How It Feels to Read As An Empath

Sunday Chat: How It feels to Read As An Empath

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Good Morning from my little corner of the Bookternet, peeps! I hope your weekend went well!

It’s looking like my reading slump is finally gone. I’ve finished two books and am slowly but surely finishing The Love Songs of W. E. B DuBois by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers.

For those of you who’ve been reading my WWW Wednesday posts, you’ve probably heard me mention Jeffers’ books more than a handful of times since August. Coming in at a whopping 816 pages, Jeffers’ book is an emotional and soul shattering family saga. 

In The Love Songs of W. E. B DuBois, Jeffers tells the story of Ailey Pearl Garfield as she attempts to find her place in the world and combat the pain of surviving sexual abuse while she attempts to form her own identity as she honors the stories of her family’s past. It was an Oprah Book Club pick, which should instantly give you an idea of the emotional turmoil a reader could experience if they decide to pick up The Love Songs of W. E. B DuBois.

For the average reader, this type of emotional book wouldn’t be so bad. However, I am an empath, which means that while the character is going through it, so am I.

An empath is a person highly attuned to the feelings and emotions of those around them. Their ability to discern what others are feeling goes beyond empathy (defined simply as the ability to understand the feelings of others) and extends to actually taking those feelings on; feeling what another person is feeling at a deep emotional level. 

- "What Is an Empath and How Do You Know If You Are One?"
By Leah Campbell

What is an empath?

For those of you who aren’t familiar with what being an empath is, it basically means that a person is “highly attuned to the feelings and emotions of those around them.” If they aren’t careful, empaths can take on the feelings of others and become deeply emotional because of what they feel others experiencing.

Scientists are torn if this “mirroring” actually occurs. However, the brain holds what is known as “mirror neurons,” which could help humans mirror the emotions of people they come in contact with. And it’s suggested that some of us have more mirror neurons than others.

Imagine walking through the world experiencing secondhand embarrassment, the frustrations of others, and also their successes, and you’ll essentially get the gist of what being an empath is.

For me, my empathic abilities come alive in the form of a profound feeling of intuition and when I’m reading or watching any form of television. I detest watching the news and going into stores and crowds because of all of the emotions that I feel rolling off other people. But, on the other hand, there’s no feeling that comes close to the contact high that comes with holidays, like Valentine’s Day and Christmas, where people are full of positive energy and uninhibited joy.

               Are you an empath?  

What does this have to do with reading?

Twitter post from @LitSplaining

As a reader, though, finishing heavy books can be a struggle. The usual feelings that come with reading a book that researchers attribute to building up emotional intelligence are amped up 1000% for me. When I read, I find myself experiencing what the characters are going through, no matter how small or big it may be, as if it were my own pain and trauma. 

The “reflection” period that other readers go through as they read, where they connect to the text seeing characters’ emotions and actions at a distance, is intensified for me as an empath. I feel as if I’ve been written into the story and am on an emotional rollercoaster embarking on a chaotic journey with the characters.

Even though I know that experiencing these narrative and aesthetic feelings are a part of what an author sets out to do with their writing, being drawn in as an empath sometimes feels like being bombarded from all sides – real and imagined.

How I cope with being an empathic reader

This wouldn’t be so bad if I weren’t reading books, like The Love Songs of W. E. B DuBois, where Ailey’s family’s traumas are essential to the narrative and heavily drawn out. But, while I am a reader, I’m also going through my day-to-day life and experiencing empathic encounters IRL that require me to be present and in the moment. 

Because of this, pacing myself while I’m reading is essential.

If I try to read a book that has too many heavy topics at once, I’ll end up going into a reading slump. A slump is also inevitable if I try to draw out reading these books for too long.  

To combat this, I always try to be aware of how I feel as I read.

If you’ve been following me as I read The Love Songs of W. E. B DuBois on Twitter, you know Jeffers has taken me through it as I’ve been reading this book. I’ve shed tears, grown angry with the book’s main protagonist, and just had to close the book and walk away from it altogether. 

Acknowledging and honoring my emotions throughout the reading process keeps me connected to the story but firmly rooted in reality as an empath. Posting Twitter threads for heavy books is especially helpful on this front. 

I’d also recommend pairing a heavy book with one that’s light or funny to help ground you if you’re an empath.

My last reading slump was harsh since I tried to read Mona At Sea by Elizabeth Gonzalez James with Jeffers’ book. These two dramatic books threw me for a loop. And that caused me to hit an instant slump. I’m now pairing The Love Songs of W. E. B DuBois with a YA romance book to help ease the heavy emotions that come with Jeffers’ book.

Having these simple steps helps me mitigate adverse side effects that can come from reading and being an empath.

Reading will always be a hobby I’m passionate about, even when my empathic nature causes me to relate and interact with books differently.

            If you're an empath, how do you cope?

Thanks for stopping by for today’s Sunday chat!

