In 999 Words: The surprise Empath

All of the clues were there, but until I discovered the term “Empath” in my mid-30s, they didn’t mean a whole lot.

As a young child, I never played with toy guns like the other boys. I cried at the sight of a fish getting caught, and I couldn’t stand to see dinner plates bearing identifiable pieces of creatures.

From the age of 6 or 7, I avoided sad songs (especially “What A Wonderful World”) because I knew they would stir the urge to cry. I watched hockey but couldn’t understand why the players felt the need to drop their gloves and launch their bare fists into each other’s faces – or why anyone would want to view such barbarity.

As a pre-teen, I prayed to God (and I wasn’t a prayer) for a particular Hollywood film to be a hit, as I felt bad for the aging, seemingly out-of-touch star. At school I felt sorry for lonely and unattractive teachers, even if that didn’t stop me from seriously misbehaving in their classes.

As a young adult, I cried when coworkers I didn’t get along with were let go. One man was dismissed largely because he did not treat me with respect, and even my deep-seated anger toward him could not mask an underlying sympathy. It felt so bad to hate him.

Further into adulthood, I attended counselling after it appeared as though a close friend had been sexually violated. My anger toward the apparent perpetrator never felt genuine, because it was difficult for me to genuinely harbor such intense feelings of hate. At one point I told a counsellor, “I hate hating people!” to which she assured me that it’s perfectly okay to hate someone who has done something bad. She had no problem doing what was tearing me up inside. I knew I could never be like her.

I often thought there was something wrong with me. Perhaps I was depressed, weak, numb or just didn’t have what it takes to be in this life. I took things so seriously, felt emotions so intensely and for long periods of time.

But another part of me thought I was normal; that the things I felt were what everybody felt, and if they said otherwise they were just acting macho and denying their emotions. It never occurred to me that someone could actually be malevolent or use someone else with no remorse. Wasn’t I in for a shock.

The experience that finally set me on the path to discovery about my spiritual nature (and it’s still a little weird for me to write that) was a painful one. Without getting into the gory details, a woman I thought was a loving friend used my compassion and strong emotions against me to hurt, inadvertently on my part, an innocent person.

What should have been my strength, my compassion, was twisted into a disgusting weapon. No one around me could understand why my involuntary act of hurting an innocent person wrought such emotional havoc. They’d remind me that I was a good person who had been duped, but inside I was overwhelmed by what had happened. I was completely shut down.

I began a search for wellness that gradually led down a spiritual path – and to a spiritual healer. Soon enough, the term “Empath” entered my world.

At first I was unsure whether I was an Empath. I felt unworthy of such a beautiful description. I also wondered whether I was a spiritual hypochondriac, self-diagnosing and slapping a label on something I knew nothing about.

For months I went back and forth between “yes” and “no” on the Empath question. The evidence never seemed clear-cut, no matter how many online questionnaires I filled out or how many “ah ha” moments I had while reading books on the subject (there were also plenty of “nuh uh” moments).

I definitely wanted to be an Empath. To me, a guy long fascinated by the powers of the mind, to be an Empath was to have a super power, which I guess is another clue that the term did indeed apply to me. I mean, would a non-Empath really read a list that includes items such as “can feel other people’s emotions” and think, “You know what, I wish I could do that!”?

But I also had a past. I had misbehaved so badly as a teenager that I more than once brought my mom to tears. I stole and vandalized. I picked on kids who were socially beneath me. I drove recklessly. How the hell could an Empath do such awful things?

Of course Empaths aren’t perfect. And they don’t necessarily come into this world knowing their true identity right away. Learning this helped me appreciate how much more complex this subject is than the Empath checklists you find on spiritual websites.

When I really delved into the matter, there were simply too many additional “ah ha” moments to dismiss. Even the tingling I experienced in my head in 2013 took on a new meaning, as this can be a symptom of a spiritual awakening rather than the confusing bacon metaphor a doctor provided me at the time.

Recently, I had an experience where it seemed like I may have picked up another person’s annoyance as my own. A few days before that, the love I am cultivating inside spontaneously comforted me during what would have otherwise been a moment of self-hatred. So things out of the ordinary have been happening as I move into acceptance of my gifts.

Yet even as I write this, I only accept the statement “I am an Empath” at about 80 per cent. It still feels a little too good to be true that I am part of an army of Lightworkers, that my sensitivities will serve some healing purpose. I often ask myself, “Are you believing this because you want to believe it or because it’s actually true?” I’m increasingly leaning toward the latter, and it feels good.

In 999 Words: (Rightfully) Angry Birds

It was sometime in November when I got the call. My Mom’s friend, Kerri, contacted me at work to propose we join forces to buy my Mom a couple of birds for Christmas. Apparently Mom loved Kerri’s birds, so why not?

