“When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting and less scary.” ~Fred Rogers
If you are a human on earth at the moment, you’re likely feeling the uncertainty and anxiety of living in the time of a pandemic. It’s not something we have seen before in our lifetime, so every step is a new one, and the end is unknown and nowhere in sight.
Everyone is coping in their own way. Some are fearful and anxious right now. Others insist on staying on the positive side. Still others are in denial and perhaps will feel the emotional effects later or when it hits their area. Or, more commonly it seems, we have some combination of all three at various times throughout the same day.
It’s all normal.
I have come to realize there is no right or wrong way to feel emotionally. Everyone is doing the best they can based on their own coping style.
As a recovering people-pleaser, I used to try to talk people out of their feelings, make them feel better by taking over responsibility for their emotions. Essentially, I had to fix them to make myself feel better.
This was my stress response. I picked up on the emotional energy in a room and tried to stabilize it. I am so glad I recognized this in myself, or I’m not sure how I would survive this time.
I realized the damage this did to me, and to my relationships. If I feared anger, I would walk on eggshells to prevent people from getting angry. If I took on someone’s anxiety, I had to do everything I could to help them so I could relax.
People have a right to be angry.
Everyone has the right to feel anxious.
It is not my job to judge how anyone reacts to life. It’s theirs.
It is my job to be a compassionate witness to their suffering and to my own suffering.
This is a hard lesson to learn when it almost cost me my health and my life. But during this time of the Coronavirus I am so grateful I learned it when I cracked the empath code.
If you find yourself taking on other people’s emotional energy to the point of depletion, and exhaustion and perhaps chronic health issues, read on.
Life as an empath can sometimes feel you are being tossed around in a tiny boat in an open ocean, with no solid ground. It’s a terrible feeling. So we struggle, we fight, we gasp for air, and occasionally come up to breathe for long enough to see the sun setting on the horizon.
That is what living as an empath can be like. Only the waves are crashing waves of emotion, sometimes ours, sometimes those of others. It’s unpredictable when the hurricane will come, so we hang on to the oars tightly most of the time… just in case.
We wonder how other people seem to live easier, to ride the waves smoother and leave storms behind as they head for calmer waters. Until we find out that we see and feel things differently, more acutely, and have to learn the skills to row efficiently, with the wind, and in the preferred direction.
Then life becomes smooth sailing. We can feel the wind in our hair, smell the ocean, and taste the sea salt on our lips.
Life as an empath can be hell. Or it can be a deeply sensory experience.
Before I cracked the code, I was in a lifeboat without a life jacket. I was going down fast.
Until one day I came across a test “Are you an empath?” Out of curiosity I took it and scored 100%. I found another test. Yup. 100 percent emotional empath.
I had never stopped to learn what the term “empath’ meant until that moment, even though I had been in the field of counselling for over two decades.
Now I knew why I used overthinking as a way to protect myself. Why I preferred being alone a lot of the time. Why I found some people overwhelming and took on everybody else’s emotions. Why I felt responsible for everyone and fell head-first into people-pleasing just so I could feel better. Why I suffered with so much anxiety and worry for others.
I felt like I had cracked the code to my life.
Now I could get in, understand why I was how I was, and set clear boundaries around myself.
I didn’t need new tools. I didn’t need to change. I was not a problem to fix. I was a human to hold and I needed to carefully guard who I was.
During this time when the world can feel overwhelming and too, too much, take time to understand yourself and your nervous system’s response to stress a bit better.
- Notice when you feel anxious… where do you feel it in your body?
- Notice where you are, who you are with, and what you are doing.
- Breathe into the tight areas and imagine breathing out your compassion into the world.
- If someone you are with is anxious, can you stay present and breathe? If not, take a break and find compassion for yourself.
- Notice what you are consuming—news, stressful or needy people, violence in movies or TV; decrease and take lots of nature breaks.
When you learn to guard your own health and well-being above everything else, you give yourself a soft place to land in what can be a harsh world to live in. And you give others the same gift of a soft place in your compassion.
About Madeleine Eames
Madeleine Eames is a psychotherapist, mindfulness teacher, and creator of the Empath Sanctuary. Her mission is to help deeply feeling people move beyond burnout and harness the power of their empathy for success. You can find her at mindfullivingnow.com or on Facebook at Wise Women Empaths Wake Up.
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