I Blamed my Anxiety on Being an Empath, but Here’s the Not so Pretty Truth.

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scared, girl, fear, sad

**Warning: Some naughty language below! 


**Author’s note: I wrote this with love and fire in my heart, in equal measure. I don’t wish to tear apart anyone’s experiences of being an empath or a sensitive soul. These are beautiful qualities—ones we should value deeply. But I do wish to nudge us to look deeper. To peek beyond the surface. To be braver and more responsible for ourselves. Because when we do, the rewards are unthinkably beautiful. 


I’ve been swept up in a black cloud of anxiety for these past few months.

The kind of anxiety that makes me wanna hide under the thickest, softest blanket for about a year. The kind of anxiety that makes me wanna shove Dove dark chocolates down my throat like they’re magic medicine. The kind of anxiety that makes me feel certain I can’t face life.

So, I’ve been sitting here—blaming my super-fun panic attacks and stormy edginess on the fact that I’m a spongy, empathic soul.

“I’m just absorbing so much energy from other people,” I kept telling myself.

“I’m just feeling the fear of the world,” I kept telling myself.

“I’m just feeling that woman’s, that stranger’s, that friend’s sadness,” I kept telling myself.

Today, I stopped believing that bullshit.

Yes, I do feel a lot from other people. I always have, and I always will—there is absolutely no arguing that.

But, I also know the difference between my own emotions and other people’s emotions.

And that’s the thing that’s really hard to face.

Because hell, it’s so much easier to look to the world and say heroically—“Oh, how it hurts to feel your fear, your anger, your panic, your rage.”

It’s so much easier to say that—rather than saying what’s really, painfully true:

“I’m scared.”

“I’m sad.”

“I’m angry.”

That doesn’t sound heroic or fancy or beautiful—it just sounds vulnerable. It sounds so disappointingly human. But in that, there’s so much power. There’s power because it’s honest. It’s raw. It’s real.

The world is dark and scary and strange and gritty—and so am I.

So are you.

We all are.

It can’t always be the world’s pain. Or a stranger’s sadness. Or a loved one’s depression and darkness.


Often, the not-so-pretty truth is—those yucky emotions we’re feeling are ours. No one else’s.

But that’s okay. It’s beautiful.

Can we be done playing the role of the tortured empath?

I say this with love in my heart, because we deserve so much better.

We can be empowered sensitive souls. Kick-ass empaths.

But most of all— we can be human beings.

Yes, human beings!  Deliciously flawed, incredibly vulnerable, scared, struggling human beings. Human beings with cracks and breaks and bruises in their hearts. Human beings who are figuring it all out, day by day, moment by moment. Human beings who fail—fuck up, make mistakes, get confused and lost.

So, we’re sensitive, hell yes—and feelings roar through us like whipping, electric winds—but we’re not precious little creatures. We’re not fragile little wisps of lacy fabric.

We’re strong human beings, with juicy beating hearts.

And don’t think for a second that we’re destined to hide away from life in a safe little bubble, because it’s “too harsh” and we feel “too much.”

We are destined to handle it.

We are unbelievably strong—each one of us.

So from this moment forward, I refuse to blame my problems or anxiety or pain on being an empath and a sensitive soul. I refuse to look to the world and hopelessly lament, “Why do I have to feel so much?

Because I don’t know about you, but most of the time when I say that, what I really mean is—I’m afraid to own the intensity of my emotions. I’m afraid to own my shit.

So today, I stop looking outside. I look inside instead.

I own my fear. I own my rage.

I own every dark and disgusting ounce of it.

I’m not ashamed anymore.

Because by facing our shit—by owning it—we can heal.

We can grow.

We can discover the exquisite power of being human.

Don’t always look outside—don’t be so certain that it’s empathy. Or sensitivity—or any other beautiful, flowering spiritual new-age concept.

Sometimes it’s simple.

What we’re feeling is our own shit—our rage, our fear, our insecurity.

And it’s not pretty—but it doesn’t always need to be pretty.

Hold the ugly, the darkness, the fear—hold those not-so-pretty parts of yourself with gentle hands.

