I’m a self-professed introvert. I wear it like a badge of honor, my one proud display of distinction and uniqueness. I’ve discovered that it’s easier to explain to people ahead of time that I’m not a phone person and not one for small talk although hearing about your day or discussing the weather or the latest football game is worthy discourse, just not those deep philosophical, creative conversations I yearn for. That I thrive on, that gives me a burst of energy that one could associate with the Kundalini Rising.
In most ways I strive to avoid notice or undue attention. Most of this is because I’m on a wavelength different from most: I’m highly attuned to the energies around me, particularly emotional energy. I prefer to be an observer, available when least expected but most needed. The wider world would call me an Empath and they are probably right. It feels awkward vocally saying the word, as in “I am an Empath” because in doing so I’m applying a label and labels don’t stick for long because they don’t hold true in narrowing down who I am as a person. I’m too all-encompassing; labels feel limiting. That doesn’t make it any less true in a broad sense.
Lately I’ve joined a few groups on Facebook populated by people all over the world who share the same Myers-Briggs personality type indicator with me. For those of you in the know, I’m an INFJ, or Introverted (I), Intuitive (N), Feeler (F), and Judicious (J). This is only one of sixteen different combinations or personality types that make up the world’s population, and actually one of the rarest, making up less than 1% of the population. I like to call us the “Pegasus among Unicorns” folks. I know of only one other INFJ in my local area – someone I’ve known for a long time but only recently discovered is also an INFJ, but we’re not close, relationship wise, and that’s okay. So joining these groups has been a tremendous connective effort, and lo and behold, I’ve finally found a community to which I feel wholly comfortable belonging. These other INFJs have provided an unexpected font of information just through being willing to share their innermost, and sometimes most intimate and vulnerable moments, with other people just because we’re all the same type.
Not all INFJs are Empaths (INFJ blogger Jennifer Solder explains is so well) but it seems the majority of us are, to a range of abilities and sensitivities. Engaging with these strangers has helped me learned a lot about who I am and what these strange things I’ve always been able to do really are, and the knowledge is grounding. For a long time I’ve been an emotional sponge without knowing it, or why, but recently things have changed in that regard. With awareness comes control. I can better distinguish my emotions from others and shake them off faster. Always one to keep pushing the boundaries, I have begun to wonder if I can’t actually project emotional energy on command, and with enough concentration.
This may all sound far-fetched, and possibly even a bit hare-brained, but it’s reality for me. Remember when I said I’m on a wavelength different from most? This is my wavelength. Emotions are something that we, as Americans, work so hard to ignore. I speak from experience – past and current. Emotions are tough cookies to face, admit, and work through. They tell us things about ourselves that often aren’t true, because perception colors emotions, and perception is faulty at the best of times. If those things are painful to hear we avoid them all the harder, hoping they’ll just go away. But that energy never goes away. It lingers and grows into unhealthy behaviors and thought processes, all fed by the nefarious Ego – that insidious voice inside our heads that whispers, and sometimes shouts, that we aren’t good enough. People overeat, become risk takers, adrenaline junkies, self-medicate through drugs, legal or street, just to drown out that voice.
But no matter how hard they try to silence that voice in their heads, their emotional distress radiates from them in ways they aren’t even aware of. I feel that energy in a part of my brain that is impossible to name or describe. I can feel it in my body; waves of tingling like subtle streams of electricity running through my muscles. The stronger the energy the more uncomfortable it is for me to even stay in the same environs with some people. Because I can feel these energies and don’t want to – happiness is a far more pleasant energy to be filled with and surrounded by – I’ve become a natural diplomat and peace-maker. I’m the emotional harmonizer, always working to dispel the negative energies around me.
This generally happens through emotional engagement. I had an amazing therapist who taught me so much invaluable information and helped me clear the dirty cobwebs from a skewed perception and see the world a hell of a lot more clearly than I was before. I love to learn as a general rule, and for dual reasons. First, I never know what’s going to spark a story idea. Second, I never know what information or experience stored in my expansive memory will come to use at some later point, especially in helping someone else. I like to get people thinking and talking, or talking and then thinking, and not just about what was said in the moment but the meaning behind the emotion, helping them pick out patterns and potential roots.
Most people have only the barest of inklings that they actually feel a certain way. In “What’s the Point”, a book about the Enneagram, or divining your emotional type based on a circle of nine intersecting points, each marking a particular fear, the Tomasinos explains that there is only one Feeling in the world, and that’s Love. Every other emotion is actually fear in disguise. There’s a spiritual angle to the book which likens Love to a divine source, and fear as the ego or something less divine. Christian Scientists believe similarly, that only Love/God/Mind/Spirit is real, and that Ego, or Error/Satan/Corporeal Existence is not. But spiritual cants aside, emotions other than Love/Happiness often disguise themselves as something else; fear loves to dress up like anger, or panic, or anxiety.
It’s this last disguise that brought me to pondering this subject and then sitting down to write this blog post. As my paid job (because I haven’t made a penny on writing yet, but that’s a different subject for another time), I work in a retail grocery store. Since I’m out on the floor stocking shelves or helping customers I’d constantly buffeted by emotional energies that aren’t my own. In the last few weeks I’ve been able to better identify and avoid but tonight I noticed something different. A customer was ringing out on the register I was helping bag for and her hands were shaking. She was pale and was visibly distressed. Before I or the cashier could say anything the customer apologized and stated she was having an anxiety attack. I had no forewarning of her distress (most people radiate energy in a limited bubble that extends beyond them, or at least that’s how I perceive it – the stronger the emotion that larger the bubble) and so had no invading emotions eclipsing mine.
The customer made it through the transaction in relative silence, her mouth working hard as her throat bobbed, gulping in what I’m sure she thought was soothing but from an outward appearance wasn’t accomplishing anything. Yet even as she did all of this and fought so valiantly to calm down, I felt nothing outside of my internal calm. So I led me to wonder about a few things, like is anxiety actually an emotion or a physiological reaction – just the endocrine system pumping out endorphins? Meredith Grey, narrates an episode of Grey’s Anatomy, telling us that the endocrine system floods the system with the same endorphins regardless of the stimuli. Excitement or fear, our bodies don’t know the difference. They just respond to what the brain pumps out.
So did I not feel what she was feeling because it was just a physical response, maybe even just from being out in public? Or was I unable to detect her emotions because she already knew about them and claimed them outright? Does the claiming of one’s emotions, good or ill, somehow harness them? Or was I too focused on trying to send some calming, healing energy her way and thereby blocking my uncanny receptors?
I don’t have the answers to any of those questions, but half the fun is in the pondering, and maybe, some future experimenting. What does everyone else think? Have you experienced anything like what I’ve blogged about tonight? Let’s discuss!