They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel. – Carl W. Buehner
If I were to ask you to name a key ingredient that all Highly Sensitive people share, how would you answer me?
For me, that ingredient will always be our empathy: that uncanny ability we have to feel a person’s experience and automatically react to it.
These reactions are not necessarily a bad thing. It simply depends on which side of the fence you approach them from.
I’ve always viewed my empathy as an additional sense no different from my hearing or eyesight as these too, occur simultaneously.
What makes our empathy unique is the residual effect left in its wake. Empathy is what people remember us for because our interaction has left them feeling differently afterward.
And sometimes, this interaction is just powerful enough so that the memory of it is never forgotten no matter how much time has elapsed.
Many years ago as an adolescent, I experienced the gift of empathy while attending grade school. A shy introvert dealing with the emotional toll of my mother’s alcoholism, I lacked the social graces needed to be popular with my classmate.
Due to my shyness and hating to be called on, I always sat in the back of the classroom. Unknown to my teachers, my poor vision often prevented me from seeing what was written on the blackboard but I wasn’t about to look like a geek by wearing glasses.
Needless to say, my grades and homework were never the best. Since I hated being told what to do, I had a bit of an attitude with my classmates who certainly never wanted me in any of the group projects we often were assigned.
One of the worst classes for me was our mandatory music class. Taught by a young, rather rigid woman my openly rebellious attitude often landed me sitting out in the hall or in the Principal’s office.
However, she wasn’t about to let me sit in the back of the class and twiddle my thumbs. So it was no surprise when she called me to her desk and handed me a thick stack of music sheets to hand out to my classmates. She no sooner handed me the music sheets when I dropped them all over the floor scattering paper in all directions.
I was mortified. Being that I hated to be the focus of attention this was as bad as it got.
Looking down at the floor, I could hear my classmates snickers and giggles.
As I bent down to start picking up the paper, I heard the scrape of a chair. Looking up, I saw that one of the most popular girls in our school had left her desk and was coming over to help me.
Without saying a word, she gathered up the papers and handed them to me with a warm smile. The class had gone silent as I stood there dumbfounded but managed to stammer an awkward thank you.
It wasn’t pity I saw in her eyes when she handed me the papers, but an acknowledgment of her empathy.
She had felt my emotional turmoil and reacted to it in a manner which reflected her values regardless of the different social circles we inhabited.
We remained classmates throughout high school and the few times I interacted with her she was always genuinely friendly to me. We were on completely opposite sides of the social spectrum, yet I had the feeling that through her empathy, she always saw me for who I was within rather than judging me strictly on my appearance.
The power behind that memory has stayed with me for over forty years. Often when thinking about those turbulent years in my life, the kindness generated by her empathy served as a reminder that there will always be people who empower us regardless of our environment.
This past week, a former high school classmate appeared on my Facebook “People you may know” feed. Through that connection, I saw her Facebook profile. Although I have no intention of contacting her, from the looks of it she continues to make a difference in people’s lives.
For the Highly Sensitive, empathy permeates our actions. Serving as a vehicle for our core values—guiding us in directions leading us back to our true selves.
And, it is during this journey that the power of our memories is created; a power, which when contemplated, contains the undeniable truths of our lives.
Have you had a similar experience of receiving empathy? Which memories continue to travel with you?