The Dichotomy of Being an Introverted Empath

i get the funniest looks
 when i say "i'm an introvert."
  "i need alone time."
  "i'm shy."
No one seems to grasp
   that the outgoing friendliness is,
    for me,
  a defense mechanism; that every contact
   comes with a cost in bravery at
  opening up to anyone else.
  That the fight between
   the needs of every
   i meet
   and my own needs
   exhausts me, some days.
   That any time i open up
    and let another person in
  some part of their life,
   their story,
   their pain
 echoes in my own heart,
   that i choose
   so carefully
 who i let in
   and who i hold away.
No one sees
  that the inside of my head
  is a landscape made up of
    and mountains
   wild forests
 and all of it empty
   save for me
   and whomever i allow
   to enter.
That my emotions run on
   and whomever i let in,
    be they friend
  or lover
   or random stranger
 those people are so carefully
  because i cannot
   hold the pain of the entire world
but i can hold the pain of a few people.
  Never feel sorry
   for me.
 There are things in my head
  more beautiful and strange
 than most imagine exist
  inside of me,
  and the choosing i do
   is never a burden.
It isn't a question
   of who is worthy and who isn't,
  but of whose pain
  i'm strong enough to bear
  without once feeling burdened,
  who i can spend time with
   and not need to run home;
   who feels safe, trustworthy,
  and who
  It's a question
   of whose motivations i understand,
    not whether or not i am hurt.
   It's a question
   of where i choose
   to let my love go,
   regardless of whether
   that love is ever returned
    in any measure.
i once had a friend
   tell me
  that i was too patient, too understanding,
    too nice.
  i let in
   the people who need
 what i'm capable of giving.
The people who won't
  walk over me and then away,
   the ones who don't hit my flags
   in ways that tell me run away,
   the ones who need those
  moments of safety
    and i can't explain
  what makes me let one in
   and shut one out.
All i know
  is that if their lives
   are in any way improved
 through that contact,
   it is worth everything.

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