Its not that I hadn’t already realised this before about my empath trait (I’ve known for a long time that I tend to engage with energy and feelings more so than rock solid reality given half the chance) but, as ever on the journey of self-discovery, we sometimes reach new layers of understanding or, as it were, plateaus from which we can now see far and wide so the whole scattered picture clicks into place.
Yesterday was such a day for me. I was listening to one of the modules in the Lee Harris course I am currently doing, about classic empath traits, and when the question came up, words to the effect of, “are you prone to tracking all the people in a room?” my thoughts were arrested. By this Lee meant, do you tend to tune into and then track the energy field of the different people you are with you (this is the new part I hadn’t really thought about before) more so than dealing with their personality?
I’m not here to paraphrase Lee’s course (you will have to sign up if interested) but, from this single nudge, I didn’t need much further prompting to unravel many of my own examples of this because, yes, its something I have always done, since I was pretty tiny (possibly, even before that…babies are known to do this in the womb). I tended to be engaged with all the deeper levels whereas, normally, social skills and preoccupations tend to take over once we pick up habits from family and peers, thus more interested in, and distracted by, the various qualities and behaviours that people present to each other externally. However if, for whatever reason, you are not fitting in or easily fathoming those around you, you might resort to reading people’s moods, their inner vibration, their hidden undercurrents, as a survival mechanism and an information source you feel more confident about deciphering than social behaviours, especially if you happen to have been born with empath traits. Especially if you are struggling to hold head above water in a certain setting, as in, people around you are unpredictable, unexpectedly aggressive, prone to turning on you, acting cold towards your loving overtures or being fickle, this device might be how you get to preempt their unexpectedness; to be ready in advance and, here’s a classic empath trait, you think that perhaps you could then reach out and smooth things down before they have a go at you, avoiding the kind of hostility or confrontation you utterly dread.
This is because keeping the peace and confrontation avoidance are BIG motivators for an empath. So, the assumption is that you are going to be safer and that things will be made more harmonious if you tune into the energetic layer of a person whereas, circumstance tends to play this out over the course of an empath’s life, we are often far better off sticking to the surface level, taking the obvious cue when a behaviour is either deliberately or accidentally off-putting to us (we have pretty refined intuition if we deem to use it) and just walking away when a circumstance isn’t giving us the go ahead.
Instead, we empaths tend to keep working at things to make them better, throwing our positive energy at the situation and giving so many second chances, and I know I did this from very early childhood; even (if Im honest) probably still do. Because empaths live for peace, harmony and kindness so when they feel those things are in jeopardy, they will often go to all sorts of lengths to smooth things over and make them better, even at great personal expense. Sensing when others’ moods are “off” can allow them to rush forwards with kind words or distraction to try and turn that mood around before it gets any worse. So, with this incentive, the ability to read another person’s energy field gets refined more and more as we mature, as what we regard to be an essential part of our survival kit. While other kids are learning to play the game of being socially acceptable, we are busy tuning in.
A telling part of the course was when Lee showed examples of him (though saying exactly the same words each time) “turning up” as someone who was resentful and didn’t really want to be there with you, compared with being someone who was enthusiastic and very happy to be there, to show how different the effect these subtleties have on a hyper-aware empath. By fluke, he happens to look a lot like my brother in these videos, a similarity I had noticed before but never so much as when he enacted the first of these two examples, to the point it almost made me shudder as Lee is usually so warm and effusive but the delivery was deliberately cold. My brother, though capable of really lighting up when it suits him (for which moments I would do almost anything as a young child…this got me into some situations I really didn’t enjoy) has always had a strong trait of sounding extremely bored, disinterested, sour-toned, unimpressed; its something I still pick up on every time we are on the phone together and my sister has also commented how he can make you feel flat and tired-out before you’ve even started. I’m sure he doesn’t mean anything by it, I love him to bits and have realised its just his way but I notice also how I make a real effort to turn him around with my enthusiasm and am pleased with myself, not to mention relieved, when I do so by the end of a call (at which point I feel exhausted). I also know that, to a very fine degree, I tuned into my father and the deep undercurrents of anxiety that remained mostly unspoken and would, again, live to light him up though that got harder year by year; yet, still, I took deep plunges into the hinter world of his health fears, which I could “read” as a distinct frequency in the house. Then, whenever there was discord in the family, I would be hyper aware of all parties emotions and angles whilst desperate to make peace, in order to reinstate my own need for harmony, making it “my job” and “my worry” to carry this all around with me until it was settled.
