“I think with my heart and I move with my head.
I open my mouth and it’s something I’ve read.
I stood at this door before, I’m told
But a part of me knows that I’m growing too old.
Confused what I thought with something I felt.
Confused what I feel with something that’s real.”
-KONGOS, “Come With Me Now”
I’ve always struggled with communication, in one way or another. I’ve never had a problem with knowing words, but more so of knowing too many words. I’ve always had difficulty translating the eloquence from my mind to my mouth. I’m still loquacious, but wasn’t verbally audacious until sometime in college. Too often, I allowed the fears and uncertainty of thought to result in vocal hesitation. So instead, I watched and listened.
I heard things that I was supposed to hear. I heard things not meant for my young ears. I learned to actively listen, because I realized other people appreciated it. I also learned to listen because information is powerful, and even if you don’t share your knowledge, the mere knowing of a thing empowers you.
I made eye contact like a champion of conversation; except I didn’t have the confidence to carry the conversation. I liked to read people as much as I liked to read books, and eventually my watching and listening gave me the social skills I needed.
Over time, I even took all my watching and yearning-to-belong to heart and, with the help of some fantastic friends, began to actually enjoy talking to other people my age. And as I connected with my peers socially, I began to connect with people on deeper emotional and spiritual levels.
Empathy: A Cross of Mine
I picked the quote from the song above because it pretty much sums up how I have operated and how I currently operate. Most of my life, my passions have ruled my reason, and I exacted my feelings with logic as a last-minute filter. This can lead to very close connections with total strangers; it can also backfire and cross boundaries like wildfire.
When you open your heart up to others’ burdens, and wholeheartedly take on their pain, it ages you. The emotional exchange can impart wisdom and understanding beyond your years, but at a price. If you hear too much before you’re “ready,” it will cost you some of your innocence.
Depending on your strength of character and understanding of personal boundaries, you can take on quite a bit of burden. Every one of us has our limits. There is a point where we can only stand to take on so much support of others’ pain and self-pity.
The most important thing I’ve discovered as an empath is this: You can put others first. You will be questioned why. People won’t understand when you claim that your life’s purpose and passion is to help others, to alleviate their pain, and to make them whole. People will ask you what your personal goals are, because they might not understand the compulsion for compassion with every fiber of your being. Not everyone is called to acting on their empathy; not everyone who is even called to always can. If you are able, I implore you to act on it.
I call empathy my cross because it is a gift which bears fruit only with personal sacrifice. Offerings-of-self may not be grand every single time. Sometimes, it’s a well-timed smile. Other times, it may be a middle-of-the-night, drive to a friend’s house and hold them while they cry sort of scenario.
All of this personal essaying is to get at the significance of seeing people for their worth. Recognize that others’ may not be able to develop the understanding you need, on your time. Be patient. Expect to be taken for granted and underappreciated, but set limits on how much you’re willing to tolerate. It’s about the act of giving itself, not the expectation of reciprocity. Instead, think of your actions as a model of how to give of self. Hope that one day, the same compassion you showed will be learned and demonstrated by those you cared for.