Recently I came across an article describing Empaths also known as, Highly Sensitive people. Having never heard of the term before I read on because the title of the article was about relationships, toxic ones to be exact. Having had more than my fair share of those I decided to keep reading and what I found opened the door to an entirely new way of thinking, and accepting for me.
Without explanation I have ALWAYS been able to read people's moods, and energy. People pleasing was not something I was aware of but certainly something that I've done since I was very young. I have been referred to as a people person, with the ability to meet someone and have them open up and tell me their deepest desires and secrets within minutes. I was of the belief that this is a good thing, and I tend to agree with that. However, when the connection that is so rapidly formed between myself and another causes me (unconsciously of course) to become someone I am not simply for the sake of making that person happy, there is a risk of the relationship turning toxic, at least for me.
Please, do not get me wrong, I am grateful that I have the ability to connect with people. I am a coach and without this ability I don't think I would be able to serve my clients as well. When it comes to work or social events this is a gift that helps me feel comfortable and overcome any resistance I might feel around meeting new people or being in a crowed environment. I must however, learn to manage my gift. More times than not I have found myself completely exhausted, emotionally, and physically without knowing why. Unbeknownst to me I was picking up on the energy and emotions of perhaps not just one person but a room full of people! In addition to picking up this energy I was also hard at work ensuring the happiness of those closest to me.
I heard a metaphor years ago that I often share with my clients that come to me with the same issue of exhaustion, that helps explain why we are so tired…..
Pretend you are a pitcher of water, imagine yourself on a tray surrounded by small cups. There is a cup for every major player in your life; parents, spouse, children, extended family, friends, and co-workers… you get the idea. Now imagine yourself constantly pouring water out of your pitcher to keep their cups full, so much that sometimes they forget how to fill their own cups because they are used to you doing it. How long would it take for your pitcher to run dry? Now see yourself trying to fill their cups when your pitcher is completely empty. You can, but this will only leave you sick and exhausted and often times angry and resentful.
It is critical to your wellbeing that you remember and take the time to refill your pitcher in order to continue being of service to those you love. So many of us forget the importance of this, or even worse yet deny ourselves and even feel guilty over the slightest thing resembling self-care. We feel selfish caring for ourselves when instead, denying ourselves this critical care is ultimately what is selfish. Eventually the tables will turn and instead of being able to love and care for others, they will be forced to take care of you. Your body and mind will shut down or become ill and then it is hard to be there for anyone. As an Empath, (Highly Sensitive person) it goes even deeper, not only is it imperative that we refill our pitchers, we also must learn to shield and protect ourselves from negative and unhealthy energy from others. We are like walking sponges. Have you ever had a day when you broke down without explanation or reason? Just felt off or not yourself? Well my friend, you weren't. You were experiencing someone else's "stuff".
Enter the wide open opportunity for toxic relationships to take hold. It starts innocently enough. You mirror each other’s good qualities, you are both on your best behavior. You are proud of your ability to easily connect and you love the feeling of being trusted and confided in. You literally feel their energy and at this stage it is loving, and warm, and oh so fuzzy. The problem is when we lose ourselves to a relationship that has the potential to be toxic. We establish an unhealthy balance within the relationship because we highly sensitive types can, again, feel when our partner is even slightly unhappy and we quickly conform and adjust to make them feel better so that we will feel better. See how that works? We are the very best chameleons because we become whomever and whatever our partner needs us to be to make sure that they, and we, remain happy. When they feel happy, we feel happy. How simple is that? Unfortunately, spending your life working like a dog to keep someone else happy takes its toll. It is a tall order to keep the peace and constantly meet someone else's needs. Eventually you will lose yourself completely. You've spent your lifetime becoming someone that, whomever you happen to be dealing with at the moment; parent, child, spouse, needs you to be that you really have no clue who you really are. What are your core values and beliefs? What are your gifts, talents, dreams, goals, and desires? Are you liberal or conservative? Does your view point and conviction change, depending on who you are talking to? Is who you are diminished further depending on how strong the personality is of the person with whom you are interacting? It is something to consider.
There is good news here. Once you have identified yourself as and Empath, or Highly Sensitive Person, you now have what you need to begin creating a life of freedom and joy. You can choose self-care and learn how to interact with people in and out of relationship that is both loving and nurturing to them while keeping healthy boundaries that are loving and nurturing to you. Your happiness, and wellbeing, will no longer be determined by their energy because now you are aware of your own. Here are some steps you can take if you are caught in a cycle of taking on other’s energy, and people pleasing.
1. Mind your own business - One of my favorite quotes from Byron Katie is this; "What other people say and think about you is none of your business." Be mindful of whose business you are in and whose energy you are feeling. Give yourself permission to release and let go of anything that does not belong to you. Imagine wrapping up their energy in a blanket of love and simply say, “Return to sender with love and light, I choose not to accept or receive this as my own”.
2. Steer clear of toxic relationships - As hard as it may be to believe, not everyone has your best interest at heart. If you've entered into a relationship with someone that takes full advantage of the fact that you will work yourself to the bone to keep them happy, maybe it's time to move on. Make it a priority to take care of you and to make yourself as happy as you do those you love. If the love is true, and healthy the person you are with will encourage you to love yourself and to be as healthy and happy as you can be. If they are with you solely because of what you can do for them with little consideration of what they can do for you. Let them go. If you would like more information on breaking free from unhealthy relationships, please take a look at the relationship section on my site www.mindfulresources.biz. You can download a free step by step process for Breaking Free of Unhealthy Relationships… without Breaking Your Heart.
3. Find a healthy balance in your life - Recognize that loving you, and keeping your pitcher full is the most loving thing you can do for the people in your life. Take time to identify and do the things that make your heart soar. Eat right, exercise, and get plenty of sleep. Simple I know, but honestly, how many of you are doing this day after day? Make a list of things that you love to do, and schedule time in your calendar weekly, or better yet daily, to do them.
Stay mindful and you will find that being an Empath or Highly Sensitive person is a blessing, not a curse. It is a joy to love on those that we hold dear. It is also a joy to protect and honor yourself with good habits to last a lifetime. Give yourself permission to heal, set boundaries, and take good care of YOU. By doing so you not only refill your pitcher, you set an example to the others in your life that it is ok to refill theirs.
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