The Drain of Discernment

Some people call us empaths, intuitives. Biblically, we are said to have the gift of discernment. Still others chalk it up to wisdom. Whatever you call it, there exists in some people the innate, intangible ability to discern, to sense and perceive truth, motivations, emotions, and even sometimes the paths of other people. Not psychic abilities, not a parlor trick, but a genuine, God-given ability to recognize and empathize.

Before I knew what it was, I had this gift of discernment. As a child I knew immediately who I did and did not like, who I trusted, who was putting on a show. I felt others’ sadness deeply and mourned with them long after parting ways. I sensed their anxiety and insecurities. I bristled at their manipulations. I felt an intense connection with animals and more often than not spent birthday parties talking with my friends’ parents. I didn’t always like every one of my parents’ friends, and people who wore masks did not appreciate that I could see through them. In all, it made for a very, very cynical kid.

As an adult who now recognizes and trusts in this gift, I’m exhausted.

I’m almost the very definition of an extrovert. I absolutely love being around people, draw my energy from crowds. Yet I crave alone time. I thought it was because I’m a stay at home mom and it’s really freaking hard. I thought I was one of those ambiverts or an outgoing introvert. I could not figure out how I’m both energized and drained by human interaction to the point of irritability, fatigue, even sadness. Then I realized it – I’m tired because it literally does drain me. To be constantly searching others for their emotions, their motivations, to be hyper aware of subtleties and sideways glances. I’m never just around people, I feel people.

Sensing others’ emotions and manipulations can really make someone skeptical, disillusioned, even pessimistic. That’s a hard load to carry, and often it’s carried alone. I’ve been accused of being judgemental, harsh, bitter. I’m not perfect, and I definitely wander down those paths sometimes, but when you voice your doubts about someone you tend to look like a jerk. When you don’t fall for shows it’s impossible to wear rose-colored glasses. I’ve felt so strongly before that certain people were not who they presented themselves to be that I’ve doubted myself. I’ve examined my motives, reasons. Was I jealous in any way? Had they slighted me? Do they wear Crocs regularly? I couldn’t put my finger on my uneasiness, especially in comparison to seemingly everyone else’s adoration. Once I even approached a person and apologized to them for the feelings I had that prevented me from developing a relationship with them. And you know what? Every single time my gut was right. Even the person I tried so hard to like, the one I embarrassed myself by approaching and apologizing to.  Every time, every one, they showed themselves to be toxic, harmful people. These alarms going off inside, the gut feeling, the voice of God, they were all discernment, and though I often stood alone in my feelings, I stood in truth. Questioning someone’s motives when you’re uneasy around them doesn’t make you any more judgemental than locking your front door does. But it does make you look like a pretty harsh person to others who don’t have the same sirens blaring inside.

So it gets lonely. It gets sad and hard to be the one who naturally mistrusts some people.

It’s also really sad and hard to empathize.

I love people. Genuinely love people. I want the best for them. I love to help, love to encourage, love to hug. Don’t get me wrong, I like my space and alone time and get really flippin’ frustrated in parking lots (where the worst of mankind always manifests), but I love people. I like talking with them, laughing with them. I cannot go anywhere in public without being drawn into conversation with a stranger. I earned my degree in counseling because I feel so called to help and get the most incredible rush from being able to do so. I can’t always offer my time, I can rarely offer money, but I can offer my empathy… and that mess is draining.

What a privilege to share in life’s greatest emotions with others, but what a struggle to also feel them. I would never wish empathy away, but I do wish for a nap after a particularly heavy conversation. I do wish I could watch movies about injustice or grief and not feel such overwhelming guilt. The feelings are deep. They don’t compare to what someone is going through, obviously, and I would never tell someone I knew exactly how they felt, but what I do feel is intense. Trust that if you have shared your struggles with me, I am feeling a tug for you all day. When I tell you I’ve been thinking about you or praying for you, it’s genuine. Taking on others’ pain, sadness, even joy means taking on more emotions than you yourself would normally feel in a day. You feel enough for one person and then some. I cry way more than I’d like to admit, and sometimes just from how overwhelming all the emotions are. It pulls from you, in ways that cannot be measured. Attempting to explain this fatigue can get you a lot of eye rolls and heavy sighs. It’s tough to explain just how much it pulls from you to care so deeply, but oh, what a wonderful gift it still is. While our hearts run the risk of hardening towards others because of mistrust, they remain tender with this concern we experience.