Because once we face them, they aren’t so scary, are they?

They’re just puzzle pieces of our hearts.

Not good. Not bad.

Just pieces of us.

So own them.

Own your shit.

Own it with grace.



How to Become an Empathetic Superhero.


Author: Sarah Harvey

Editor: Yoli Ramazzina

Photo: Flickr/Charles Harry Mackenzie

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Sarah Harvey

Sarah Harvey resides in the mysterious mountains of western North Carolina. Through the journey of healing her own trauma and pain, she has found power in poetic expression, art, and dance. She loves supporting people to step into their power, find their voices, and flourish. She believes in resilience. She believes that sometimes, our darkest days lead to the most unexpected, breathless joy. She currently offers life coaching sessions and is pursuing her Masters in Counseling. She feels most passionate about supporting those healing from trauma with a creative, heartfelt, and gentle approach.  Follow Sarah on Facebook and her website!

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Tiffany Foster Dec 23, 2018 8:09am

I love Sarah Harvey’s writing. I watched this dynamic in myself, my daughter, coworkers, friends. Thank you for having the courage to voice this view. Also, somehow our culture has become afraid of offending anyone. But if we want to build a responsible society we need to openly face the darkness of ourselves with the light of our aspirations.

beardragon1 Dec 18, 2018 5:23pm

Or maybe you could just go through Marine Corps boot camp..
Certainly your zeal to help people marshal their own resources is commendable.
Attitude does not resolve all pain. Neither do simplistic notions of just reclaim your power. Maybe when you’ve had a bit more training and a bit more life experience, you’ll recognize a more nuanced and thoughtful approach.

adreasten Dec 18, 2018 3:56pm

…as my amazing son said to me once, “mom, you’ve just got to embrace the suckage”…

Jacqueline Beltran Dec 18, 2018 2:51pm

Love love love this post!!! People are quick to call me an empath when I open up about my anxiety and I always thank them for calling me empathetic but I own the fact that I’m not a true empath… It feels vulnerable to say but I genuinely know that athough I do energetically feel more sensistive to others most of the time the reason I’m trying to “fix” their issues is for MY own benefit. It makes me feel uncomfortable when others are uncomfortable! It’s part of how my OCD manifests and accepting and acknowledging that has made my life easier. I prefer to describe myself as a highly sensitive person but the word “empath” for me always feels like I’m trying to be a martyr. The word empath gets thrown around A LOT these days and it really teeters on the fine line of being codependent! Great read, I so relate!!

Katelyn Kent Dec 18, 2018 1:17pm

Sara…I am a reluctant empath. At first, I did not particularly enjoy the double edged sword of this gift. I didnt ask for it, yet here I am. And you know what? Over the years I’ve learned a few things. You can feel the pain of others. You can take it on if you want, but mostly, if you chose to take it on…you risk using it as an excuse to not feel or handle your own doo-doo or worse, use it as a prod to your own pain so you can live and wallow in the distortion of it all. PLEASE..Feel your pain and feel your emotions and others, use the gift to aid in your and others awakening as it is meant to do, but then be done with them. We empaths love to wallow in it, roll in it like a dog rolls on a dead squirrel carcas. Then we keep it around us like the stink of a dead animal and it pollutes everything in our path. I mean this as lovingly and empathetically as I can say it….Stop it! Get over it. Get over yourself. Empathy is a great gift providing you grab it by the tail and not the other way around. You will never move forward until you can look at your own distortions and the distortions of others and just not care. And before you get all angry at how mean I am…know that this is not about not caring about yourself and others…do not confuse the two. It is about not getting caught up in the drama of the empathy. An empaths true power comes in non-attached empathy. Not detachment and certainly NOT attachment, but non-attachment…read Michael Beckwiths definition. He says it better than me. What I am trying to do here for all of the empaths out there is to help wake you up and set you free so that you can walk the walk of an awake, self aware empath, claiming your power….. with out giving it all away to the drama of the pain of others and the distorted version of yourself. Stand strong. Own your empathy and at the same time let go of the distorted painbody that keeps you stuck in the hampster wheel an empath often creates for herself. With love and compassion, Katelyn