Kerri said she would supply the birds if I purchased their cage. I was in my early 20s then, and I knew this was a bad idea. I knew that taking tiny creatures meant to fly and trapping them inside a prison for human amusement was wrong; in fact, it made me feel anxious and sick inside. And I seemed to know it would be especially wrong to place those imprisoned, tiny creatures in the care of my Mom.

See, my Mom does not know how to bestow unconditional love. I’m not saying she can’t love or doesn’t love, or is a bad person, but hers doesn’t make you go, “Alright, this love is solid, no matter what!” It’s the sort of love that feels, from a sensitive child’s perspective at least, dependent on not pissing her off, either through bad judgement or for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

My Mom knows judgement, anger, yelling, screaming and withdrawing love. She knows hitting. That’s how she was to me growing up, and that’s how she was with our long-gone family dog, Precious. My Mom knows “I don’t like this” and then reacts accordingly. She does not know “I don’t like this but I will let things be.” Please, God, don’t let these birds be chirpy. Don’t let this turn out how I think it’s going to turn out.

I went along with Kerri’s plan to get the birds, because who was I to say this was a bad idea? Maybe it was a good idea that just felt wrong to me. In any event, with my purchase of a small, metal-barred cage from Walmart, I was now an accomplice. Kerri brought two fragile, innocent white birds to their new home on Christmas Day.

The birds took up residence in a corner of the basement. At first, Mom was able to overlook and forgive their incessant chirping. I think we all presumed that once the birds were “house trained,” they would behave in accordance with how their human captors demanded. Surely they wouldn’t be this annoying forever.

But as the weeks and months went on, it became apparent that the birds were not going to shut up just because Mom (or me, I admit) wanted them to. They had already been denied the right to fly around, save for the tiny wing flap required to jump from the feces-lined floor of their cage up to their hanging wooden swing. Now, apparently, they were expected to sit in complete silence their entire lives, too.

“Quiet!” Mom would yell after the first or second chirp while she attempted to watch TV. When the birds would inevitably not be quiet, she would hit their cage, frightening them. When the fear wore off and they would chirp some more, they would be sworn at or threatened. Yep, that’s right, threatened. This was their life now. They never learned to be quiet. Mom never learned not to be an evil bitch towards them when she didn’t get her way.

We would regularly spot tiny eggs in the bottom of the birds’ cage, beside their dried drops of white feces. Bird owners know that part of the deal is stealing their eggs so you don’t end up with more birds. But when my Mom would do this, it felt particularly vile. It was like the final brutalization of those innocent little creatures Every goddamn thing they were meant to do; fly, sing and procreate, was taken from them. All for human convenience, without a smidgeon of love sent to them in return. We humans didn’t even draw entertainment value out of the experience, because how much fun is it to watch sad little birds not fly and not sing?

I was still living at home at that time. The sorry existence of those birds hurt me more than I was ever willing to let myself feel. I’m sure part of me felt even worse knowing I had contributed to creating their pathetic lives of captivity and intimidation. I should have just told Kerri it was a bad idea and bought Mom some slippers instead.

I too was guilty of mistreating the birds. When I would watch TV and they would chirp, I would reach into my pocket and fling a coin at their cage just to shut them up. Because, you know, my enjoying some mundane show was more important than a bird’s entitlement to simply be a bird. Coins never worked, however, so I would then opt for the more humane tact of placing the cage in the distant rec room. In the rec room, no one can hear you chirp.

One day, one of the birds was found dead at the bottom of the cage, beside its feces. It wasn’t all that surprising. What exactly does a bird that can’t fly, can’t sing and can’t make babies, and which is constantly harassed and even threatened while trying to make the best of its confined space, have to live for? They say if you’re not growing, you’re dying, and those birds must have been slowly dying inside since their arrival at our home. When the second bird later died, the cage was summarily cleaned and stashed away, never to be seen again. No one missed the birds, and the birds sure as hell didn’t miss us.

A decade or so later, as an awakening empath, I have been thinking about those birds. I have thought about just how painful it was for me to watch and hear their plight, how painful it was to see my Mom be so mean to creatures so innocent.

I love my Mom, but I just don’t understand meanness, or why anyone has pet birds.

Real Men Feel: Episode 2, Growing Up Empathic

Real Men Feel Podcast

Growing Up Empathic, Episode 2, March 8, 2016
Real Men Feel becomes a weekly show! RMF hosts, Andy Grant and Appio Hunter, discuss growing up as an empath. What it is like being more emotional and sensitive than boys are “supposed” to be.

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