~ An overview of the traits, challenges and strengths of the highly sensitive empath ~
This is me. Perhaps it sounds a bit like you too?
I love peace and quiet. I need my time alone each day — and if I don’t get it, I wind up anxious, drained and exhausted.
I love to sit and think and feel and daydream – I have a vivid imagination. And books are some of my best friends.
I’m easily overwhelmed by noise and bright lights and being around a lot of people I don’t know, so I tend to avoid large gatherings or come across as quiet and reserved when I’m in them.
I notice everything that’s going on around me – my senses are sensitive and I pick up on the emotional and mental energy of people and places.
I often feel at odds with the busy, striving, aspirational, aggressive, competitive, judgmental, unjust, unkind, survival-of-the-fittest culture in which we currently find ourselves living in the West.
I value kindness, consideration, social justice, simple pleasures, leisure, rest, joy, spirituality and heart and soul connection.
I love to feel connected to the cycles of nature through the moon and the seasons and I deeply sense the numinous, whether in nature, sacred places, works of art or music.
I want to live an authentic, contented, balanced life. I have no ambition to climb career ladders.
Does this feel familiar? Then join the club, because you’re not alone.
Perhaps, like me, you’re a highly sensitive person (HSP), and an empath too.
About 15-20% of the population are HSPs, meaning they have a nervous system which is more sensitive to their surroundings and stimuli. The technical term for this is “sensory processing sensitivity”.
The trait and term were identified by Dr Elaine Aron, a psychologist and author, who identified this innate temperament trait through her research that she carried out in the early ‘90s. She continues to research and publish on this subject.
And by the way, it is NOT a disorder. It’s just how you are.
On top of this, empaths are strongly sensitive to mental and emotional energies.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines an empath as “a person with the paranormal ability to perceive the mental or emotional state of another individual”.
I personally don’t like the word “paranormal” in this context, as it suggests something spooky out of science fiction. And, having been reading, writing and talking about this to sensitives and empaths since 2015, I know that we are simply everyday humans who just happen to have been born with a nervous system which is more sensitive than others, and/or have had life experiences which caused us to develop a stronger capacity to tune into the energy of others.
Empaths perceive and sense their own emotional and mental states more strongly than a non-empath, as well as being strongly aware of the emotional and mental states of other people, places and even objects.
The highly sensitive empath
Now, if you’re an empath you’re likely to be highly sensitive too.
Some say that not all HSPs are empaths.
One way of describing a difference could be this: an HSP picks up on other people’s mental and emotional states i.e. is aware of them, while an empath feels these states as if they were their own (which can be pretty confusing, unless you’re aware of what’s going on within you!).
But this isn’t an absolute and fixed definition. That distinction could be quite a fine line, and from my experience I think sensitive empaths are all on a spectrum in terms of the intensity of what we sense.
I know that sometimes I pick up on others’ energies (as an awareness) and other times I really feel them in my body. It can depend on how regulated I’m feeling in my own nervous system, how grounded I am, and/or my relationship with the person or place.
Now, I don’t want to get hung on labels and perhaps false distinctions between HSPs and empaths, so I have chosen to talk about “highly sensitive people”, “empaths”, “empaths and sensitives” and “highly sensitive empaths” as interchangeable terms.
Your experience of your sensitivities is unique.
And what you choose to define yourself as is up to you. So choose the terms which suit you – or don’t use any label at all. I respect your choice!
Life can feel challenging for us sensitive empaths. We live in a world of open-plan workspaces, of group work, of noise, stimulation, aggression and pushiness. And the world offers us constant stimulation through proliferating forms of media, including the ubiquitous smartphone.
We feel EVERYTHING intensely, and it can be overwhelming. We can feel like we are a square peg in the round hole of our culture, as if no-one understands us.
But when you learn about being highly sensitive you begin to understand that these feelings are connected to the fact that you’re reacting to stimuli differently to others because it’s the way your nervous system is “wired”.
