It’s taken me my whole life to realize I have a superpower—and that it’s empathy. For me, it manifests first and foremost in the form of the ugly cry. Hot, flowy tears, drippy snot, melted face, heart stretched to ouchy capacity. The whole deal.
I’m a crier. It’s possible I cry more than I don’t. And I used to view my propensity to bawl as a weakness. In public, when the feels have come on, I’ve bitten down hard on the inside of my cheek or dug my fingernails into my thigh in an attempt to halt emotional overwhelm when I feel it bubbling up as a result of what I’ve witnessed or heard. Lest you think me unhinged, unstable, unable to hold myself together. Like I’ve thought of myself.
Until this past week, when both my teenage daughter and my teenage son cried, hard. I really can’t say which kid tears are more of a rarity for; they’re both so stoic on the regular. But wrestle with life and break down from the exertion they each did on separate occasions. And while overcome by heart-piercing pain and exhausting efforts to stifle their sobs, they both said this same thing with granite-heavy grief in their eyes, “I’m sorry.”
Each of my kids was apologetic for crying, for showing emotion. They were both sorry for not feeling and appearing strong enough to keep their emotions at bay. And I’m just not having that. In each instance, I veered the conversation off the road and pulled the brake on helping them work through the cause of their distress for a moment so I could come alongside their cold and broken hallelujahs instead.
I conveyed to my children, “Crying and showing emotion over what affects you deeply; over the hard in this world that breaks your heart; over the injustices that make you want to strive to change them; or even over joy so large you can hardly contain it—and then speaking your hurt, confusion, elation or disappointment in it all, even while your voice shakes, are ultra brave and strong acts. Allowing your true self to be exposed and vulnerable is the most courageous thing you can do for yourself—especially in the hard moments. I’m so proud of you for showing your humanity, for pushing past the fear to display the authentic state of your soul.”
In affirming this truth I recognized in my kids, it clicked for me as well. My empathy is not a weakness nor is it a burden for me to bear. Empathy is how I connect with others. Empathy is evidence that proves to those who desperately need to know it they are not going it alone in this world. And we all need less loneliness the same way we need air and water while we’re here roaming this Earth.
To feel less alone, we need to feel more seen. The empathy I wield is how I show people I see them and, all of a sudden, I view it as an incredible asset. A gift for the greater good as well as for my own. Because when I truly see others, just as they are, exactly as they struggle, I see myself, too, and our sameness floods me with grace, mercy, joy, hope, and acceptance. And when I freely offer these things to other people, I automatically access those soul-saving implements for myself as well.
When your Marine Corps husband returns home from his tenth deployment and your kids flip the bleep out in surprise, I’ll cry with sweet relief for your family. When you lose a loved one or find yourself in the fight of your life with a deplorable disease, I’ll cry over the too-heavy grief of it all with you. When you’re overcome with remorse and regret because you messed up royally and hurt someone you love, I’ll cry in sadness for you both. When you show big love by moving a mountain for someone being crushed by it, I’ll cry with joy over you and your kindness. When you’re struggling to stay afloat in the deep end of overwhelm, I’ll cry in distress over your plight. When over-the-top happiness comes your way and you fall to your knees in gratitude, I’ll cry in solace with you over that too. It’s just what I do.
I fret over your feels and I tear up over both your trials and triumphs because I pay attention; I notice. I see you. I hear you. I feel you. And in today’s distracted and strung out on hurt world, I think that’s super powerful. For when I ugly cry over you or yours, it encourages me to take the next step and follow up with actionable love for you.
What bogs you down about yourself that you can choose to flip upside down and reframe into a positive? Into a power? You are who you are for a reason, on purpose. State your purpose, friend. Because where your purpose and your personality intersect is where your superpower awaits you. And it’s high time you realize that. For the greater good as well as for your own.