Some people are just sensitive.
They’re easily overwhelmed by crowds and noisy, chaotic environments.
They’re sensitive to things most people tolerate just fine: chemicals, fragrances, violent movies, the news.
You could say they’re sensitive to negativity in general.
They like nature and peace.
They see the best in everyone.
They want to heal the world.
These sensitive people quickly learn that the world isn’t safe for them.
They need to toughen up. Grow thicker skin. Get a reality check. Deal with it.
And so they learn to hide who they really are.
They have a small circle of friends they trust.
They love animals. They feel animals understand them in a way other humans cannot.
They enjoy thinking about things most people don’t talk about. Things like philosophy and psychology. Even out-there stuff like energy healing, past lives, angels.
Who are these people?
They’re empaths, also known as high sensitives.
And many of them have no idea WHY they are the way they are.
The Science of Sensitivity
Dr. Elaine Aron is one of the foremost scholars on highly-sensitive people.
She studies sensory processing sensitivity, a trait found in 15 to 20% of the population.
Highly-sensitive people are born with brains that wired a little differently. Their senses are quick to pick up subtle changes in their environment. Because their senses are so finely attuned, they become easily overstimulated by strong smells or loud noises.
These are the babies that cry all night and day. The kid who’s driven to distraction by an itchy label in his shirt. The teen who becomes a vegetarian because she can’t stand seeing animals hurt. The freelancer who works from home because she can’t focus in an office.
They grow up feeling that something is wrong with them. Why are they not like other people? Why do so many things bother them?
They feel emotions more intensely. They’re deeply moved by music and art. They gravitate towards jobs where they can express their creativity, think deeply, and help others.
They may need special treatment—a room of their own, a chemical-free workplace, a quiet environment—but they’re an asset to any community or organization. Their gifts of perception and acute awareness are exactly what the world needs.
Being a Sensitive Kid
As a highly sensitive kid growing up in redneck culture, I always thought there was something wrong with me.
I didn’t like it when people shouted at each other. I hated action movies. I didn’t like driving fast. I wished people were nicer to each other. I didn’t like guns—or the fact that those guns were used to kill animals. I couldn’t stand anything that smelled, including city water and car exhaust.
I was a weirdo. I was too sensitive. And so I retreated inward. I read a lot of books and spent a lot of time in my bedroom.
It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned I was not alone.
Empaths were all around me.
They weren’t waving flags. Like me, they’d learned to stay under the radar.
I found them at the library. I found them at meetups. I developed a sixth sense about them.
I couldn’t quite put my finger on how I knew. Maybe it was something about their shy manner, or the way they looked me in the eye, or the thoughtful approach they had, or the deep and meaningful subjects they talked about.
But I knew one thing:
They were my tribe.
Among them, I was safe.
The Spiritual Side of Sensitivity
Dr. Judith Orloff is the author of The Empath’s Survival Guide, a lifesaver for many highly sensitive people.
As an intuitive psychiatrist, Dr. Orloff approaches sensitivity from a more metaphysical angle.
She believes that highly sensitive people don’t just have exquisitely sensitive brains. We can actually feel other people’s energy fields. We can feel what they’re feeling as if those feelings were our own.
This is sensitivity taken to a whole new level.
We don’t just empathize with other people. We become them. We soak up their feelings, their mood, their pain, and their problems.
The empath’s generous nature can attract energy vampires, who take everything she has to give and demand more. She has a hard time setting boundaries and saying no, which makes her the perfect target for people with less-than-savory intentions.
Because of this acute sensitivity, empaths often suffer from depression, anxiety, autoimmune conditions, and adrenal fatigue. In their attempt to be like other people, they push themselves too hard. They may overeat as a way of coping with other people’s stress.
In a dysfunctional family or workplace, empaths are the canary in the coal mine. They’re the ones who get sick, overwhelmed, exhausted. They don’t have limitless internal resources. They need peace and solitude to recharge.
No wonder so many empaths retreat from the world. It’s all too much. Only in solitude or communion with nature can the empath breathe.
