When discovering I’m an empath and HSP, I became an intuitive archaeologist, digging up why I felt the way I did, like how I’d absorb everyone’s emotions.
I am trying to think of the first time I ever heard the word “empath” or the acronym for highly sensitive person, “HSP”. I can tell you this much though — I didn’t hear it much in many African-American circles. Now, I did hear the terms “prophets” and “seers.”
Growing up in spiritual environments had me wrapped and ready for being in touch with my spiritual gifts — and, as an adult, I had many questions (even though I was a trained, educated, and ordained minister). This led me down a path of exploration of intuitive knowledge and gifts.
It didn’t take me long to have my first encounter with the definitions of “empath” and “HSP” — which are pretty synonymous since empaths take on others’ emotions just as HSPs do. I delved right in, bought books, watched YouTube videos, and consumed as much as I could to whole-heartedly understand what it’s like to be an empathic highly sensitive soul.
I began by first exploring the HSP traits. I never understood why it appeared that my nervous system would go haywire in crowded places or after I’d spend hours interacting with others (which would result in an “HSP hangover”). I would go to family functions and could only stay for two or three hours before having to leave. I would get home and feel so relieved to be back in a place of little-to-no stimuli.
I just thought it was me being overwhelmed — I had no idea that I was displaying characteristics of the HSP trait. As I studied the connection with the nervous system, it all began to make sense. For years, I’d been dipping out of functions and exhausted from long periods of interaction. I finally understood the real reason why, which was a big relief.
Putting Together All the Pieces of My HSP Puzzle
I then focused my research on empath books and articles. From a very young age, as early as five years old, I was able to connect deeply with both myself and others. Not only could I connect deeply, but I had this inner knowing regarding people’s struggles, too (as well as my own). I could identify the struggle, know intuitively where the blockage was, and strategize how to overcome it.
At the age of five, my struggles were a lot less dramatic, but at 10 and 15, they became more pronounced. People would gravitate toward me and literally began pouring their hearts out. It was like they knew I had the inner wisdom — and, indeed, I did. There wasn’t a person that came to me that I didn’t have an answer for. Call it my HSP Spidey-Sense and intuition, but whatever it is, it’s a gift.
I also could feel others’ pain. I never heard of the word empathy back then — I just knew my heart ached when someone shared a painful experience. I knew this, too, was a gift, but I didn’t know what to call it. At times, feeling so much seemed like a burden — I’d get mentally and emotionally flooded.
I had struggled to accept myself for years, not even realizing that I had the sensitivity trait. I then discovered: It was fine for me to be an HSP and empath as a Black woman! Allow me to elaborate from a cultural perspective. Within the Black community, what I found was that religion trumped spirituality. If I was religious and called myself a “seer” or “prophet,” that was more acceptable than identifying as an empath. Anything that was connected to our spiritual being-ness was not considered mainstream. In other words, not accepted.
Also, sensitivity was seen as a sign of weakness and frailty — I’d always been taught to be strong no matter what! I learned from other women around me to ignore my sensitivity and mask it with the Superwoman persona. But in my new empath/HSP identity, I now finally feel liberated! I’d love to just run down the street yelling, “I am an HSP and empath! I am not weird! I am really okay! More than okay, in fact!”
How Learning I’m an HSP Has Changed My Life
The knowledge that I’m an HSP opened so many things for me. I was already mentoring and coaching clients in healing and removal of emotional blockages. I now had more of a handle on how I could use my sensitive nature and empath abilities to help clients see the root of their traumas. I had the desire to literally become an intuitive archaeologist — digging up the real reason people were angry, finding the root of their childhood trauma, and unearthing healing strategies for issues such as relationship breakup traumas.
In all my liberation, however, I often didn’t see women who looked like me. Rather, I saw a diverse group of women and sometimes I would be the only African-American in the conversation. We weren’t being excluded — it was just that my culture hadn’t quite tapped into recognizing, and owning, these beautiful gifts that came with being a sensitive person. I explored how, over time, women of color have become leaders and excelled to the forefront of organizations, politics, education, etc. Just look at Stacey Abrams or Michelle Obama! To me, that is magnificent progress! However, many have had to assume tough exteriors to battle many male-driven circles. (Again, politics immediately comes to mind!) I believe that in our quest to be seen — and heard — sensitivity often falls by the wayside. It’s just not included in the more desirable traits for a driven woman, especially one of color.
