Hard-hearted Hannah they called me.

And it seemed to be true.

And how we laughed at my Cancerian horoscopes about being deeply sensitive and romantic! Lol, like had they MET me!

I’d repeat hard-hearted things that I’d hear from people I admired like;

‘The Earth just can’t sustain all the human life in places where there are droughts and famine. It’s sad, but these people have to die.’

It seemed logical. We have to face facts, right?

I guess it made me feel clever (even though I didn’t research to check if these ‘facts’ were even true)

But mostly it made me feel ACCEPTED by the clever people whose approval was easy for me to obtain. You just had to figure out the logical rules and follow them.

And even though these sort of harsh ‘beliefs’ made me unpopular with some, I felt safe because I knew what to expect.

My early attempts to navigate playground politics had left me so shocked at the disapproval I received.

Confused by the illogical,  conflicting emotional rules that goverened whether I was accepted or rejected, villified or left alone. That I withdrew my efforts and put my energy into gaining approval through my logic and ‘cleverness’.

But it wasn’t really safety from the judgements of others I was seeking.

It was safety from my own EMOTIONS.

Because if I let myself engage even superficially with the plight of the starving millions in Africa? My emotions would pull me under.

Horrified at what those people were going through. Children just like me starving. Their parents helpless to save them.

And I’d get in a desperate panic of trying to escape those emotions and THAT is the feeling I was avoiding. Shutting down with cold, emotionless logic.

And it worked to a certain extent to distance me from known horrors.

But I’d regularly be ambushed by surprise attacks.

Hearing about a horrific crime on the news that I wasn’t expecting. I didn’t have time to ‘logic it away’ and I’d be sucked into the emotions, the horror and the desperate fleeing. Sometimes for weeks.

I remember going to the cinema in my early 20s with friends. I hadn’t really paid attention to what we were going to see.

It was Saving Private Ryan. The horror of those war scenes at the beginning was so overwhelming it didn’t occur to me to get up and leave.

That scene in Titanic where a man is putting his wife and child onto a lifeboat and the mum’s telling the child ‘Daddy will be on the next boat’. I was that mum. It felt like it was happening to me.

And although I told myself none of this stuff made sense. I was hard-hearted Hannah!

But expressing the phrase to my firends ‘It’s like it was happening to me’ was my first clue that I’m an empath. Even though I hadn’t heard the term at the time and would likely pooh-pooh it and logic it away.

But my experience of it was undeniable.

I stopped watching the news. Started taking care to avoid movies and TV programmes that would trigger me.

Later, when I worked in an office I asked my team not to read horiffic news stories in our work space because I couldn’t bear it.

And I wondered why I was afflicted with this ‘ability’ to feel other people’s pain.

I mean, it didn’t do any good, did it? My feeling their pain did nothing to reduce it for them. I even told myself it was self-indulgent and that I was just imagining how I’d feel in their circumstances.

And so I protected myself and shut it down.

Until a conversation with a mentor. I was lamenting the fact that my feeling of others’ pain had no purpose.

He told me about some prayer experiments where two groups of patients in a hospital were compared – one group were prayed for by starngers who never met them and the others weren’t.

The prayed for group made statistically significant better recovery than the group not prayed for.

By this time I’d developed my coaching skills through work and had noticed how my ability to understand what someone had gone through. To deeply acknowledge and connect with their pain enabled them to release it and move on.

That and the fact that the prayer experiments had some scientific merit, combined with my emerging acceptance of my spirituality encouraged me to explore this empathic ‘ability’ I have.

When I was ‘ambushed’ by surprise emotions, I stopped desperately trying to escape. I gave myself the time and space to let myself feel them.

And I found that by feeling them, they actually moved through me. I set the intention that I was bearing some of the burden of the stranger’s pain. Transmuting it in the collective.

And on the other side of the pain I’d find a deeper truth.

That those who had lost their lives were now at peace. I still struggled with the idea of people still in suffering – even if it was self-inflicted. I was shocked to find deep empathy with the perpetrators of heinous crimes.

And the truth I found in my heart is that there are not bad people. There are people who do bad things.

And for some reason I find I can relate and understand what each person was going through that drove them to their crime. It truly is a curious ‘gift’ and not always easy to bear.

And then I learned about Ho’oponopono. The prayer ‘I love you, please forgive me, I’m sorry’ and Dr Len’s work of reading the case files of psychiatric patients who had committed heinous crimes.

He never met with the patients. Rather recognised himself within them and said the Ho’oponopono prayer and created amazing shifts in these patients.

And finally I recognise my own experience as deeply healing for the collective.

And the power of my empathic connection with my clients in their darkest pain is so deeply healing.

And at last I’m willing to identify with the word ‘sensitive’ as who I am. Hard-hearted Hannah was a shadow projection of my wounded sensitivity. The hard shell of my Cancerian psyche that protects the sensitive, empathic, romantic soul beneath.

And I’m casting off my shell. Because the truth is, I don’t need protecting. I am empowered to engage with all of human experience.

Feeling pain that arises. Transmuting it and dropping into the deeper truth that on a soul level we are all safe. Even though it’s challenging for me to accept that truth in my human experience, I trust it.

It’s safe to feel the feelings. There’s even something enjoyable about feeling ‘bad’ emotions when you surrender to them.

I’d thought I was being indulgent, a drama-queen in allowing myself to feel the emotions and I think that’s BECAUSE I found some pleasure in it. And the pleasure is acknowledging, witnessing the pain and healing it.

Are you an empath? Have you found a way to use it as a gift that you don’t need protecting from?

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