“I want to watch that movie with you,” my stepdaughter said Friday night after watching “Five Feet Apart” with her friends. I asked her why, knowing that she’s already seen it twice.
“Because it’s devastating.”
“Why in the world would I want to watch a devastating movie?”
“Because it makes you appreciate life.”
I wanted to tell her I already appreciate life, that we don’t need to be devastated to find appreciation for life, but before I could speak, she added poignantly, “and because it makes you FEEL.”
As an empath, I feel everyday. Deeply. Emotions run deep in my core. I love this about myself. I love feeling. Regardless of the emotion flowing through me, I’m grateful to be an open vessel through which emotion CAN flow.
I haven’t always been like this. It’s taken me decades to get to this point, to not only openly allow emotions – of all kinds – to flow, but to love it. There was a time when I felt so much sorrow, I lay in bed every night praying not to wake up in the morning. There was a time when I felt sadness so deeply, I begged God to have the mercy to take away my feelings.
I wanted to be like Data in Star Trek The Next Generation, the android who couldn’t feel emotions, but instead, I was Deanna Troi, the empath who felt everyone’s emotions.
Ironically, Data’s lifelong dream was to become more human and feel emotions, and my favorite episodes were the ones where he used his “emotion chip,” a device designed by his creator to allow him to feel human emotions.
Many people, empath or not, tend to “Data” themselves out, to turn off their “emotion chip”. When we don’t know how to effectively deal with our emotions, it’s a self-protective reaction to numb ourselves out, to block the flow of emotions. We think it gets us through the day, allows us the strength to do what needs to be done, like facing our co-workers or customers with a smile on our faces, or pick up the kids after school, or accomplish our daily to-do lists.
As one client puts it, “if I didn’t turn off my emotions, I’d never get anything done. I’d lie in bed all day, a crying, bumbling mess.”
The problem is we’re not androids. We can’t just flip a switch internally and walk without fear into a battle. At least, not without repercussions. Even when we think we’re turning off our emotions, we’re merely suppressing them, pushing them away… for the moment. They’re still there, bubbling underneath, waiting for us to let our guards down so they can break free from our controlling grip.
This is one of the reasons why many empaths and sensitives are exhausted and chronically fatigued… it’s a lot of work keeping those emotions down. It’s like holding a beach ball under water all day, every day. We do it for so long, we don’t even realize we’re doing it anymore.
But our bodies know.
Our spirits know.
Our psyche knows.
Sometimes it’s important to put our emotions aside momentarily to get things done, like the time my dad died and my sisters and I needed to keep it together long enough to talk to the funeral home to figure out what to do with his body, fill out the necessary paperwork and settle his affairs. Sometimes we need to compose ourselves to take care of what’s in front of us.
But many of us have decided that “keeping it together” at ALL times is more important than allowing ourselves to feel some of the time.
We, as a society, have become so routinely and habitually numb to life, in the name of self-preservation and “getting things done” that we need movies like “Five Feet Apart” to give us the permission to feel again, to reboot our emotion chip and allow us to see deeper into the human condition, beyond work, sleep and bills.
We spend so much time and energy trying to figure out the surface level of our lives, focusing on things that don’t truly matter and we forget that there’s something deeper that flows through all of us, there’s a meaning, a purpose, a GRACE, that underlies everything. When we numb ourselves from deep emotions, we tend to stay on the surface of life. We don’t feel the grace that flows endlessly to, through and from us. We spend hours in our heads, carried away by non-essential problems such as why our co-worker criticized us, the nerve of a Facebook friend’s political post, or how gas prices are going up.
We put all our focus on the surface and forget about the depth of life.
The movie touched my stepdaughter in a way that life touches me every day. She’s already seen it twice and wants to see it again. It’s become somewhat of an obsession with her, a compulsion to feel, to be moved, inspired, driven to view life with a deeper perspective. It’s beautiful to witness, to be honest, in a 16 year old who typically just wants to go the mall with her friends and buy clothes.
There’s a craving, a calling in all of us to touch something deeper… within ourselves, within life. It’s a yearning to belong, connect and transcend the veil of our ordinary, everyday lives.
Some of us live this deeper calling every day, even though we move around performing our daily activities as though we are of this surface world, doing laundry, washing dishes, sitting in traffic, we carry the consciousness of grace with us everywhere we go and it infuses our daily lives with meaning and purpose.
Some of us have lost touch with this deeper calling. We deny it, block it out, resist it. It started the moment we felt an emotion that was too painful, we didn’t want to feel it. Or when someone else criticized us for feeling something they didn’t think we should be feeling. Or when we were told we need to “toughen up”. At one point, we made a decision, conscious or not, to “get it together” and push away our emotions. And then one painful moment shoved aside after another, day after day, we started to become good at it, and eventually our emotion chip defaulted to numb (numb is a feeling too, by the way).
And we forgot how to feel deeply. We forgot how to open ourselves up to the flow because the in-your-face demands of daily living felt greater than the in-your-soul calling.
It’s only when something devastating happens, or you watch a movie that emotionally devastates you, do you allow yourself to let go of the controlling grip on your emotions and FEEL again. The beach ball pops up out of the water and into the air with abandoned fervor like a prisoner who’s finally been set free after decades.
And the calling to witness the grace of life, in all its brutality and beauty, becomes alive in you again.
Your emotions are the answering of the call. They aren’t your enemy, they’re your doorway to Life, God, Presence, Grace.
There are four stages of an empath’s life, which I’ll write about in a future post, but if you’re just starting out and struggling with your emotions on either end of the spectrum (feeling too much because your emotions are overwhelming, or not enough because you’re numbing yourself out), you can dive deeper and learn more here.
For now, the best thing you can do for yourself is the same thing you initially did to become numb, but in reverse. Take it one emotion at a time and practice letting your emotions flow instead of resisting them. Start with any emotion and follow these 3 steps:
- Acknowledge it instead of shoving it aside.
- Invite it to flow through you without judgment.
- Allow yourself to feel it.
You don’t have to do anything about the feeling other than sit there and feel it.
We are more powerful than our emotions. Our emotions can’t hurt us without our permission.
Separate yourself from the emotion by acknowledging that you are the vessel through which the emotion (energy in motion) flows. If you feel sad, YOU aren’t sad. You’re simply feeling the emotion of sadness flowing through you. YOU, however, are just fine.