Ah, our hearts. Such tricky things. We straddle the line between doubt and empathy, using our energy to constantly evaluate those around us – though such feelings aren’t really quantifiable. We’re not ranking, we’re not judging, we’re feeling. And those feelings guide us to a position of silent power that can all too easily be used to manipulate. Our own hearts have to be examined regularly. We feel things others don’t, we know things others don’t, so we sit with this information and are faced with the question of what to do about it. Do we warn others? Do we approach them? Do we just avoid this shifty-feeling person? Or do we use these feelings, this “knowledge” to our advantage? Too many use the ability to read others for their own gain. They sense the relationships of the people around them and play them off one another. They pick up on the egos and the insecurities and hold onto them like poker cards. They lie with incredible ease and skill, knowing just what to say and how to say it. Because of the connection to others’ emotions, they can truly mean the untruths they tell, convince the trusting others. We must keep watch over our own hearts, that whole “with great power comes great responsibility” thing.

I haven’t researched it and I haven’t asked others who I know observe with discernment and empathy, but I have a theory about us: we’re beacons.

Those people I speak with when out running errands, they approach me. Every time. I’ve tried listening to my iPod, I’ve tried taking kids with me, I’ve tried Resting Jerk Face, and still I am approached by any and all kinds of people, chomping at the bit to share their stories and struggles with me. I’ve asked for years, how do they know? What about me draws them to me? Why, after a shift of seeing hundreds of people come through their line, did this cashier choose me to share her broken heart with?

It’s the empathy.

Because we all feel. We all experience emotions. And something about those who can feel the emotions around them calls out to those who are too overwhelmed to feel them alone. I remain convinced of my Father’s love by this, that He has placed people around us who are equipped to share the heavy load. These gifts we have were placed with purpose and intent. Some sing, some write, some do math, some speak, some dance, some paint, some teach, and some feel. It is a gift not just for ourselves, but the people around us. It can serve to both protect and heal, warn and serve. The people who need us will find us, and the people who don’t convince us will remain guarded. We can’t quantify this gift, we can barely prove it, yet almost everyone around us can recognize it enough to react to it.

So we find ourselves drained, emotions and doubt and anxiety and conviction having pulled so much from us. We can feel like we’ve lost ourselves, given away so much of ourselves or taken on so much of others. After 10 hours of sleep emotional exhaustion can still remain. The inability to turn off the radar, the intuition, to remain in a state of vigilance, it creates a state of emotional tenseness, always taut, always waiting, always feeling. We’re watchdogs. It can feel like more is taken from us than we freely give. We don’t often have the luxury of optimism to energize us, because this very surreal gift keeps us firmly planted in realism. And realism tells us we’ll be tired again tomorrow. We must seek out opportunities to be alone, to process these emotions, to be granted reprieve from feeling everyone in the room, from being sought out and so heavily relied upon. We must give ourselves rest, find others who pour in as much as others siphon. We must recognize the toll discernment takes on us and actively protect ourselves from becoming emotional roadkill. As you acknowledge this gift you have, acknowledge the impact it has on you. You know, since with great power comes great responsibility. Go forth, go feel, go rest.


Author: Jen

I am the wife of an insanely hot husband and the momma of three precious and exhausting kiddos. I have been given way more than I could ever deserve and I really love naps.

32 thoughts on “The Drain of Discernment”

  1. Candice Enzor says:

    omg. ur my twin, lol. Great article and yes i needed to read this. TY. my being overwhelmed by my gift isnt just me.

  2. It’s awesome to hear there are others with this gift. To date I only know of one other person with this gift. She is a precious sister and we share and build each other up which helps with those moments of overload. May we all learn to walk in it, use it for His glory and to help others.
    Thank you for writing this.

    God bless you and keep you and shine upon you

    1. I happened upon this today and I just wanted to say Thank you so much for the reminder that I am not alone. This is a literal God send.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing this. It’s so validating and nice not to be alone.

  4. Wow u described my life always thought I was perhaps lazy. Requiring solitude and naps. Always standing out. Even though I try to blend in

  5. confused wife says:

    I love your article. It has a way of explaining this in ways my husband can’t. I do have questions though if you would be able to shed some light. Its a complicated situation though. My husband and I have a friend couple, they are our very best friends. The wife in the couple has this gift just like my husband. I sometimes feel jealous with how much they communicate. Regardless of the gift they both have and the love and trust I have for both of them I am very jealous. I cant fully explain why. She is like family. I trust both of them. Its the emotions they share and she is still another woman taking my husbands attention.

    1. Ann Huston says:

      You have a right to be concerned. No matter how much we think we have control of boundaries, when men and women inact on deeper levels the risk of infidelity is there. If not physical it will be emotional. Trust your gut. That jealousy is there for a reason.

      1. Ann Huston says:

        Also as in Jen’s article some people that decern at higher levels use their gift to manipulate. I believe everyone has some level of decernment and should trust their gut. The more you do the better you will hone in on listening.

    2. I would also add, if the wife truly shares this gift, she will be hyper-aware of you and your completely normal response to her connection with him. I often connect with the male side of our friend groups, and work hard at not allowing myself to be where I know I dont belong. And making sure the wife knows I respect her relationship.