By the time I got to school, tracking others’ moods and inner states had become a survival necessity to waylay the bullying I underwent; and yes, attempting to stay one step ahead of the game by keeping my bully sweet was part of this skill I was busily honing. Looking back, I think its fair to say I got pretty good at tracking half a dozen people at any one time and perhaps its one of the reasons I felt so out of my depths at play time or on rainy day lunches as it was impossible to keep track anymore, over all the hullabaloo. Tracking teachers’ moods became part of it and pleasing them was something I did for a quiet and soothing life more so than a desire to shine in their eyes (the last thing I wanted was undue attention); I just wanted to be liked and left alone. So, yes, this becomes a control mechanism, one designed to keep your world safe but it also becomes utterly exhausting, especially on top of the ever-increasing demands of school as you get older. No wonder I used to fall on a chair and go to sleep the minute I got home from secondary school; I must have been wrung out by the end of the school day.
I have to add, none of this is done from a desire to be nosy or invade someones space, to encroach on their freedom or exert control over them; rather, it all comes from a very different set of motivations, geared at maintaining harmony. I recently heard someone have an unfair (in my opinion) go at someone else on the empath forum I belong to, telling them that, in the situation they described involving them picking up on other peoples emotions when they didn’t want to, they were “out of order”, “overstepping the mark” and breaking some sort of cardinal rule of energy engagement which, as I understand it, is a set of standards for anyone learning to use energy as a healing modality. Whilst this is similar territory, its not quite the same because, the thing is, we empaths didn’t learn this behaviour later in life as a handy skillset or life tool; we are wired this way from the outset, so we hardly know any other way to be and, much of the time, its not enjoyable but overwhelming. The criticism would seem to suggest we have control over it but, the thing is, we don’t do it consciously; as in, we don’t set out to read peoples’ minds, rather, its just something we had already and then leaned on more and more as a necessary survival skill, probably at about the same kind of age that other kids learn the various social skills and manipulations, the competitive behaviours and selective presentation of personal truth that become equally unconscious behaviours in them for the rest of their lives!
In other words, we leaned on them in order to try and make a situation we felt awful and probably quite disadvantaged in feel somewhat better. I can easily guess how my well acknowledged neruodiversity traits played into this turn of events, as in the “non-relatability” of many of the usual social behaviours I encountered amongst other people left me standing on one very weak leg if I wasn’t prepared to compensate with my energy reading skills. I used them to plug the gap and then they took over more and more. For those of us that lack easy grasp of social behaviours, everyone else around us would have seemed to have suddenly, magically, grasped some sort of assumed set of rules for social engagement as soon as we all started at school and, in no time at all, those kids would have taken off and been doing so much better at thriving socially than we were, whereas we felt like we were drowning in ever deeper water and we might have been at a complete loss, except for one thing; the empath advantage.
Being able to gain the back story of these people, the very undercurrents that fed their external behaviours, would surely help us. We could tune into the quieter child and, perhaps, find ourselves a kindred spirit who wouldn’t abuse us but this skillset came into its own the most as a means of waylaying the kind of trouble we dreaded. Many times over, for instance, we would probably see beyond the surface of the bully and get to realise that, inside, they are broken and sad, perhaps have a terrible home life, or whatever the “reason”, and so we try to make peace with them, to win them over, rather than perpetuate the situation…because, remember, restoring harmony is our default setting. The trouble is, at what cost do we do this as a repeat habit?
Because when we spend our lifetimes entrained to be this way in social settings, more so than taking at face value what people show us through their personalities, it can lead to certain pitfalls and here are a couple of them.
