• Caitlin Lagnese

Emotionally and Beautifully Made


Most of my life has been spent apologizing for being emotional. On occasion I still catch myself doing this. I have always equated being emotional with being weak. I’m not sure about you, but that’s the message that’s been embedded in my brain, reinforced by social media. Strong people push through. Strong people don’t cry. Strong people persevere with a big fake smile painted on their face. What I realized over time was that a lot of those people weren’t actually happy. Or strong. They were hurt. They were misunderstood. They were pretending, projecting an image. They were absolutely knee deep in misery. They were exhausted. I know this because I spent years desperately trying to be that strong and stoic woman. The more I have grown, matured and evolved, the more I have begun to see things in a different light.

I don’t know if they’re related, but I’ve always thought my emotional nature allows me a high degree of empathy. I am very empathetic. Like other highly empathetic people, I am extremely sensitive to what those around me are feeling. Super power? Not so much because while I have a lot of empathy, I tend to take on the pain of others. Taking on happy emotions is great, but the same can’t be said of the negative emotions. And that’s where my OCD makes it worse. It can create an obsessive thought spiral that kind of drowns me in those thoughts and feelings and is hard to climb out of.

I can’t even begin to tell you how many people have asked me if I’m psychic. When someone is projecting one thing but feeling the opposite and someone asks if they’re okay, they are shocked that their cover may be blown. But I am not a mind reader. Maybe I subconsciously notice small cues. Maybe it’s less scientific and more new age and I can feel the energy of their true feelings. Whatever it is, it’s a gift. It’s also a curse.

Let’s talk about the curse first. My natural need to please is made worse by this. I most likely know exactly what you think of me when you first meet me, even though I’ll keep that knowledge under wraps. (Sigh, ignorance really is bliss sometimes.) I am not always spot on, but if you don’t care for me or respect me, I guarantee you I already know. That used to be my kryptonite. Again, the OCD would rear its ugly head and I would obsess and spiral and transform into someone I could barely recognize. And for what? Someone’s approval? Someone’s approval who probably didn’t even have my best interest at heart. It took me a LONG time to really understand the mechanics behind people pleasing. When you know better, you do better. I have come to understand that other people’s opinions of me aren’t really any of my business and therefore I have no need to internalize them. I may feel and know how they view me, but I’ve learned to leave that knowledge alone. We are all entitled to our opinions. And it serves no good purpose for me to allow other’s opinions to affect me.

Another negative part of being extremely empathetic is that it can make me overly self-aware. Since I’m usually aware how others may be feeling, one of my biggest worries is hurting someone’s feelings or making someone feel left out. If you only knew how often I think about this. Perhaps it comes from a place of not wanting my feelings to be hurt or my fear of getting left out and I project that onto others. Or maybe it stems from wanting to please everyone and avoid confrontation at all costs. Being in tune with others’ emotions makes me feel responsible for them, as illogical as that sounds.

Also, sometimes I’m just sick of feelings. Being overly empathetic can definitely cause emotional burn-out and exhaustion. Sometimes when I’m in a great place, I want to stay in my own little happy bubble. All it takes is that one friend, that one family member, that one complete stranger to give off a negative vibe or tell me their struggle and BAM, the bubble has popped and the floodgates of emotions have opened. I am submerged in what they’re feeling. A normal level of empathy lets you relate to how they’re feeling and then set it down and move on with your day. My level of empathy (and again, probably exacerbated by my OCD) leaves me drowning in emotions that aren’t truly mine. And when the OCD kicks in, instead of not taking on those feelings, I put on a full suit of armor and start making plans to attack the problem. There is nothing wrong with being supportive or being a friend but that’s where a highly empathetic person has to be really mindful. Providing emotional support is completely different from taking on the problem and fixing it. It’s not ours to fix. I have to be mindful that I want to be a friend, a helper, an advocate without being an emotional sponge and carrying those emotions with me as my own.

On the other hand, being empathetic and in touch with my feelings can also be wonderful. Just as much as I feel sadness, I feel love and pure joy too. When I feel the warmth of sunshine on my skin, I really feel warmth and happiness in my soul. When I fall in love, I fall hard. When I’m in a particularly good place, I am so unbelievably happy and grateful. When I am having an amazing, joyful moment with my husband and kids, I really feel it with all of my heart and soul. And because of how empathetic I am, when someone else experiences a joyful victory, I feel victorious and elated. Feelings are what makes us who we are. We are human, we are intelligent creatures with amazingly difficult and complex minds. Yes, we are supposed to feel. I went through years of struggling with an inability to ignore my emotions and being told they make me weak. But no more.

I also struggled with my mental health diagnoses. I just could not admit that I was sick. “How embarrassing,” I kept thinking. But why? Why is that embarrassing? I’m not embarrassed about having asthma. While not always pleasant I’m not embarrassed over admitting I have psoriasis. But I’m going to feel shame over having a chemical imbalance or weird wiring in my brain? It’s not like I asked for this. Who would? But for me it’s a blessing in disguise, friends. My ability to allow myself to feel rather than to stifle my emotions and empathize with others stems partly from, or is at least strengthened by, having depression, OCD, and even PTSD. One gift stemming from empathy and the humility that mental illness has given me is the ability to love people who don’t necessarily love me. I don’t love them because I’m a good person. I don’t love because I have to. I don’t make this hard choice to love them. I love them because I see them and I feel them. Hurt people, hurt people. Insecure people hurt people. Scared people lash out. We just never know what happens behind closed doors. We don’t always know what secret burden others are carrying that is perhaps making them act the way they do. Aren’t we often quick to just assume someone is an ass? Off their rocker? Just plain mean? I don’t have to like you, understand you or even have you welcomed into my daily life, but I will treat you with respect and kindness. It doesn’t mean I’m strong because Lord knows I’ve had many moments of weakness. It simply means I have empathy and I may have been there before. I have been the person that was off her rocker. It means I see you. Maybe even more at the heart of it, I feel you.

And while I have to be careful to not let your emotions become my own and consume me, I still welcome sensing them. And I still welcome how easily my own emotions come. I was born this way. And what I’ve been through has made me this way. I will no longer apologize for being sensitive or emotional. No longer will I stifle my feelings to make someone else comfortable. Life can be just as hard and messy as it is wonderful and magical, so why should I beat myself up for feeling and acknowledging that? I am beautifully made.

And you, friend. Even if you have something about yourself you have to manage so that any negative effects stay in check or some quality that others may criticize or call weak, if it serves you and serves how you relate to and treat others, how you connect with and care for others, you are beautifully made.