I lived almost 40 years of my life thinking I was an alien. I always felt like I didn't belong. I strived to be normal, especially in my teens and early twenties, then after a while, I realized the futility of that, went the opposite way and embraced my uniqueness.
But I didn't really.
Deep down, underneath all that boasting about being different and bashing normalcy, I desperately yearned to be just like everyone else, to be normal and accepted.
And most of all, to not feel so damn much.
When others could get angry, yell and be over it in 20 minutes, I feared what that anger would do to me if I actually let it in. Or worse, out.
When others walked around carefree, not noticing other people, I saw the hunched old lady on the wooden bench across the street and her loneliness consumed me.
When others could jump out of bed ready to face the day, I spent two hours putting on my mental armor to protect myself from the upcoming barrage of emotions the world would inevitably throw at me.
When others were happily thriving, I spent years in a suffocating layer of deep, dark emotions, merely fighting to survive just one more day, let alone thrive.
When others could go to parties, mingle and have fun, I searched for a bathroom to hide in for 5 minutes so I could get away from the overstimulation of energy before I exploded.
When others were talking about being their authentic selves, I yearned to know who that was and whether she really existed.
When others were deepening their intimacy with their partners, I was running away from him terrified to lose myself yet longing desperately for connection.
And then one day I discovered the term "empath" and I took to it like a starving baby to a lactating nipple. I devoured it, researching the sweet holy milk out of it. As if I had finally come home after a lifetime away, I realized:
I'm not an alien. I'm an empath.
If you relate to any of the above examples, chances are you're an empath too.
If you're a highly sensitive person and you can sense or absorb the energy and emotions of other people, animals or nature, you're an empath.
There is a home for you on this earth after all. In fact, earth is your home, and you are not alone.
Dr. Elaine Aron from the Foundation for the Study of Highly Sensitive Persons (HSP's) estimates that 15-20 percent of earth's population is Highly Sensitive. There's no official documented consensus on how many HSP's are empaths, but empaths don't need external evidence to prove something for us, we feel it.
You feel it now too, don't you? You don't feel as alone as you did before you started reading this article.
The first and most important step to rediscovering your authentic self and embracing who you are is to start nurturing your nature.
In the same way that you would nurture a plant back to life, you can start nurturing yourself. Here are some tips:
1. Pick off the dead leaves of old, negative beliefs about yourself and your highly sensitive nature.
Every time you have a negative thought about your sensitivity, allow it to drop away. Don't resist, judge or argue with it. Just let it come and go. You don't get angry at the dead leaves on the plant nor do you criticize, judge or condemn them. You just pick them off and throw them in the trash without a second thought. Give yourself the same courtesy you give the plant and do the same for your negative beliefs. When you feel them rising, simply drop them in the mental trash and carry on with what you were doing. You may have to do this a hundred times a day every day, but each time you do, their power will be less and less and after a while, you won't have any dead leaves left to pick.
2. Give yourself plenty of water and nutrient rich food for your body.
Your body is your temple. You may not know this yet, but eventually, you'll be using it in a powerful way to consciously serve your loved ones and those lucky enough to be in your energetic vicinity. Your sensitivity is not only a gift for you, it's a gift for the world. And when you realize the incredible impact you can make with your gift, utilizing your body as a vessel through which emotional energy is physically translated, you'll be glad you started to take care of it today.
3. Give yourself nutrient rich food for your soul.
Read inspirational books and quotes, listen to music that moves you, buy or create beautiful art pieces for your home. Meditate, journal, visualize. Light candles and take warm baths infused with natural oils. Spend time alone, in nature or with animals. Get out in the sun, feel the breeze on your face, watch the moon rise. Take a nap, lie in a hammock, stare at the sky. What soothes our soul is different for each of us so do what makes you feel good inside. No one can decide that for you except you. Explore different ways to feel a sense of sacredness.
4. Check in with yourself every day to make sure you have enough of what you need to come back to life.
Nurturing yourself is a daily habit, not something you do once a month or when you go on vacation twice a year. If you're extremely busy, you don't need to usurp your entire schedule to fit in nurturing time. Though it's not a bad idea, sometimes it's not practical. It doesn't matter what you do, it matters how you do it. You can incorporate a sense of the sacred, self-love and mindfulness in anything you do. You may not have time every day to meditate but you have 24 hours each day to be mindful of yourself no matter what you may be doing. It's not about the activity, it's about your state of being while you're doing the activity that matters. Remind yourself to check in throughout the day.
5. Give yourself time to heal.
You don't expect the plant to recover overnight, why would you expect anything different from yourself? It took me decades to build the wall of shame and self-hatred around me, I can't expect it to magically disappear just because I decided to love myself one day. It's a process of chipping away at the old, peeling layer after layer, letting go and being diligent and consistent with the new. Having the patience to love yourself even when you're impatient about your own growth is key to deeper self-love. Use your natural compassionate tendencies and give yourself the care, concern and empathy you have selflessly been giving others your whole life. It's your turn.
Tree Franklyn is an author and creator of the popular, whimsical TreeDoodle art. She helps soul-centered empathic women manage their deep emotions so they can reconnect with their authentic selves and align with their deepest values and core purpose. To download her free pocket Survival Guide for Empaths and Highly Sensitive Persons (HSP's), visit her website or connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.