One is that we “let people off” for their bad behaviours because we can see that they had an unhappy childhood, or whatever excuse lurks beneath the surface. However, it doesn’t matter what a person has been through, its really no excuse for hurting someone else and, in enabling that, we encourage them and we also set ourselves up for the narcissistic relationship dynamic I spoke about in my other post. The person in question will get used to us being the push over and so they will, in part, lose respect for us and, second, be encouraged to perpetuate the bad behaviour towards us because we keep on accepting it, even if (as often happens) we see them treating other people far better…there’s just something in us that brings out that urge to abuse and take advantage; and the reason is that we allow it and they come to expect that, knowing we will do anything for a peaceful life.
The other thing is that it encourages us to read someones potential in their energy field…and then form a relationship with that potential, rather than who they really are, as stood right in front of us. I can see how I did this so very often, not least with my ex, whose potential I tuned into when we first met and so I stayed with him way way after the expiry date of our relationship, far beyond some of his worse behaviours had shown themselves, in the hope that “one day” he would turn into that person. The thing is, the potential we read out there “in the energy field” might not be anything that, for one reason or another, they are capable or desirous of achieving in this lifetime; its just one of the many options, their better version, and we tend to see it because we are more like that in our own heart.
Over-reaching to engage with the person they are yet to become leads to perpetual disappointment and a tendency to invest far too much for too long, sticking you onto someone who you insist is the ideal you have dialled into, long after you should have parted ways. When you see even the smallest glimmer of that higher potential shine though, for even a few moments or hours, you end up convincing yourself they are “nearly there” whilst putting up with months of bad behaviour. This helps to explain the confusion that other people you know can feel when you keep taking someone back, forgiving them over and over again, even though they treat you like rubbish and lack any sign of empathy in return…a classic empath trait. People begin to think that you are a lost cause, and so they back away, thinking they can’t help you. Meanwhile, you exhaust yourself and start to lose all sense of your own desires and motivations because you are putting all your energy into trying to pander to and grow this other person’s hidden potential.
The net result is you end up in relationships where you are either tuning into their past-broken selves and feeling sorry for them, using this to excuse their current behaviour or tuning into an idealised potential future version that probably isn’t attainable because they aren’t a viable candidate for making such huge changes in their behaviour (perhaps because they’re really not that interested in self-growth). Meanwhile, all your energy goes into reading the energy field around them, tracking their moods to a very fine degree, to try and gauge thus preempt any nasty or harmful behaviours aimed at you before they happen; and so you end up worn out in exhaustion and emotional burnout, your nervous system in tatters. Not only is it as though you are leading two lives in one but your own life gets subserved to theirs and you are really spending more time reading their energy, pandering to its every whim, than being at home with yourself taking care of your own.
In my own case, I can see now how this tracking trend has got severely out of hand since I went though the 13 years or so of living like that day-after-day, and using the same trait to navigate parenthood didn’t make me any less exhausted. I pride myself on being a fairly competent parent but the degree to which I would track my daughter’s energy, even (or especially) when she wasn’t home with me got out of hand at times and, when she is home, I am more than capable of having the same dreams (her dreams!), let alone worries and preoccupations. I would “feel her stuff” as it happened, even when she went off alone to an entirely different continent for a few months, which I found fairly impressive if disconcerting. The big learning curve of the last two years has been to loosen that up and allow that I can be a great parent, even more so, when I keep some objectivity! In fact, I have noticed how I stay much more present in our relationship now that I choose to engage with her fully, giving her all my eye-to-eye attention, however she choses to present herself in our conversations, as in truly listening her out, more so than me constantly checking in with her subtle energy field, even when she’s not there. I used to think I was such a great parent dialling into her all the time, almost trying to navigate her problems for her as though I was her at times when she was much younger (I would never presume to cross this energetic line except in my protective role as a parent), but it was exhausting and this feels far better. This realisation has flagged up another negative side of dealing with peoples’ energy more so than their personalities…it stops us from being so present with them, which is such a big loss for all concerned; one I am doing my darnedest to rectify in her case.
