Archive | February, 2021

The power of the empath

Raven, badass empath. From The New Teen Titans, No. 27

When I was a kid, I used to sneak into my older brothers’ room and pull out cardboard boxes of comic books from their closet. I especially liked The New Teen Titans, where Robin and Wonder Girl finally got to run the show. 

One of the team was a willowy shrouded figure named Raven, whose superpower was the ability to sense the emotions of anyone. She could drape her soul-self around enemies and drain their rage, or envelop her fellow Titans and diffuse their grief.

Even then, I wondered, where did all that emotion go? What did she do with all those big feelings each time she absorbed them? 

Well, as you may have guessed, she flipped her shit. 

I could relate.

I’m no superhero, but I am an empath, and it’s often crippling. It was helpful during my teen years when I lived with an unpredictable alcoholic, my mother’s partner. I was always on high alert, looking for the winds to shift and her mood to blacken and turn on me or mom. Having an internal sensor that would trip at the first whiff of emotional danger proved a valuable survival tool. Being able to sense my mother’s emotional state provided her comfort.

Now, I don’t need to tap that skill but the instinct kicks in, whether I like it or not. Over the years, my empathetic nature has helped me navigate a lot of tense situations and surly personalities, but it exacts a toll of high stress, GI issues, and poor sleep. I was born during the week of the empath. I’m a Cancer and my watery emotions run close to the surface. But like Raven, I learned to tamp down my own feelings while opening myself up to the service of others, their reactions and feelings swirling wildly in my core. I had an upsetting call with my mother over politics recently and I carried that around with me for days, trying to figure out why it left me so gutted. Maybe the answer lies in Raven (although it’s probably because I can’t wrap my mind around anyone being a Trump supporter). 

Then I masked up and met up with a friend for a walk. Hearing about her fraught home life with her partner and college-aged daughter, my empathy was matched in equal measure with relief that I have a home free of uncomfortable, draining energy. This led to a crazy thought: Could I be single because I’m an empath? Maybe, just maybe, I’m single by emotional if not intellectual choice. Living alone protects me and my emotional outreach. I can control the energy I take on in a way that I can’t when I’m sharing a space with a boyfriend, roommate, or family member. 

Like many, quarantining during COVID has been…a lot. But living alone has allowed me to move through the year better than most. But the flip side of this is that I’ve missed the joys of being empathic: the giddiness of connection, the comfort of shared lives, the joy of another’s successes, the thrill of touch. Empathy can be draining, but it can also be replenishing. As I open myself up to a possible new relationship and counter all the heaviness with buoyant, juicy shared feelings, I’m finding that reaching out and touching someone might just be a superpower after all.