Lisci.rocks Dec 18, 2018 10:07am

Thank you for putting into words what I have just recently realized about myself. After a divorce, which included a move and a job loss, I had to sit myself down and figure out my own shit. In doing so, I was able to determine which crap was mine and which was not. It has helped me beyond words! I feel like I can function like a human and be happy.

michael mitchell Dec 18, 2018 10:05am

So true – sensitive people (like me) can only be whole after they walk through the shame, fear, and anger of their own shadow.
It takes guts.
Great read!

dphil058 Dec 18, 2018 10:01am


ProLifeAnimals Dec 18, 2018 9:33am

Truly a good read.

ProLifeAnimals Dec 18, 2018 9:21am


phibbyvenable Dec 18, 2018 8:56am

love this…

truebliss40 Dec 18, 2018 8:17am

Yes, this!! Powerful, honest words. Thank you!

crina_o Dec 18, 2018 7:49am

I love “owning your shit with grace”. I love the empowering of it! I love that you state that there is a choice to be made: Victim or master of your own destiny, author of the book of your life!

susan moore Dec 18, 2018 7:41am

Great thinking! Thanks for publishing again…

anonymous Mar 13, 2016 9:52am

Anxiety can be a deal breaker…but if you acknowledge it, it loses its ugly head. Embracing it was my release! Thanks for your thoughts!

anonymous Feb 16, 2016 2:30pm

beautiful, if ok I have linked this article into one of my own. you put it so much more succinctly; I rambled on and on and on 🙂 thanks for the ass kick. http://andrea-cullen.com/2015/09/20/navigating-li

anonymous Feb 16, 2016 2:29pm

beautiful, thank you.

anonymous Feb 11, 2016 1:40pm

Marry me?

anonymous Feb 8, 2016 7:32pm

YES! YES! YES! Bravo and kudos to you!! It’s an AMAZING thing to own our power! ❤️

anonymous Feb 8, 2016 3:03pm

Empowering… Thank youu

anonymous Jan 26, 2016 8:24am

I have to say, the time I have been reading elephant journal, your writing is by far the one i relate to and resonates with me so fucking hard, thank you for sharing your soul wide open with millions of us who begin to feel the lie of isolation to come and understand in our shared humanity everyday.

anonymous Jan 25, 2016 1:09am

” We’re not fragile little wisps of lacy fabric”. Such a wonderfully written piece! And really insightful. Thank you.

anonymous Jan 23, 2016 9:41pm

Wow, perfect timing! This is very relevant to my life right now, as well. I appreciate your openness and truly connect with your revelation. As a social worker, it is easy for me to blame my stress and anxiety on my job, and claim that I'm "absorbing" the pain that my clients' experience. While I do truly empathize with their situations and feelings, I need to learn how to address and confront my own feelings as well and not write off my troubles as a consequence of my career choice.

anonymous Jan 21, 2016 5:19pm

Something I needed to " hear" today. Thanks for writing it down.

anonymous Jan 21, 2016 6:10am

It looks to me that the trending “empath” bit is nothing more than a self-centeredness in disguise or blatantly evident.

Selflessness is the empath. Great generosity is being empathetic.

    anonymous Jan 22, 2016 2:48am

    Being an Empath has nothing to do with being selfless or generous. Those are behavior choices. Empath is different from empathy, as an emotion. Empath means you feel other peoples emotions as your own. Being an Empath does not imply you have to be a nice person! That is a behavior choice. Your comment is incredible judgemental.

anonymous Jan 21, 2016 3:43am

Thank you for this! As I’m awake again for the third time tonight, feeling so lost in my anxiety, this was a fabulous read!

anonymous Jan 20, 2016 9:10pm

Yes! Love this.

anonymous Jan 20, 2016 8:13pm

Very beautifully written and so true. Thanks for sharing.

anonymous Jan 20, 2016 4:21pm

This is harsh, but what I needed to hear. Once I started ringing, it rang a loud truth to my ears, my heart and my mind. Thank you!


anonymous Jan 20, 2016 3:59pm

Awesome, dear!