’t the best way to communicate. I became too used to trusting those wordless reflexes without question in intimate relationships, though. And misread them more than I should.
Because it wasn’t our shared/understood feelings that broke up our marriage, it was a lack of actual words to support them. To verify them between us. To give our feelings context and detail for each other. And that’s very likely what caused problems for me again in my personal life this year. It’s humbling to have to learn the same lesson repeatedly. It’s so hard to change a natural impulse, one that’s not so easily modified as your diet or exercise patterns.
I’ve gone back to serial dating this last month. No up-front expectations of a second date, no emotional attachments, just trying to enjoy other personalities and spend time with a broader variety of women than I’d normally be attracted to.
It’s been awful frustrating, though.
Pretty much everyone I’ve dated has expected one of two very different things – and I can sense both clearly, and almost immediately.
Most commonly, the expectation that a relationship will develop overnight. They’re working towards locking down a next date ASAP, showering me with confessions of love, blasting me with texts and hot selfies scant minutes after saying goodbye. Or worse, I’m just a fast-food hook-up, and they aren’t really interested in me as a person – just a dick in close proximity with a serviceable personality. Those women might have been a fun diversion in my 20s, but these days they’re a huge turn-off. I can sense them right away, too- they stand out like glaring neon upon a field of black to my empathic senses.
Why can’t there be a happy middle ground? If there is, I’m yet to find it. Argh.
Business-wise, my empathic senses have seen a lot of positive progress this year. With romantic emotions out of the equation I can get to a fast assessment of a situation without those confusions of the heart cluttering things. I’ve been able to wrangle business deals more accurately by understanding someone’s boundaries and finding common ground quickly. I can feel when someone pulls back or leans forward in a negotiation and adjust quickly to a better position. I’ve talked high-strung personalities into a more amenable state without effort or pushback. No real issues on the business front. It’s been pretty much positive so far.
On a personal level, I still feel like my empathic senses are a nuclear explosion waiting to happen. I get overwhelmed with rushes of foreign emotions that I can’t quickly filter out from my own. That can lead to a whole cornucopia of issues. I’ve become much more comfortable being a part of large crowds, events, or parties without needing as much recharge time, but it hasn’t been consistent. One minute I could be fine and the next I’m dashing for the door. I’ll be working heavily on that this next year.
My biggest challenges this year were outside any realm in which empathy could help, however.
I crossed paths with an absolutely horrid person who did everything in their power to derail me personally, legally and emotionally, for no good reason whatsoever. Trying to let go and not take ownership of their borderline personality-related bullshit was nearly impossible. I have an ingrained need to try and help people who are suffering, but after this encounter I’m learning that it’s better to hold back my trust and let it be earned, and never follow my empathic senses blindly.
(And I also learned the intrinsic value in having both a really good attorney, and a really good therapist.)
I had two serious medical issues hit me almost back-to-back. First, a kidney stone(s) issue that had me occasionally numb in my mid-section – and seriously fucked with my personal life. Throw in my empathic confusion and that developed into a clusterfuck of epic proportions. On top of the woes noted in my experiences above, I’m pretty sure that was the final nail in my 2017 dating coffin.
And if the kidney stones weren’t enough (guess I’m finally coming clean with this, too!), once they lightened up I got the l shittiest followup ever during my post-screening diagnostics. First, everything came up green- all systems go, nothing wrong. I’m breathing a huge sigh of relief. But a week later, I got a call asking me to come in and take another set of tests ‘to clarify a few questions’. Another week later, I was scheduling a biopsy and (fortunately, ultra-short) round of chemotherapy. All outpatient stuff I was able to keep on the down-low and get past relatively quickly, but it absolutely devastated what was left of my self-esteem. I’m pretty sure every empathic sense I had during that period of time got interpreted 180 degrees from it’s real direction. That did a lot of damage on it’s own.
(Along with finding a really good attorney and therapist, I’ve discovered having a really good doctor you can trust is pretty key, too.)
Well, fuck. I’m now cancer-free and feeling reasonably healthy, but in a state of mild emotional numbness. This empathic superpower I’d entered the year excited about ultimately led me down paths of self-destruction I’m only now starting to resolve. I blew up what could have been a great relationship. I didn’t get any support because I didn’t know how to ask for it yet – and it wasn’t forthcoming on it’s own. And despite pushing through my other legal, medical and financial woes, I’m still left feeling a bit numb. On the plus side, my house finally sold last week so I won’t be carrying extra mortgage and insurance payments into 2018 (and I’ll get a sizeable chunk of my paycheck back, to boot). All my financial issues are pretty much null and void now.
But enough with the bitching. Here’s what comes next.
I’m going to continue (very casual) dating. I need to get over the shyness, anxiety, and self-esteem issues related to my divorce, and that’s not going to happen by sitting at home working on my meditation skills. I’d really prefer to work on that with one person I’m drawn to at a soul level, but that’s not really an option anymore. So I’m back to playing the field, and trying to find the joy in it. (Still tho, fuuuuuck.)
I’m going to place myself regularly into larger social situations, the ones I’ve always had the most anxiety around. And I’m going to find ways to balance my overload in them, without having to either run for a quiet space or excuse myself early. The meditation and breathing work I’ve developed the last year alone provide me the base tools I need to get a grip on that problem, and quickly.
I’m going to start maintaining clearer emotional boundaries. That’s a new one for me, for sure. Lack of boundaries have caused me legal, personal, and financial woes I never want to repeat.
And I’m going to stop beating myself up over this all. It’s who I am, it’s what I’m dealing with. The right people will love and support me in my path. And I’ll do my best to avoid taking on the baggage.
Who knows, perhaps 2018 will be the year when I stop all this fucking rebirthing, slow down with my evolving, and just be myself for a while. It’d sure be a welcome break from all the karmic ass-kickings, for sure- this reluctant empath is beyond ready for a year of moving exclusively forward. Right foot, left foot – let’s get this done.