Learning about sensitivity helped me to understand why I felt as I did. And I know it will help you too, because the clients, readers, friends and acquaintances I’ve spoken to, who’ve been to my workshops or have read my writings on this subject have told me that realising they’re sensitive empaths changed their lives.
That’s because knowing the self-care you need as an empath means you can learn how to calm your nervous system’s stress response.
This is why the foundation of what I offer centres on helping you to learn how to manage your energies and alchemise your emotions so you can feel grounded, safe and calm enough to trust your intuition and share your gifts.
The gifts and strengths
With knowledge comes the ability to embrace the gifts and strengths of your sensitivities — and there are many.
Highly sensitive empaths tend to understand things deeply; we’re conscientious; we’re creative and have a rich, complex inner life; we’re compassionate; we’re finely tuned into life around us and delicately appreciate the subtleties of nature and music and art.
We’re naturally attuned to the non-material aspects of life and that wonderful sense of how all of life is connected.
We love connecting to the unseen world of soul and spirit, and the longings and wisdom of the heart.
Because we have the ability to experience heightened emotional and mental states we can feel wonderfully enthusiastic when we’re engaged in a conversation or activity which lights us up.
We can sense the sacred truth and beauty of the interconnected web of life when we meditate or when we’re walking in nature.
When we’re moved by a film or piece of music, we really feel it in our hearts and in our bones.
We’ll feel the presence of centuries of worship in a sacred building and we’ll sense the presence of the ancestors in an ancient place.
All of this we experience at a greater intensity than non-empaths.
An unspoken truth about high sensitivity
While the trait of high sensitivity may be an inherent trait (i.e. you’re born with it), your experience in childhood and how secure you felt emotionally contributes to how well you function in the world – whether you thrive as a sensitive person or get stuck in overwhelm, self-doubt and procrastination.
Where we didn’t receive enough emotional support in order to feel seen, supported and safe as children (and this is more common than you might realize), we can get stuck in hyper-vigilance through a life-time of being hypersensitive to criticism, rejection and abandonment.
We wind up with with porous self-boundaries which absorb other people’s emotions and energies as if they were our own. I.e. our high sensitivity and empathic nature gets amped up to an extent which becomes overwhelming.
In order to heal and reclaim our self-worth and self-confidence we can hugely benefit from connecting to “Good Mother” energies to learn to mother ourselves and provide the holding and affirmation we perhaps lacked from our own mother / primary carer (as both children and adults…).
And, it’s since I felt the Goddess call me – the Earth Mother, the Great Mother, The Mother Divine – that I’ve discovered the inner strength, inner safety and self-compassion to face and bring healing to the wounds which were holding me back from expressing my true self, following my calling and sharing my soul’s gifts.
I source these Good Mother energies from the Great Mother as a spiritual source and from the Inner Mother within my own psyche-soul.
Be Held By Her
So this is why the focus of my work is around feeling “Held by Her”. Held by the love, strength and nurturing presence of the Great Mother, Mother Earth, Goddess: the matrix, the web of life which sustains and inspires us.
We are finely tuned to sense the spiritual, sacred and numinous all around us – particularly in nature.
She is within you and all around you. She is constantly whispering to you and through you.
She is the intuition which speaks the truth through the feelings in your body.
She offers you guidance through the wise whispers of your soul – that quiet voice within which knows what you need.
She is the sacred flame of inspiration and creativity that glows in your soul.
We sensitives and empaths have a heightened ability to sense the subtle and so when you choose to connect to, listen to and act on this inner guidance you are truly embracing the strengths in your sensitivity.
And this is the soul care guidance I offer – helping you to mother yourself and to nurture the sacred and numinous soul within you so you can share from this place and uplift the world with your presence.
NOTE: New sacred offerings are on their way during 2021.
If you’d like to hear about them then sign up for Soul Notes, below…
Let me send you Soul Notes – love notes written from my soul to yours about living and thriving as a highly sensitive empath.
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Hi, I’m Stella Tomlinson and I work with women who experience the world and their emotions intensely to help them feel safe, calm and confident so they can follow their calling and share their gifts with the world.
I’m a Priestess of Brighid, published author & poet and experienced soul connection guide.