I can see how it has fed the undeniable reality that I can’t easily be in a crowd without feeling chopped off at the knees after a very short while, I feel my neighbours “stuff” though brick walls, I feel my own anxiety (important distinction) to do with other peoples’ stress when the rush hour traffic passes the house and I can tell you the exact moment my husband wakes up, even before he opens his eyes, because I feel the rush of adrenalin inside myself (and this is my nice husband but the overwhelm, in this case, is to do with taking on more than I am designed to be aware of since we are, each, meant to be able to stay in our own energy lanes more than I do). I suspect one of the main reasons we get on so well is that he is so calm and undemanding that I don’t find it overly intrusive to feel his “stuff”, even when I do, though I quickly go down a shute when he is stressed or anxious with work. Oh and, once I connect with a person, its as though I have them on some sort of energetic speed-dial for life. For example, I recently received a shock email from an old friend that I hadn’t spoken to for absolutely ages, who now lives on the other side of he world…she had written the email late the night before, my time, and I know I felt it as she composed the message to me as I had such an uncomfortable feeling and bizarre hot flush and then she came randomly into my thoughts that night (the email was waiting for me when I got up). Its like that thing we all have from time to time, when we think about a person and then the phone rings with them on the end of the line but this is my default, my regular reality. I’ve had friendships that got awkward, where we’ve gone separate ways, yet I can still sense when I come into their minds or conversations and that last example probably suggests I’m not far wrong. Sometimes, you wish you could just switch this thing off!
I want to add, its not all doom being this way, nor am I knocking the empath trait per se as its chock full of positives (that’s perhaps for another post). Yes, it’s a useful trait to be able to tune into other people, to sense when they are hurt, that there is something that needs to be aired between the two of you before it stagnates or when there are undercurrents that simply aren’t healthy left unsaid. If you sense there is a backstory, it can be worth feeling into whether they want to get it off their chest but that’s not the same as deep diving, and speculating about it, all on your own. I suspect its one of the reasons so many people declare they feel like they have known me forever and can tell me anything. When I bother to pursue a relationship these days, it tends to reflect the fact I have checked out the energy between us and sensed we are simpatico, so I cut though the games and offer a degree of sincerity that sometimes surprises people, them being more used to the kind of guardedness that is typical on first or second meetings. “Refreshing” is a word that gets used quite a lot about the quality of engagements I like to take part in. That whole thing, about seeing peoples potential, can have a good side; I have always seen massive potential in both my husband and daughter and both have lived up to that, no small part to do with how I have always held that potential intact for them at times when they might, otherwise, have had a wobble…in other words, I believed in them… but the difference was, in each case, they had the desire to strive to be the best that they could be.
So, having a few preemptive powers is also a skill worth having and the overall bundle of giving a damn about other people, not always living on the surface where things can get fake very quickly, is an evolutionary trajectory in my opinion; because, as a collective, a great many people could benefit from developing more of these empathic skills, to overcome a degree of selfishness and artificial self-projection (where its all about competition, image and seeming to be living your “best life” at all costs) that is proving quite desperately destructive in our world.
However…taking it too far the other way is a problem, for sure; and I can even sense it underlies my sensitivity to cellular technology and wifi, the effect being two-fold. On the one side, I am now picking up on so many more peoples “stuff” carried invisibly in the air and so it scrambles my hypervigilant nervous system with even more data than it can handle when I am out in heavily EMF-ed spaces. Yet, also, I suspect part of my “problem” is that, much like the hullabaloo in the playground at school, too much energetic “noise” interferes with my ability to read a situation, muddling the signals and, when you have (unwittingly) come to rely on this way of being as your default survival mechanism, this creates a real problem and a sense of floundering in populated spaces, like having one of your main senses turned off when you most need it. No wonder I come home feeling floored!!
No surprise, I have gravitated towards becoming quite a loner over the years and I can see how all this has impacted the way that I make, and engage with friends. Including the fact I have tended to conduct most of my quality friendships through written words online, where the energetic component is more natural (for both parties) as you both feel between the lines, compared to face to face where the social behaviours take over and, in my case, scramble my understanding or drain my energy because of the double layers (trying to reconcile their energetic reading with their presented personality) that I now have to somehow run side-by-side.