  6. Selena Maurer says:

    This is the best writing I’ve seen to describe what I’ve never been able to articulate. It’s do nice to know there are others like me. It’s a truly lonely yet overwhelming existence. I’d only known one other “empath” (if you will), but I’ll hold on to this article and read it again and again.

  7. Thank you for your article. I just did a search on “feeling alone gift spirit discernment” and your link appeared.

    I was trying to explain to someone today what it’s like to see behind words said, see the motives, egos, bad spirits and even the spirit of the Lord on someone but I know they don’t get it. And it can be exhausting, when everyone else thinks what was said was fine, or that person is ok, but you see and feel beyond the mask, surface. Now after reading your article I understand why people’s problems weigh so heavily on my heart, even days after I spoke to them. It’s part of the gift. I wish I could meet someone who has this gift too.

    Sometimes, especially recently, I wish I could run away to a cave in the woods and have nothing to do with anyone for a time.

    I don’t control the gift, it’s as the Holy Spirit wills, therefore it sometimes comes at me from left field, surprising me – talked on front of a group of people and unexpectedly I saw 2 people had issues, they were kind of highlighted with bad expressions whereas everyone else was fuzzied out for a brief moment. I decided to continue speaking but just look at the floor.

    No one understands.

    1. Hi Adrianna,

      M You are the first person I’ve heard of that has had the crowd experience too. I have also been publicly speaking and the crowd went fuzzy except two people in the crowd who were highlighted. That’s how I refer to those things that stand out, as highlighted. Along with it came the discernment. I just wanted you to know that someone truly does understand, I understand.

  8. Thank you so much for putting words to my daily experience! I haven’t had the opportunity to connect with many people like me, so reading this was such a pleasure!

  9. Ann Huston says:

    Ive been blessed by this. Its validation that is so hard to find in a fake fallen world. We are warriors but alone. Be careful as I was broken. I am trying to get back in the world. Defeated in battle but refuse to give up the war on perception managers looking to prey steal and destroy.


  10. I related to your words so well! Thank-you!

  11. Jack Allen says:

    I too am like you. However I lost my God. You could call me a cynic, however I prefer realist. To all of you who have indicated that you only know one other person with this gift, I’ve met many. And be aware, the lady who is commenting on her jealousy between her husband and a woman from another couple has a valid argument. I also have experienced a failed relationships just because of a connection that felt long-standing I’m someone I just met. People throw around the term old soul so much so that its generic now. It is much more than that. Since you all seem to be religious, apparently Christian, do not be alarmed when you realize it has nothing to do with God. As aforementioned, trust your gut. When you think about your deity trust your gut. Know the masks when you see them. And religion it’s nothing but a global mask. Even though we can read and feel nearly instantaneously. Things like religion, that offer comfort for those like us you often have no respite, are one of our biggest weaknesses. I’m not trying to sway your belief in a higher power I am just trying to get you to understand the higher power is within us not around us. If there be such a thing as gods and divine grace that gives us this gift, then it it’s from us making us, if there ever was, the Gods. This undeserved life is a very appropriate title. Whether you see it as a gift you are not worthy of or a curse you didn’t ask for. Do not despair in loneliness. Despite what it seems like everyday we are many. But then again, you already knew that didn’t you lol! My apologies if I had brought you down. Remember do what you can you can’t save them all. Be careful not to shut people out with the thought that no one can help because they don’t know. Nietzsche said, such fools we are to think that we carry the keys to our own chains. On a lighter note I have often described our gift as Wu-Tang. For those of you who are familiar with hip hop, Wu-Tang is defined as the style to which no one can test. LOL! Thank you for this article thank you all for commenting. Do your best to enjoy your day. And if you see someone today without a smile, give them yours. I’ll give you another one. Best wishes to you all. I shall see you all there.

  12. Thank you very much for sharing. It’s comforting to know other people experience the same thing. But what do you do when you’re beyond exhausted but have to keep moving forward? I am/have been seeking God for the answer. I know to wait and be still. Just wondering what others’ experiences in this same season have been.

    1. I honestly just have to hide for a bit. I rest. Watch tv that doesn’t make me emotional. Really just disconnect from the world.

      1. Jen, that resonates. Thank you.

      2. Yes. I just can’t watch sad or really violent movies because I can’t shake it off. This post came after searching for the gift of discernment, after praying for insight at 3 am. It so resonates. Also explains why working from home has some perks. Whew. People often just open up and share with me. And I get the harsh take also. Thanks for really sharing.

