One quality of being an HSP that I really appreciate most of the time, but that can also be quite stressful is that of immersion/empathy/vivid imagination. In Norwegian we have a word that embodies this better: innlevelse. It literally means your ability to put yourself (live in) a new/imagined/foreign situation. So yes, empathy, but somehow more so.
It pretty much affects every area of my life. If I read a news article about Donald Trump refusing to accept refugees/reneging on climate deals/building his wall etc., not only do I feel very strongly for the people (or animals in the case of climate change) directly affected by this, it just makes me incredibly sad. Something in me kind of breaks a little, because I don’t accept that people are this way, that they behave this way, and yet they do. I feel depressed and despondent.
If a friend tells me they have family trouble, I feel so bad for them it’s almost as if it’s happening to me. I want to fix it, but I can’t. I know, logically, that it’s probably helpful that I’m there for them and that I listen and give what support I can, but I feel acutely like it’s just not enough.
So why do I appreciate feeling like this? Well, it certainly is stressful and almost impossible at times. But I love the strong connections I have to my loved ones, my family, my dearest friends. I love having good conversations with people, being able to talk about things great and small, and making people feel heard and understood and feeling heard and understood in return. I love being able to tell people how much I care about them, genuinely, and not feel awkward or embarrassed. I love the genuine responses I get in return.
And I love that every movie or show I see, every book I read is another little life lived. I’m not a huge fan of George R.R. Martin, but I do love this quote:
Boyfriend seems to be constantly surprised or perplexed at my (seemingly unavoidable) ability to empathise with fictional characters, even after 10+ years together.
We’ll be watching a movie and something horrible happens (it’s particularly bad if it happens to someone innocent/defenceless like animals, children or people who are old and frail), he’ll turn to me and I’ll be bawling my eyes out, gasping for air. He keeps telling me it didn’t really happen, that the characters are fictional, as if that matters.
It is exhausting to live all these lives. You lose dear friends and see hardships perpetrated on them. But you also laugh with them, see them succeed, find love, happiness, friendship. You explore new worlds, get new insights and ideas. It is rewarding beyond measure. It is the reason I love to read. It’s the reason I go back to movies and books I loved over and over. It’s like visiting with old friends. I’m sure I wouldn’t want to live without this wealth.
I also love this quote from Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire:
Strange that I should be called a destitute woman when I have all these treasures locked in my heart.
Today at work I was reading Wild during lunch. And there’s a particularly heart-wrenching scene involving her mother’s horse (see before re. children and animals) – I won’t go into the details of the scene because spoilers, but… I felt my whole body go rigid. I gripped the cover/sides of my Kindle for dear life. I almost held my breath and tried really really hard not to start crying in the kitchen, but if anyone looked at my face they must have thought I just got news regarding a loved one’s death or something. I decided (sort of, I’m not sure I made a concious decision) to power through that section, to get it over with. But I was really shaken up when I got back to my desk and strongly considered going into the loo and having a good cry.
I was affected for hours after I read this, and when I came home and recounted it to Boyfriend I flat out started crying.
And yes, it’s frustrating and sometimes embarrassing to get so emotional about stuff, and to get so upset about fictional characters. But you know what?
I wouldn’t want it any other way.