The antidote, surely (as in the case of all dysfunctional traits) is first to notice it; be aware of the trend and those times when it is happening, and then mitigate the problem, as far as is possible. Pulling your energy back into the self, coming home to your own energy pod, then allowing others to present you with what they want to present to you, without immediately diving the deeper levels of their energy field beneath the surface, is a new skill I intend to avail myself of, as a courtesy to both me and them (not that I ever meant anything rude or harmful by doing any different). This could, for instance, have made some of last year’s ventures into making new friends so much easier, if only I had allowed it all to be far more trivial than I was taking it by so-seriously and diligently “reading” the room and everyone in it. Perhaps, then, I would have had more of a good time and come home less prone to analyse why some people didn’t warm to me (for the record, I suspect people can sense they are being tuned into energetically, even if its not their default to do likewise, making them feel uncomfortable like when someone senses they are being watched from behind, especially if they are working hard to present themselves one way and are feeling less put-together under the surface). Perhaps this is a late-life realisation for me and yet, as they say, its never too late and I hope it could make things easier. Then, if certain relationships (or ex relationships) continue to feel like they are a problem, as in that energetic speed-dial I refer to above, there are always steps you can take to do with boundary setting and energetic cord cutting; but the point is that you have to take these deliberate and conscious steps and not just leave messy energy hook-ups lying about all over the place in your life.
Meanwhile, Lee’s advice when out in towns or around lots of people is to do what I have tended to shun doing for so long, which is to wear headphones and focus on my own choice of music. The act of walking itself is a way of grounding (since becoming ungrounded is one of the pitfalls of spreading yourself thinly into other peoples energy fields) and then the chosen music is like wearing your own self-selected environment and the music courses though your energy field, preventing you from being a sponge to everyone else’s. Its something I have tried from time to time, especially on solo trips to London or train journeys, but I have tended to tell myself I don’t want to detach from “reality” or miss out on other sounds, such as ambient or nature sounds (for instance, on my daily walk, when I have both traffic noise and people at the same time as birds and wind in the trees, it feels like a high price to pay to block out nature). The way forwards is, I suspect, to find balance and, if I find that I’m spending a lot of time with headphones in my ears on my routine walk, making sure to go on other walks where there are no people and more nature to be heard…as in, seeking out and making the effort for such experiences rather than letting it all be such of a lottery, as has been the case until now. In other words, do what it takes to lock into my own energy bubble when I have to be around others (even at home, I am now listening to music on headphones a lot more, to cut out the sounds of traffic and people shout-talking, as they seem to do, in the street) but then timetable daily contact with quiet places, trees, water sounds or birdsong so that I don’t get disconnected from these so-important things for empath health. Longer term, we plan to move to somewhere much quieter (I speak of energy here as much as “noise”), where walks from the door offer the kind of nature sounds and tranquility that serve as healing balm to tattered nerves. It should certainly make it much easier to stay in my own space!
If this all sounds a bit harsh, like cutting myself off, then its just until I break the old habits; and if you don’t see why this is necessary, you clearly don’t understand how detrimental tracking other peoples energy can be for an entire lifetime (but then you wouldn’t unless you were an empath). Truly, it can lead you to the edge of breaking point and that’s where my hyper-reactive health seems to say I am at right now; I simply can’t afford not to take this seriously with a nervous system this burned out and hypersensitive. So, in the beginning, the process is a bit like setting a leg in a plaster cast. When we realise and set about reversing a trait that isn’t supporting our health, whatever that may be, it takes, at first, making the new habits really deliberate until the reset can occur, at least to start with and then, who knows how, the ripple effect could reverse some of the sheer exhaustion, overwhelm and other effects that cascade from that behaviour mode. Just one of many ways working through this course has helped me to get circumspect about aspects of my behaviour that were much harder to see without the overview. Is it possible to rewire this at my stage of life given I have never been otherwise and was clearly born with the empath trait (for some of the other ways this affects how I relate to other people and their experiences, see related post)? Let’s just see, but I do believe we are all much more neuroplastic than we tend to realise.