Wednesday, December 28, 2011

That Fine Line Between Being "Overly Sensitive"...And Something Else

I scanned nervously from side to side, my heart racing, my breaths shallow. Anger, frustration, and despair had seized the room. Like a one-hundred pound weight, its ringleader, Negativity, pressed down on my chest squeezing every last breath from my heaving lungs. Panicked, I looked for the exits. There were two, one in front of me and one behind. Oh, how I longed to run. To bolt! To flee from this oppressive atmosphere of negative energy. I wanted to hug each of my co-workers and say, “I completely understand your frustrations. Believe me, I do. But you don’t understand…if I have to endure one more second of this emotional rollercoaster ride, I’m going to rip out of my skin.”

Even though the work-related unpleasantness happened years ago, I vividly remember how uncomfortable the meeting made me feel, and I wasn’t even one of the people on the front lines, so to speak. I came home from work that day exhausted and depleted, pushed through the front door, hugged my children, and cried, “I don’t ever want to go through that again!” My husband told me to “toughen up,” that “these were desperate times.” But fear not. The current state of the economy is not what I’d like to discuss.

What I’d like to talk energy.

I’ve always been affected by it, be it positive or negative. “You’re too emotional!” people have told me. “You cry far too easily!” Sighs. There might be something to that. I mean, there was that one time I sobbed while watching an episode of Meerkat Manor (drops head to chest) with my husband. Yeah, I’ll never live that one down. Suffice it to say, it involved the death of Romance, one of the lead Meerkats. And yes, her name really was Romance (sigh followed by another headshake).

But I'm talking about more than just crying easily. I'm talking about feeling completely uncomfortable, literally overwhelmed emotionally, in certain situations…most of which involve large groups of angry people. In my experience, when you put yourself in those types of settings one of two things will happen. You’ll either feed into the anger and become incensed yourself…or run from it screaming. In case you haven’t guessed, I’m a “run from it screaming” kind of gal. I loathe confrontation. Don’t get me wrong. My temper flares up just like everyone else's, but I’m not one to hold a grudge. I quickly make peace with whatever is bothering me and set it free. Why? Because... I. Don’t. Like. Feeling. Angry.

But that’s not the most frustrating part. I can control my own anger. It’s thwarting off other people’s negative energy that I find most exhausting. Perhaps that’s why I’m always the girl who starts conversations in rooms filled with perfect strangers. All that anxious energy chokes me. It’s like, “Good Lord, someone say something. Please!” Or like when I was in college and some poor professor would throw a question out to the class only to hear the sound of crickets chirp back. I’d look around the auditorium pleadingly. Someone? Anyone?! After about sixty seconds of nothing, accented by a look of despair on the professor’s face, my hand would shoot up. "Exponentiation may be generalized by using integer exponents!" (Leans in) Just for the record, I have no idea what that even means.

Bottom line? This “connection” to other people’s emotional well-being is really quite exhausting. Of course, it took me many years to realize it had a name. (Counts on fingers) Thirty-nine to be exact. If you buy into the theory, you’re known as an emotional empath if you’re overly sensitive and highly tuned into other people’s emotional states.

There are many examples of empathic characters in literature, but my absolute favorite has to be John Coffey from Stephen King’s 1996, The Green Mile. An example of magical realism, The Green Mile showcases Coffey, a death row inmate who exhibits inexplicable healing and empathic abilities. Sure there’s something supernatural about Coffey, this is King we’re talking about, but strip away all of his magical qualities and he’s most definitely empathic.

I see that look in your eyes. You’re thinking, “Good Lord, the woman believes she’s got magical powers!” Wait. (Waggles an index finger in the air) Pardon me as I chuckle. Loudly. Although John Coffey will always be one of my favorite characters, I realize he’s just that, a fictional character in a made up story, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on the idea of being empathic. I think you know where I stand; I simply don't know. I always over analyze things. It's what I do. But I'm more interested in what you have to say. Do you believe that someone can actually be an emotional empath, or is it more a case of certain people just being overly sensitive and needing to “toughen up”?

As always, all points of view are welcome. Just please, whatever you do...keep it positive, lol!

Also, here's my favorite "John Coffey" scene from The Green Mile. Enjoy!