There’s this Publix commercial that’s probably aired for the last year, given that I come across it on an old DVR recording. It’s a man narrating a video for his daughter’s birthday about how much he and his wife’s lives changed the day she was born. It’s a beautiful commercial, filled with love and gratitude. I cannot watch it without openly crying.
I’m an Empath or Highly Sensitive Person (HSP). Crying at great beauty comes as easily to me as crying at great sadness. And I was thinking about that today and how we empaths and HSPs are often described as being hyper-sensitive and moody and quick to cry at things. And, sure, I guess that’s true. But I was also thinking that as difficult as it can be to be a person who feels this much, there’s another side that is not often described.
You see, our lives—these vibrant, intense lives—are staggeringly beautiful. Yes, we can be cut to the quick by a passing word or someone’s negative energy, but the other side of that coin is that we experience beauty viscerally. All of our sense are heightened so that we don’t just notice a pretty purple wildflower in passing on a walk. We note the particular shade of violet and how the sun lights it. We notice the contrast to the flora and fauna around it. We’ll likely take a moment to literally stop and smell the flowers, and it’s unlikely that we’ll resist reaching out to stroke a petal, savoring the softness between our fingers or against our cheek. We’ll observe the wind shaking it lightly, and we’ll savor that moment. We’ll turn it into a full sensory experience simply in our observation of it, not as a forced exercise but as a natural reaction.
My experience of being an Empath (or HSP) is filled with stories of how difficult life can be when having to process my own heightened emotions, the emotions of everyone around me and all of the stimuli offered by the environment. But my experience is also that of being deeply connected to the world around me—to strangers in passing, to nature, to every part of my life. So when I’m being kissed, I’m not ever planning my grocery list or thinking of what I’ll say next. No, I am deeply entrenched in that moment. And if I’m sitting down to a meal, I am savoring taste and texture, color and contrast.
Today, I sat down to a petit four that I had purchased earlier in the day. It was this exquisite little carrot cake, bite-sized and perfect. And while my desire for dessert could have led to the rapid disappearance of said carrot cake, instead I took small bites, deeply savoring the taste and texture.
I allowed it to become a moment of mindfulness, as so many of my sensory experiences are.
And in the moments after the carrot cake was gone, I thought about how wonderful it is to be truly empathic and to feel things deeply. Because, yes, we experience pain deeply, but we also have this spectacular capacity for love and beauty and feeling. When we’re aware of that and we’re no longer lamenting the struggle, we come to this place of gratitude that we’ve been blessed with a gift to feel so much. We know that every moment of our lives is felt deeply, and we’re not taking for granted the very small beautiful things that may escape the notice of those who are less highly attuned.
It’s an amazing thing to be highly sensitive in a world that seeks to desensitize us all. We’re being told that we should toughen up, to stop wearing our hearts on our sleeves, and yet the fact that we do just that is what makes us…well, wonderful.
So for the Empaths, the HSPs, here are a few ways to celebrate who we are:
1. Cry openly. Cry often.
Let’s not ever believe anyone who says it’s not okay to cry. Crying is a great stress-reliever, and it shows that we feel life very deeply. When that Publix commercial airs, I cry. Every. Single. Time.
It’s lovely—and I don’t mind if anyone sees that I value the sentiment of that message.
2. Don’t toughen up.
We don’t need to get tougher and to construct walls around our fragile hearts. No, we don’t need to have thicker skin. There’s nothing wrong with being sensitive to the world around us, and the answer is never to deny who we truly are. We need to embrace it. In my life, I do this by being vulnerable as a practice. As a single woman who dates, I get my heart broken sometimes. And when that happens, I get back out there and start all over again.
I’m not a glutton for punishment. I’m simply learning that vulnerability is a strength. With each experience, I grow. I value that growth, and I don’t ever want to get in the way of my own growth by building walls to keep out the world because it feels like it would be easier, would hurt less.
3. Keep our hearts on our sleeves.
Say “I love you.” Break all the dating rules. Be open and honest about feelings. We may be sensitive, but we’re also very brave. We have to be to keep experiencing life so intensely and still have such enormous reserves of gratitude each day.
4. Focus on the beauty.
Our lives can be as painful as they are beautiful. We simply absorb so much of what’s around us, and it can take a great deal of work to stay balanced. Because of that challenge, it’s important that we remember all of the positive aspects of our empathy. Our abundant love. Our deep gratitude. Our ability to connect with others. Our closeness with nature. Our ability to experience all of our senses intensely and to observe beauty in even the smallest details. By focusing on the beauty, we gift ourselves with a deeper perspective and understanding of our empathic natures, which can help us through the more difficult times.
There’s nothing wrong with feeling everything deeply. We savor everything, experience everything. And we keep finding this core of abundance inside of ourselves—of love, of gratitude, of connection. We keep finding more to give to others, to life, to ourselves. We have this amazing capacity for experience and growth and change, and the fact that we do means that we also have an amazing capacity to inspire change in others when we utilize our gifts.
We can reach out, connect, let other people know that they’re heard, understood. We can take care of our Earth even in small ways—even with something as simple as picking up litter when we’re out on our walk and assuming some personal responsibility for keeping our land pristine rather than writing it off as someone else’s job. We can cry during the commercials that move us and then pick up the phone to reconnect with someone we love or just to reach out to say I love you.
I will admit to days of feeling like this is just a curse, a burden to carry around. But most days, I wake up with a thankful heart because I know that I will live that day deeply, cherishing all of the simple moments that I might miss if I wasn’t quite so sensitive. The softness of my daughter’s hair when I’m brushing it in the morning, the weight of my son’s leg against mine while he sits quietly waiting his turn. Or the sound of my own feet on the ground as I walk on my lunch break, the crisp crush of leaves crunching beneath my boots. The sweet, ever so brief taste of the very last bite of the petit four I put away to savor later. The cheerful sound of my best friend’s voice on the phone, just connecting, being there, knowing all my secrets. The feel of a keyboard, playing a tune under my fingertips, writing out each thought almost before it’s fully formed. A lover’s hand touching mine or running a hand lightly over my hair, the feel of a kiss placed carefully on my shoulder.
The tune of a song whose lyrics never fail to move me, playing lightly as I work. Every moment. All of them.
We don’t need to get tougher, and we don’t need to curse our nature. We simply need to empower ourselves to embrace it, to truly perceive how lovely it is to feel everything. We are who we are, and it is okay. In fact, it’s more than okay: it is incredible.
Author: Crystal Jackson
Editor: Renée Picard