But it’s not all doom and gloom.
“Empathy is the medicine the world needs,” argues Dr. Orloff.
We need people in leadership roles who care deeply about others. We need advocates for the animals, the children, and the most vulnerable. We need storytellers who can stand in other people’s shoes.
But to get empaths out of their quiet, peaceful havens and into the hustle-and-bustle of politics or the corporate world, their sensitivity has to be recognized and honored.
Do you think you’re an empath?
Have you felt acknowledged or scorned because of your gifts?
How would you like to see the world change to make it safer for highly sensitive people?
Let us know in the comments.
I am a sensitive and have been most of my life. I can’t deal with strong smells, sudden loud noises, seeing an animal hurt, seeing a child hurt, but I don’t mind it so much with an adult because they understand what and why it’s happening. Animals and Children don’t. I will do anything to rescue a child or animal to the point of putting my own life in danger. Unfortunately, I tend to believe what people say. I think everyone is honest until they prove me wrong and by then it’s too late. I am also a care giver. I believed that I was put on this earth to take care of people and try to make them feel better. I am able to put my hand on someone and tell them where their injury is even if it’s not where the pain is. And I have been proven by doctors to be right. I can also draw some pain out of their bodies and into myself. I can feel the pain go up my arms and when it gets past my elbow, I have to stop and release it. I do that by shaking the pain out through my fingertips, making sure that I am not facing toward anyone so that I don’t inflict the pain on someone else. Or better yet, if there is a sink around, I run cold water and release it by using my wet hands to wipe the pain down and out of my arms and down the drain. I am now 64 yrs. old and live alone and am the crazy lady that rescues any animal that is brought to me. I now have PTSD because of the way my husband and step son treated me. My husband has passed away and so has my Step son. I loved them both very much even though they treated me so badly and told lies to turn people against me. I am only happy with my animals, and when it’s time to put them down I suffer greatly, but I always hold them and tell them how much they are loved until they are gone. Then I mourn them. I recently lost my 3 Labradors (only 2 were rescues) Shane I had since the day he was born, and a cat that I had rescued from my husbands home. If I happen to think of them, I cry. Right now tears are running down my face. Now I only have a cat that decided she wanted to live with me and a Parrot that had been abused. It took me a few weeks to gain his trust but now You can not keep us apart. We need each other too much. He is almost blind and he starts calling for me to find him if he gets lost in the house. He’s almost as old as I am. Even my will states that since he would be lost without me, if I die, the Vet should put him down in the most gentle way and he will be cremated with me. If he dies before me, He will be frozen until I die and we will be cremated together.
Amy Waterman says
Thank you, Kim! Have you ever heard of “medical intuitives”? They’re people who can scan the energy field in the body and intuit the location of disease-causing blockages. It sounds like you have that gift. One of the challenges of intuitives and empaths is learning to shield themselves so that they remain centered in love and light – regardless of the energy around them – and don’t absorb other people’s energy. You can google “psychic shielding” for more information.
I am definitely an empath. Your definition fit me to the word. I was born this way. I have a totally different perspective than anyone I know. They don’t understand why I cry at the drop of a hat. I have to stand up for or help those who need it whether I know them or not. I’m a Hugger and I am drawn to those who need them most. Some people never get touched which I feel is much needed Even if it’s a touching the arm or back. I have come to realize that not everybody likes to be touched. I try to remember to ask prior to A hug and sometimes I just go for it.
In grade school I remember being friends with those that were outcasts and teased. I have a difficult time watching sitcoms because they are so rude to the one that usually lower on the totem pole. Making fun of and putting down. I cry at movies or any show on TV that has a tender moment, Love, thoughtfulness, etc.
I can’t watch violence or killing.
I could go on and on but I will spare you. I am extremely in to mother nature and have great gratitude for what we have been given to work with. I am awed.
I have a hard time using a shovel because I don’t want to cut the worms in half. Maybe a little extreme. I have thousands of sunset pictures I’ve taken. They are all so beautiful I have a hard time deleting any of them. LOL
I send you great big hugs and love