  13. Sarah Campbell says:

    I am a mom who has three daughters. Two of them that have very different giftings than I do. It has been hard to understand where they are coming from. There struggles. I want to understand and help.
    I stumbled upon the description of an “empath” and was blown away…
    This is exactly what is going on with my girls. They are 24 and 16 and really struggling with the weightiness of this.
    As a Christian I am not super comfortable with the new agey term “empath” but I would be lying if I didn’t say the description and even practical advice is bang on.
    I am desperate to find so good biblically based teaching / direction for helping my girls navigate this “gift” well. Please let me know if you have suggestions.

  14. Aside from the extrovert part, you’ve described me quite well. I’ve had this “gift” as far back as I can recall, and in my early adult years, I learned to use it for selfish gain. I am now 2 years into my walk with Christ, and am called to use this for His glory. I don’t know any others with this particular gift, but I find respite in Psalm 91:4, Psalm 46:10, and Exodus 14:14. I hope that helps someone else along the way.

    1. Brooke Albright says:

      ♥️Thank you

  15. Angelle LeBouef says:

    Empaths aren’t to be just left with these burdens for not reason! We are intercessors! We are burdened so we can intercede! That’s where we can lay the burdens down at the foot of the cross. I have been the same way my whole life, Ezekiel is a prime example of this gift we’ve been given. I pray we all find our place in intercession.

  16. Kasey D Harris says:

    I really like your take on being a beacon. I am sometimes surprised at how people will talk to me like you described, I’d always assumed those people share with everyone that way.
    But if this is a God given gift, it would make sense that they’d seek us out.
    I’ve prayed for 2 different people I’ve never met for years, because I felt their stories so deeply on the radio or TV.
    Fascinating insight, thank you.

  17. Thank you so much for this. I have no one else in my life that understands my gift. At times, it tears me apart. Sometimes I even have someone’s emotions “pounce on me” out of left field when I am completely not expecting it and it is exhausting, heart wrenching and frustrating all at once because I am fine, happy, singing in my car and then BAM I am crying for the person who just walked by my car. I stop and pray for them but it takes a couple of minutes to catch my breath and get my feelings under control realizing I am not feeling for myself. I also feel guilty when I immediately know something bad about someone. I tend to want to judge myself for feeling that way. Your article let me see that there are others like me and as long as I use what God gave me to pray for people and not use it against them in any way, I am doing what I am supposed to do. I just wish I had someone near by to occasionally talk it over with who also stood in my shoes. Thank you again!

  18. I could have written this myself! I am even studying counselling!!! Thank you so much for penning this!
    I really needed to hear it, today!

  19. Emerie Espinosa says:

    is it possible that this gift or some form of it could also be to sense the “bad vibes” or “evil presences” in others? I am going into my jr year of college and I interact with different people every day but this past year I have had two incidents that to me were severe. 1st I was in a class and the first day I walked in calm and confident, more classmates walked in and I was fine eager to mingle with my peers, but it wasn’t until one person walked in that my body seemed to freeze over and I felt like I had a tight chest, and at first I blew it off as first-day of school jitters. But then one day this person walked in behind me and we were the only two waiting in class and a wave of intense panic ran all over my body and I had to leave and wait for others to enter before I could feel semi-safe in class with this person. I even was at an event and was “chilled out” then i got literal chills and my stomach tightened so I turned and looked around to maybe see what was happening and this person was standing near the entrance. the second incident occurred when I was at my on campus job. I was on my way there and the closer I got the more of this intense panic and stomach tightening feeling I got, we had just had new person join us and i had no idea they were working that night. I went to the bathroom walking past this persons office and once again i got chills over my body and a panic feeling. I then turned and went to ask another coworker to join me so i could feel semi-safe again. later that work shifti noticed my body calm and my stomach untighten. i asked my friend to walk back to the bathroom with meabout an hour later as i didn’t feel comfortable having to go past that persons office alone and our manager came up and said oh it is only us three here (said person) left an hour ago. i am also drawn into the field of psychology as i want to counsel families and children, and everyone i know has said I’m the only person they come open up to. i always thought oh the lord wants me to serve others and be there as ana advisor of some sort but lately it is like i am sensing the different vibes people give off at a higher level. just wanted to share and gather some input from others. thanks 🙂

    1. Absolutely! I fully believe that these feelings are warnings, the voice of God, knowing something unknowable to protect yourself or others. It’s a form of wisdom. Those experiences sound intense! It sounds like you’re on such a great track, wanting to use this gift to help others. They sense the safety in you, and you connect with them in a way many others can’t and be led to say exactly what they need to hear. It’s intense, and it can take a lot out of you at the end of the day, but it’s a gift that sounds like is not only for your benefit, but the benefit of others. ❤️

  20. Angelia Reddick says:

    This article was so on time. I was looking for an article on why I feel and care for others mire than the person cares for him or herself and read your and the other experiences. I always knew that discernment was a gift, but have never read it in the context by which you broke it down. Thank you

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