Empathy is the ability to sense and fully grasp what another living being is experiencing from their perspective. Being an empath can be a wonderful thing – for other people. They land their feelings on you by calling you on the phone, turning up on your doorstep or hitting you with the raw stuff as soon as you arrive at their place. You become known as the go-to person for an emotional crutch; someone reliably kind they can offload their hurts onto, and in so doing feel better.

And when the empath needs the same reliable, personal service? Sadly those who use the empath in this way, they don’t tend to be empathic themselves; nine times out of ten experience teaches many an empath that those they give their all to, they run away faster than you can say ‘fucking self-serving, soul-sucking bastards’. And yet, empaths just can’t help wanting to help. It’s in their nature.

You might think it would make more sense for all the empaths to hang out together, helping just each other, leaving the environmentally- and nurture-produced emotional cripples to endure their half-life, emotionally-restricted existences without ever catching sight of an open, friendly face nor ever hearing kind words directed their way without expectation of some sort of payback. Yes, that would make sense – but the jigsaw of human social interactions doesn’t fit together like that.

Some of us are users, some of us are used, it seems, time and again, as many an empath would agree they’ve concluded over time – and that sucks. Only rarely do empaths find those they help capable of being there for them, when the empaths need support. In most situations, if an empath is looking for support, they see only tumbleweed blowing along the path where they hoped for flowers. This is one reason why so many empaths lead isolated lives, become hermits, addicts or commit suicide – because they long for someone, somewhere, somehow to give them a break but they can only escape by getting away from people. Like a medium bringing spirits into a circle and then discovering they can’t close the door and are being bombarded by needy souls, so too the empath is ground down over time by other people’s problems – those who are walking, talking knots of issues and inner conflicts. Whereas the medium deals with the dead who have issues, the empath deals with the living – but the inability to shut down is the same.

Over time some empaths do learn ways of shutting down without recourse to extreme measures. They might learn to avoid certain personality types, or when to walk away; to make time for themselves through meditation and play. Too often, empaths battle with anxiety and depression, getting too caught up in other people’s dramas. They can be overwhelmed by something as simple as watching the TV news, or the overall tone of their daily Facebook feed – scrolling posts of pleas for help, lost dogs, images of war.

Empaths aren’t the way they are because they’re looking for rewards. They just are. But it’s nice when those who receive help, support and friendship from empaths feel able to gather up their own psychic forces and give a little back. This can recharge and reinvigorate empaths. Empaths will clutch at anything to give them faith in the world when it’s been leeched away. Giving love to an empath is the most powerful way to make him or her light up, no surprise there, but phone calls to, and time spent with, empaths are strong restoratives. One-on-one is best: in the home or at the cinema; on the beach or long country walks. Empaths can enjoy noisy nights out in clubs and bars but all that psychic fizz from multiple sources, coupled with intoxication – theirs and others – doesn’t provide the juice empaths need to keep going and stay bright. Neither do texts or messages on social media, because they lack the full-on emotional ‘realness’ empaths need to feel. They need auras to appreciate, not computer screens.

The greatest danger to empaths after their own selves is the psychic vampire: a person who, sometimes knowingly and sometimes not, drains them utterly and keeps on doing it without giving anything back. When those are encountered, it often takes the intervention of another empath – known or a stranger – to give warning to pull back and get away.

If you ever hear someone say ‘people are [insert derogatory descriptive]’ or they are acting horribly to repel others, they are the ones you might least expect to be empathic – but they are, very much so. They have been damaged by their own kindness and sensitivity at some point, and have learned to put up a shield that is effective but ultimately counter-productive (because their true nature has been locked away, and that cannot ever be good). You’ll often find empaths are comedians or actors – the theatrical stage providing a tangible physical means of staying separate from others. Some just stay in bed when the backwash of other people’s issues get too much for them, or they use drugs to force a shift in their reality.

The most pointless thing you can ever say to an empath is, ‘you’re too open/trusting’. You might as well try herding cats or training dogs not to cock their legs when they pee. Words like ‘open’ and ‘trusting’ do apply to empaths, most certainly, but their nature runs deeper and is more complex than mere words can encapsulate; they simply are what they are, and the world would be an even more savage and hostile environment without their caring ways.

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