I am an empath. The depth of emotions I feel on any given day can be beautiful yet overwhelming.

I am a sponge to the world around me. I can read the emotions in a room upon entry, and I can absorb the emotions of strangers in just a simple passing. It’s like a superpower in some ways—a heightened sense of intuition and emotion that allows me to understand the world around me.

Being an empath allows me to make friends out of strangers rather quickly. It allows me to really feel music and create great playlists (in my opinion) fit for any occasion. It creates a heightened awareness of my five senses. It has given me a deep appreciation for the arts in any form.

Poetry can take me to an ethereal world. Modern dance can move me to tears. Movies can transport me to the other side of the screen and allow me to feel as though I have entered the script.

I have learned that my tender soul is a gift, but it hasn’t always been this way. Much of my childhood and youth was spent running away from the “sensitive” label. Growing up, being called sensitive felt like a curse or having a negative label tattooed on my forehead for the world to see.

I have learned that my tender soul is a gift, but it hasn’t always been this way.

I feel things, deeply and profoundly. All things. There’s no picking and choosing here. While I feel joy, excitement and compassion to my core, I also feel sadness, grief, loss, frustration and anger intensely. As I have gotten older, I have learned that, subconsciously, I labeled the latter set of emotions as bad.

I have a natural tendency to run when I feel “bad” emotions. Frustration causes me to mentally check out. Anger causes me to see “red” and feel shaky. Sadness makes me want to run and hide from the world. Hurt or betrayal can leave me feeling sick.

As I have grown in self-awareness throughout the years and emerged as a healthier version of my younger, empathetic self, I have learned the danger in labeling any emotion as bad. When you think of something as bad, you will avoid it. You will run from it. You will stuff, numb and push it away as best you can for as long as you can.

There is danger in labeling any emotion as bad.

No emotion is good or bad. Emotions are simply indicators. Like signals on a dashboard alerting you of what’s happening under the hood of your car, emotions are signals of what’s happening inside your interior world. When you know what’s going on, you can do a check up and respond accordingly.

Happiness suggests that something good is happening. Excitement manifests a feeling of anticipation for something you desire. Grief indicates the loss or ending of something. Fear warns you that something is not right and your safety may be threatened. Stress suggests that something is off-balance, and you are burdened or overloaded. Anger implies that there has been some sort of perceived injustice or wrongdoing.

None of these emotions are good or bad. They just are. As an empath, I have had to learn not to compartmentalize emotions into boxes in my head. This way of thinking only cripples the human experience. If you think certain emotions are bad, then you will avoid feeling them. Inevitably, there will be guilt attached to these “bad” emotions and your experience with them.

None of these emotions are good or bad. They just are.

We must have freedom to feel, to experience life in full color, allowing emotions to be indicators of what’s happening in our interior worlds. Yet, we must not lead with emotions. We can allow them to teach us about ourselves, about others and the world around us.

Feelings are not facts. They are just indicators that maybe we need to do a check up under the hood.

Have you ever struggled with certain emotions? How have you learned to not allow your feelings to dictate your world?

Image via Graham Dunn, Darling Issue No. 20

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