I then had a twofold purpose — not just toward clients, but to connect with women of color who had the same HSP and empath giftings. I felt like I’d finally found like-minded people, like we were finally home! We all shared different experiences and offered advice to one another, which was priceless. I boldly label HSP and empaths as gifts because neither one is a disorder or curse, even though it can initially feel that way. When you are absorbing energetically from the environments you walk into — from the people to the space itself (all the sights, sounds, smells, you name it!) — it may not feel like much fun.
In other words, feeling intensely drained when you do too much peopling! I wanted to get a T-shirt that said: NO PEOPLING TODAY! Until I learned to balance the gifts, I’d classified both my empathy and high sensitivity as a curse to the nth degree. Knowledge was the best thing I could have done for myself. I didn’t contact a guru — I became my own guru and educated myself. The greatest part of this was that it didn’t undercut what I had learned in ministerial and prophetic education. As a matter of fact, it added to my arsenal of tools to help others heal since I was naturally empathic, intuitive, and a deep listener.
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The Highly Sensitive Me
As an HSP, I understood that I needed certain things. I had to give myself grace to move away from perfectionism, for example. I was finding that I was overloading my system instead of getting what I needed in the moment. I knew I needed certain environments — i.e., calm and peace-filled ones — after being in chaotic ones. I also needed stimulating conversation, not just small talk (and certainly not hours of it). I had to put in place my drain gauge accordingly and know when I had to go. It didn’t take away anything from my life — it only added more clarity. This HSP me has opened so many new chapters in my book of life.
And I knew that as the new chapters were coming into fruition, I didn’t expect anyone to understand. Even when I didn’t know other women of color who were as I was, I still could stand in my power — which eventually helped attract other women of color to finding their sensitive sides, too. We just kept expanding together. We spoke the same language and we began to formulate a bond around our sensitive traits. I felt pretty lonely at first, but not necessarily alone. I was one with the Spirit and that held me until I connected with others. I now have the pleasure of seeing other women like me collaborate with women of diverse cultures, and it is invigorating!
The Empath Me
As an empath, the first thing I understood was that I had to rest! Not just during the night — HSPs do need more sleep than non-HSPs — but resting in my purpose. I looked at myself several times in the mirror while learning how to do this properly, with the side eye. It took time, because resting was not my strong suit. I mean, I was a single mother of two sons (need I say more?). Though they are grown now and have their own goals, my seeker time happened while I was raising them. But I had to support my empath journey…
I began a meditation and mindfulness routine on a regular basis. I began to be more cognizant of how much I was pouring out so that I wouldn’t keep running on empty. I learned that I wasn’t anyone’s savior and certainly wasn’t Superwoman. I also learned that eating organically, being in nature, and exercising aided my empath journey in phenomenal ways. Empath, highly sensitive person, or both, these are essentials in life.
Another wonderful thing that I did to support my empath journey was to decide which types of relationships I needed in my life. I decided that I loved being single, but I also enjoyed connection. I decided that I didn’t need to cohabitate or get remarried — I had established fulfilling relationships outside those bonds. I wanted to enjoy life, but not by molding into what society dictated. My ultimate goal was to be a free empath in every way.
In a nutshell, I have fully embraced being an HSP and empath. I was born a beautiful Black woman, so embracing that happened years ago. I know that I not only have my cultural contribution, but I have my intuitive nature, as well. My sensitivity, grace, and compassion for others gives me so many opportunities to connect and be valued. I add value to every conversation, I bring healing to the lives I touch, and I am really, really okay being authentically me! I stand boldly with other women of color who have embraced these powerful gifts. We know that we are on the earth to share our true purpose and spiritual intent. We are love and light in the shadows of darkness. And if you’re an empath and/or HSP, too, so are you. Don’t forget it.
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