Handling Empathy

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There’s no doubt that experiencing trauma changes a person. The way it changes you depends on your personality, of course, but I think one thing is certain of all loss – it makes you more empathetic.

Before losing Jonah (and my mom), I identified as an HSP – a Highly Sensitive Person. Yep, it’s actually a thing! I wrote about it back in 2014 on my blog that didn’t last very long, Adventures in Joliville. Man, I should really rewrite some of those blog post for Letters to Jonah….they’re kinda funny! Although, it’s also weird reading them, since they’re “before” – the before-life-hardened-her Joli.

Anyway.

An HSP is someone who is really reactive to the environment around them. They tend to be called “sensitive” by those in their lives, because they feel things more deeply than others do. They tend to be more empathetic, have a hard time watching horror movies because they can’t separate themselves from the terrible feelings happening in the movie, they often have problems with anxiety or depression, they’re not great at taking criticism, and they’re easily annoyed or affected by noises/things happening around them.

I was so happy when I found out that “Highly Sensitive Person” was a real thing! I felt like I was suddenly not so odd – like there must be a bunch of others out there like me.  At the time, I:

  • Had problems controlling my anxiety
  • Couldn’t watch horror movies (or just sad movies, in general) – I’d have so many feelings after seeing any kind of movie that I’d be in a weird mood for hours afterwards. Unless it was a comedy, of course.
  • Became very easily annoyed by people around me making noises – leg jiggling, foot tapping, pencil tapping, etc.
  • Constantly told my husband to turn down the TV at night because loud noises grated on my nerves past a certain time of day
  • Hated songs with electric guitar solos – they hurt.
  • Was easily emotionally affected by tragedies, just bad news in general, and being around others in bad moods
  • Took things too personally

That was then. That was before my mom died unexpectedly, and before I lost Jonah. Now, it’s just more intense…I often wish I could walk around in a plastic bubble. I’ve become so much more empathetic, especially to other bereaved moms or women who’ve lost their moms. It makes sense – once you’ve experienced something traumatic, you know intimately how it feels. You don’t have to imagine. You can actually say “I know how you feel”, without lying.

When you’ve experience the lowest of lows, you no longer have to imagine how other people are feeling when they’re hitting those same lows. You just get it. You feel it. You are with them on that level.

It’s both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because I’ve never felt so much love welling up inside of me for absolutely everyone. Strangers, family, friends…I see them all in a new light. A new, really, really empathetic light. It makes conversations deeper, relationships more meaningful, and life just more heartfelt.

At the same time, it makes all of the sadnesses in this world harder to bear, because I just feel more of them, and I feel them more deeply. Reading the stories of other bereaved moms, my heart splits open and grief spills out every time. It’s not only moms, though – just a couple days ago, when Chris Cornell (frontman of Soundgarden and Audioslave) tragically took his own life in a hotel room in Detriot, I was overwhelmed with sadness. I’m not a particularly big fan of either band, and if you had said his name, I’d have to be reminded who he was. He had a beautiful voice, though, and just hearing of his death made me feel this tremendous, empathetic heaviness.

So, I was an HSP before life took a shitty turn. What does that make me know? I’m gonna go with: Highly Sensitive Loss Mom Who Will Cry Over Almost Every Sad Thing on Earth and Hates Guitar Solos

How do you deal with the abundance of empathy?

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