I am an empath. I have been an empath my whole life, well before I embraced magick and began consciously honing this aspect of my being. From the time I was small, I have been drawn to helping people, caregiving professions, storytelling, and listening to others. Empaths often have wild imaginations and can weave a yarn like it's the actual truth: my mother can confirm that this was a common occurrence, that storytelling (or lying, however you want to look at it) was second nature to me. When I got a little older, I was always the friend that people came to for advice, or for a shoulder to cry on. Eventually, it wasn't just friends: old ladies in the grocery stores, fast food clerks, coworkers, professors, employers, even total strangers on the street would tell me their problems, ranging from small annoyances to huge secrets about suicide, divorce, and drugs. I've heard people try to reason this many different ways, from claiming I am "wise beyond my years" to "you have a trustworthy face" to "you just seem like someone who knows how to listen." In reality, I believe they were picking up on my empathetic energy, the fact that I could truly "see" them for who they were, feel their experiences, and relate to them on a much deeper level than usual. While I love being connected to people on this level, especially as it informs my tarot practice and deep emotional connections with friends and family, it has challenges and drawbacks just like any other talent or ability would.
1. I'm Not Naturally Drawn To Affluent Careers
My abilities as an empath have informed my career choices. Currently, I work in the nonprofit sector, where I get a lot of joy out of helping people through my work. Choosing to work at a corporation would be very difficult for me. I would have to find one that I believed was doing real good, not exploiting people on a wide scale, and not contributing to the culture of consumerism and stress that I actively resist in my daily life. I find my work fulfilling, but I have to face the reality that it is not particularly lucrative work. I am paid well for my position and experience level, but I could be making $7-$10,000 more in the for-profit world, and would have much greater opportunity to increase that payscale over time. I am currently in the process of studying for the GRE and applying for grad school, most likely to work in therapy or organizational psychology. While I believe that both of these careers would be intensely rewarding in terms of my talents and energy, they are, again, not terribly lucrative, unless pursuing a private practice or consulting business. I often feel betrayed by a system that undervalues caretaking but demands so much from caretakers. Many people would literally die, or organizations would live in chaos if people didn't assume these roles, yet we act as if they are the most dispensable and least important, which is reflected in how little these positions are paid. It can be a blow to my ego, and it forces me to examine my lifestyle and choices--can I really afford to live alone? Is Austin the best place for me, or should I move somewhere more affordable? Will I be able to afford children? What age should I expect to be able to buy a house? I certainly do not live an extravagant lifestyle, but these truths along with another aspect of being an empath puts additional strain on my finances:
2. Giving Away is Second Nature
I like to give. I do not like to ask for things in return. Often, giving away money in donations, dinners, presents, favors, or cash puts me at a financial disadvantage. I feel drawn to give a couple bucks to every homeless person I see. I want to treat my friend to drinks when she's had a bad breakup. I love to buy my significant other lavish and thoughtful presents for their birthday. I like sending my mom a card in the mail for no reason. I give things away to my friends when I could have asked them to pay me a few bucks for that lamp, or those shoes, or whatever. I donate to independent media and shop at small stores, even though they are usually more expensive, because I care about the people who are working hard to make their dreams happen. More than once, I've had to step back and remind myself that taking care of myself first includes money: there has to be money in the bank for me to pay my bills, eat, and save before I can use what's leftover to feed my empathetic leanings.
3. The Line Between Self-Care and Caregiving is Blurry
I get a lot of joy out of helping others, listening to them, and feeling the human experience on a deep level. I keep up with world news, I participate in activist movements and events, I volunteer, I read tarot, and I give advice and support to my friends, all because I thoroughly enjoy it. However, it can be really hard for me to understand when I am getting true enjoyment and satisfaction out of acting on my empathetic nature, and when I am using it as a crutch or distraction from my own needs. I can't "turn off" my empath abilities, but I can do things like log out of Twitter, spend time alone, paint my nails, call my mother, or bake some cookies and focus 100% on myself: how I feel, how I look, how tired I am, how I'm feeling, etc. The kindest thing I've done for myself is signing back up for weekly therapy. To my therapist, I am the #1 priority, and having a third-party there to remind me about self-care and keep me on track with my boundaries and routines is probably the main thing that has helped me navigate my life as an empath successfully without completely draining myself dry.
I wouldn't trade being an empath for any amount of money, stability, or recognition in the world. There have been times that I've been overwhelmed, and considered just doing my best to deaden that part of my brain so that I can singularly pursue my own interests, but those thoughts sicken me to my core. As difficult as it can be to have such a clear perception of other feelings, experiences, and pain, I am still immensely privileged to not actually be experiencing those things. At the end of the day, I can curl up with my dog, read a book, and escape into the imagination of an author for awhile, while many of the people who I connect with don't have that option. I have parents who love and support me. I have beautiful friends who know when to give me a break from supporting them. I have the most adorable and sweet animals who ask for head kisses and lay next to me at night, and I never feel lonely.
People want to be seen. They want to know that their struggle and pain and excitement are all valid. They want to know that their identities and passions and love have an impact on the world and people around them, that other people care enough to bother articulating what their experience must be like. To all of my friends, strangers, and family: know that I see you. I feel you. I'll live my life amplifying your voice, telling the world "hey! look at them! they are incredible and they feel so deeply! they matter!" because I know that, even when I feel overwhelmed and alone, I have countless numbers of people who would do that for me.