My journey from introvert -> highly sensitive -> empath
I was speaking to my friend Naomi Harrington recently, and she asked me if I would describe myself as an empath. I found myself answering with a pretty firm "yes" - and it felt like an aha moment and a realisation that had previously happened without my awareness of it, until that moment (thanks, Naomi!).
My experience of feeling so intense and weird is one that has been with me for as long as I can remember. I distinctly remember being 4 years old and being so terrified of the apparatus in gym class, and standing on a balance beam that was just a few inches off of the ground; thinking about it, it was the fact that everyone else in the class was there, too, and I thought that they could feel my terror as much as I could myself.
I remember what we now lovingly refer to as the infamous "Jasraj melts down" moment as an adult, during a family road-trip in rural Sweden. We'd been driving around for hours each day, for several days, in close proximity in a car with the same music playing, and often headphones music in my ears to try and be in my own space, which probably only added to my overwhelm (loud music to drown out car music... not ideal.
And then I think about my intense mood swings, about my moment-to-moment fluctations in energy, from day-to-day or from week-to-week. My sensitivity to my physical environment. How much I can absorb and hold the space of other people. How much I pick up on this energy even when I'm feeling grounded and neutral.
📝 The spirit-level analogy
Six or seven years ago, I had thought this came down to my being an introvert. Then I came the concept of 'high sensitivity' and the work of Elaine Aron. In both of these instances, there was a sense of relief and understanding, but also this sense of: it feels like more than this.
I'm an introvert... but it feels like there's more.
I'm highly sensitive... but it feels like there's more.
I think previously, I felt more comfortable calling myself an 'introvert' or 'highly sensitive', because they are more mainstream, accepted terms, with some science behind them and a way of rationally explaining these terms.
The scientific, rational, evidence-based stuff feels "safe". I have come across folks fervently against Myers-Briggs as a "valid" thing because it apparently lacks the so-called evidence-base required for it to be deemed as such.
One of the things I've learned about myself is that it's the experience(s) that's more powerful than its description, and the deeper I've gone in my journey of holistic self-understanding the fewer answers 'science' can serve up for me. And I say that as someone who is fascinated by space and the animal kingdom and all sorts of science-y stuff. And also as someone who is fascinated by psychology, hence I even studied a Masters in it.
And yet, this scientific and psychology-based line of inquiry for me could only take me so far. And I think I'm learning that it can only take me so far.
You see, as I have gotten more in touch with who I am, and with this intuitive and emotional part of me, there has been this increasing realisation that - the deeper I lean into it - the richer the picture is beyond what we are able to justify and explain rationally and scientifically.
I became more interested in holistic health and understanding, through alternative practices (yoga, meditation, journalling; are these still considered 'alternatives'?), or through spirituality (from Sikhi, to Christianity, to shamanism), or - possibly my favourite way of all - learning from the stories and autobiographies of others. Maybe a written one (blogs, stories, poetry), or a film, or even just observing others and learning pieces about people, getting glimpses into their way of being, to help with my own. Actually, I'm sure this is one of the reasons why I love interviewing other intuitives for the podcast.
I have only grown more fascinated by the intangible, emotional, body-based stuff, because it's this that seems to speak to me the most. Or, at least, it's this stuff which is missing from the overall whole (holistic) picture of mind & body integration.
(Of course, there are complex links between mind, body and soul that we'll never fully - rationally - be able to explain and understand. A sense of letting go and accepting what is, rather than trying to completely control our 'selves' is a healthier way of being for me, as I have realised how very little we actually know, and all the books and knowledge in the world - whilst it feels like a nourishing and worthwhile pursuit - will not give me every answer and usually leads to information overload, overwhelm, and frustration).
As time has gone on, the more I've understood myself or - rather - the longer that my journey of self-understanding has progressed, this emotional piece has only become more important as I've realised how much it feels like the part that is the defining one for me.
Which brings me back to my being an empath. Whereas, before, I was closed off to something which felt "woo woo", "out there" and "not scientific", I am now opening myself up to those books and stories I might've ignored or avoided, even just a couple of years ago.
In recent weeks, I've purchased copies of Ritu Kaushal's 'The Empath's Journey' and Aletheia Luna's 'Awakened Empath' books. As I mentioned before, exploring others' stories is one of my favourite things and also a really helpful way for me to recognise, understand and accept different pieces of who I am, and Ritu's book is a wonderful blend of part-memoir, part-scientific, with insights from the worlds of Jung and Art Therapy, and so offering a broad, holistic perspective. Totally my jam.
I also have Judith Orloff and Lisa Campion on my radar, as I continue to deliver into this fascinating, meaningful part of me.
If you have any insights to share, or resources you might recommend, that uncover and explore being an empath - or otherwise the depths of this 'intuitive piece' - I'd love to share what has uncovered insights for you, or otherwise helped move you along on your journey of self-understanding. You can reach me replying to the newsletter, or tweeting me @INF_club.
And here's my recent conversation with Naomi Harrington; during which I "came out" as an empath, Naomi talks about her experiences growing up in a religious environment and then embracing her own spirituality in adulthood, we talk about tarot cards, and a bunch more intuitive and empath-related stuff.
And do also check out Naomi's quiz: What type of empath are you?
from the podcast
Shelly Francis is an author, author-coach and publisher. She founded Creative Courage Press in 2020, inspired by the people who she met while writing a book called The Courage Way. Shelly lives in the high-desert of Colorado in the US, although she loves road trips and working from anywhere.
👤 Jas Hothi is an INFP, writer & teacher. He curates INF Club, a place for INFP & INFJ writers and creatives. Subscribe to his newsletter and you'll receive Happier, an e-book sharing how he navigated his transition away from conventional '9-to-5' life & began his creative, heart-based journey.
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