If you’ve got any tips on how to cope with reading heavy tips or just want to share what you’re reading, leave a comment below.

As always, please don’t forget to like, comment, and subscribe! #AllOfTheThings

Happy Reading!❤️📚

Through The Voice of the “Other:” Book Review on Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

 “I think you travel to search and you come back home to find yourself there.”  – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I’ve been struggling to write a review for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s book, Americanah for the past week due to mixed feelings about it. Upon finishing it, I was equal parts content and frustrated with the book. While it met my expectations in a way, I was also let down by certain aspects of the novel. I end up giving this book 4 stars due to a lackluster ending and the general feeling that Adichie only meant her characters to be mouthpieces to voice her feelings on different cultural and political topics.
 

At its heart, Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a book about various immigrants who are trying to work their way through discovering what it means to be a part of the countries they’ve immigrated to while also holding on to their original cultures. Adichie’s story is told through the perspective of Ifemelu, a Nigerian blogger who has lived in America for thirteen years and Obinze, a wealthy Nigerian business man who still lives in Nigeria. From Ifemelu and Obinze’s perspective, the reader learns about different race issues that go on in America, the way the Nigerian government works, and hears the stories of different people who have settled abroad or come home to live in Nigeria after living abroad.

Comment below if you’ve read this book!

As the novel begins, Ifemelu is set to return home to Nigeria after her hiatus in America and decides to reconnect with her childhood sweetheart, Obinze. The two previously lost contact once Ifemelu went to America to finish college. By the time that Ifemelu reaches out to him, Obinze has moved on with his life and is married. Adichie makes it very obvious to the reader that the two characters have built separate lives from the ones that they once lived as carefree children who were oblivious to the ups and downs of Nigerian politics.

The pacing of this story was fairly good. The author was able to say a great deal about the Nigerian culture while also providing adequate details about each of the main characters’ lives. There were times in the book where the background history about Nigeria became long winded, but it never got to the point where I felt the need to put the book down. One thing that hindered the overall pacing of the story, though, was Adichie’s habit of adding different blog post from Ifemelu’s blog at different intervals in each chapter. While some of the post were interesting and thought provoking, others just seemed awkward in their placing or unnecessary altogether.

In terms of characters, Adichie creates solid ones to tell her story without making them seem overly preachy. Ifemelu’s character is pegged as someone who “tells it like it is” and isn’t afraid to call others out on their BS. Behind this character’s tough exterior, there is also an inquisitive nature that helps give her the initiative to voice her opinion about race relations in America and Nigeria and confront different issues that plague African immigrants and African-Americans. This bluntness in the character as she tries to gain an understanding of racial groups who are deemed as “the other” in America can also cause readers to label Ifemelu as a callused individual. Yet, Adichie makes it a point to eventually peel back this character’s layers and expose her reasoning behind each negative assessment of American and Nigerian culture.

On the other hand, Obinze is a character that is a dreamer at heart and is initially hell-bent on making his way to America to live out his fictional dream of “making it.” Mentally, he believes that life can only begin once he makes it to this glorified Mecca.  Obinze is an individual who also scrutinizes the immigrant’s life, but unlike Ifemelu, his character makes it a point to do so from the role of an unbiased onlooker opposed to a blunt critic. It would seem that his longing to become a part of the Western world keeps him from being overly harsh in his judgement of “the other’s” role in society in places like England and America.

With the building of Ifemelu and Obinze’s character, Adichie creates a storyline that holds the potential to be electric once it hits its climax, but it ends up falling flat for me due to its lack of originality. To me, this is extremely sad because for a good 3/4 of her book, Adichie makes powerful statements about race relations in America and politics in Nigeria. However, when it comes time to wrap up the loose ends of Ifemelu and Obinze’s love life, she creates a weak generic ending that feels dry and so unlike what her reader’s expect of her characters. In this way, I feel as if Adichie did more telling than actual showing in her book. I was truly interested in the cultural topics she spoke about, but by the end of the book, I got the feeling that she could’ve condensed the actual love story of Ifemelu and Obinze into a mere 150 to 200 pages and written another book about her feelings on race in America/ Immigration laws in America and England/ Nigerian politics.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is interested in Nigerian culture or who wants to learn what the American or English culture looks like from a non-white immigrant’s perspective. However, if you aren’t interested in hearing a lot of back history to either of these culture’s, I would recommend reading something else.

As of September 2019, there has been word that Danai Gurira of Walking Dead and Marvel’s Black Panther and Avengers: Endgame fame is adapting the film as a limited 10-episode series for HBO Max. Gurira’s television series would include heavy hitters, such as the Oscar winning actress, Lupita Nyong’o, from Twelve Years A Slave fame and the Emmhy award winner, Uzo Aduba, of Orange is the New Black acclaim. If you’re excited about this adaptation, drop down below and leave a comment!

Cheers!