Highly sensitive or an empath? Not sure, but I can’t watch that show

Are you an empath or a highly sensitive person?

When I first saw this question popping up all over the internet, I was thrilled. Finally, I’d be able to label myself and make sense of it all. Finally, I could figure out why some things bother me so much. Why can’t I watch popular shows like Breaking Bad or The Wire, or documentaries like India’s Daughter? Why do I avoid watching the evening news?

But with each blog post I read, I couldn’t it figure out. I’m pretty sure I’m not an empath because although I’m affected by how others feel, I don’t take on their emotions or pain. I’m pretty sure I can distinguish what’s theirs and what’s mine. I also don’t think I can make that distinction because I’m an evolved empath.

So does that mean I’m a highly sensitive person, or am I just a human who cares?

As I keep considering the lists of characteristics, I’ve come to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter. What matters is that I know what I can and can’t handle. And one thing I can’t handle, that I’ve never been able to handle, are specific types of media.

Of course the media reel has has changed over time. When Michael Jackson’s iconic Thriller video came out, I was five years old. I was so in love with Michael Jackson that there was no way I wasn’t going to watch it. But once I did, I couldn’t unwatch it. The dark haunted house, the zombie dancers, and Vincent Price’s cackle plagued me. Saying I lost years of sleep due to this video, isn’t an exaggeration. Couple this with the 80s horror movies we were obsessed with — does Nightmare on Elm Street revive any memories? — my nighttime experience was ripe for a gruesome invasion.

But as I got older, the disturbing images that painted themselves in my mind got more realistic

In my childhood home, the 5 o’clock news and the 10pm evening news were always on. As a teenager, I remember complaining how there only seemed to be was bad news. It bothered me to see the injustice and the suffering. I just couldn’t understand why people would subject themselves to this information on a daily basis, so I avoided it.

But then when I’d have a question about the current events and politics, my father would say, “Watch the news.” It didn’t persuade me. I hear a version of this from my husband too. He loves watching the evening news, and his mornings are spent scrolling through news sites. He says it’s how he stays in tune with society, and helps him stay connected with others during conversations.

I’ve admired my father’s pulse on Canadian politics, and I also admire my husband’s knowledge of Korean current affairs. However, I know myself. The more I pay attention to the news, the darker I get. I’ve learned that the information I need to know finds its way to me somehow. I don’t need to be hooked in daily.

Some might call me naive, and that I live in a bubble. But my avoidance doesn’t mean I’m ignorant. I know what’s going on in the world. The images that do find their way to me stay with me, and those images are a huge reason why I want to do my best to be a positive influence. I’ve learned that not watching certain things helps me stay calm and happy. When I’m calm and happy, I’m of much better service to myself and others.

This doesn’t mean I don’t watch disturbing or violent shows. I’m a big fan of David Lynch, and I love a good Quentin Tarantino movie. Don’t even get me started on Game of Thrones (is it July 16 yet?). But somehow these don’t affect me like the other shows I mentioned. Maybe it’s because they offer an element of fantasy that allows me to differentiate their stories from reality.

So according to those blog posts I mentioned before, because I enjoy watching Jon Snow on the battlefield, this means I’m neither an empath or a highly sensitive person. But it doesn’t matter anymore. I know I need to be careful with my media intake so that I have the energy to live the life I want. (click to tweet)  I don’t need a label to know this about myself.

How about you? Do you consciously avoid certain media in order to protect your energy?

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