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Empath

Empath

Having trouble asserting boundaries?

I think that if there’s any one thing that has the potential to change your life and your well-being as a sensitive person, it’s really the act of confidently holding and asserting boundaries. However, I have also learned through trial and error that it’s not necessarily a linear and straightforward process.

The reason is if we were not raised to respect our own boundaries, and/or had it constantly be pushed against or disregarded, it’s hard to know how it feels like in the body to possess strong boundaries. And when one starts to insist on and assert boundaries, it can feel weird, foreign, or uncomfortable, and thus seemingly wrong. This is when doubts and fears may arise. This is a classic example of when you should not act based on how you feel – but rather, take these feelings as just another form of information.

Like the process of adopting any new habit, there’s a period of discomfort as one goes through the changes. Not only that, people around you will start to react or respond to your changes, so that’s a whole process as well – getting used to what happens when one starts developing strong boundaries. This is especially so if the act of asserting boundaries overturns some unconscious dynamics that have been going on.

The ripple effects can be enormous, and it’s not an easy undertaking because it requires one to be present to the changes. And as you know, being a sensitive being, changes can impact us more than the average person, especially on our nervous systems.   

The contexts we exist within matter as well; they inform us about our right to hold and maintain boundaries. (Even though the spiritual truth is that as sovereign beings we are ALL entitled to have boundaries, simply because we exist.) There are a myriad of factors that influence how comfortable we are holding and asserting boundaries, or even our belief in whether or not we deserve to have those boundaries:

  • Being female in a patriarchal society
  • Growing up in a hierarchical family and occupying a relatively powerless position
  • Race/ethnicity and the relative power your ethnic group holds in society
  • Socioeconomic class

The point is that our starting points – where we begin to ‘awaken’ and learn to value our true selves – may not be the same. Some of us have more to work through because of the contexts we grew up in, and factors beyond our control. Each person’s journey is individual, unique, and should be treated that way. A lot of the information online is necessarily generalized and distilled to convey core truths – and so if something isn’t working for you, then it’s most likely a matter of finding the right mirror to reflect your own unique truth!

When I first started writing about boundaries I really was beginning to intellectually process and accept the concept of boundaries. For example:

My feelings are my own.

Their feelings are not my responsibility. 

In reality, it took me quite a bit of time to really embody these truths.

Understanding and embodying the truth that I am *only* responsible for my own emotions took a while, especially since I grew up within emotionally enmeshed family dynamics. This process proved to be more complicated than initially anticipated, because I had a lot to unlearn.

One of the most challenging aspects was how I had to first experience in my body the discomfort of holding my own feelings without attempting to blame or shame myself or anyone else for ‘making’ me feel that way (which is usually the painful sensation of overstimulation). I had to learn that I have the power to change my thoughts and behaviors around my feelings, and disrupting that the usual flow of events that occur, or actions I tend to take when painful feelings are triggered.

I also had to de-program my core belief that it was weakness to be overstimulated by anyone else, which often causes me to want to get ahead of myself and pretend that I am ‘already okay’. Being a classic overachiever, I started to blame myself for being ‘not trained enough’. Empaths, if we are not careful, can use anything to make ourselves feel shittier and smaller. 

Over time, I realized that what works is patience and self-compassion, and having the willingness to be present with yourself every step of the journey. For me, this worked:  

  • Note how it feels in your body when you feel overwhelmed as a result of porous boundaries (you’re taking on someone else’s feelings; you’re trying to fix something or someone that’s not yours to fix; you’ve entered into a drama etc.)
  • Practice boundaried BEHAVIOR and THOUGHTS first, and then note how it feels like in your body (do you feel uncomfortable? Do you feel guilty or are you experiencing doubts? Then you’re most likely on the right track!)
  • Keep practicing and holding discomfort until it becomes a new habit, and the sensation of discomfort will naturally lessen

It’s okay if it still doesn’t feel natural the first 10 times or 100 times of saying ‘No’ or standing firm; it can be very uncomfortable and overstimulating to be up against someone who may be intent on getting their way or having their needs met at the expense of yours – especially if that had been the dynamic for years and years. If it was easy, we would all be masters at it in no time, and where’s the fun in that?!

It’s all about unraveling the layers and becoming stronger and more self-assured in the process. I have begun to see and truly feel now that we are here to lead lives of joy and fullness, peace and creativity. It takes time and effort to birth this life into being, while rising from ashes of the lives we were leading before. Trust in yourself and your journey, you’re uniquely equipped for the challenges of your life.

 

 

Empath

Can you really retire as an empath?

Ever since Maryam Hasnaa introduced the idea of ‘retiring as an empath’, I found myself mulling over the concept. Is that really possible? Her work has informed some of my practices, and I have found a lot of her writings useful and accessible.

Well, my answer is yes, if you follow her reasoning. I think she takes issue with how many people conflate suffering with what being an empath is all about. Of course you want to fix people when you ‘can’t help’ but feel what they’re feeling. Who wants that, all the time? We all know how exhausting it is. We all know how crazy you can feel when all you do all day is take on the moods and drama of others.

So yes, retiring from taking on others’ feelings reflexively and not from a place of your own volition makes complete and total sense.

I think it’s also a kind of reaction to how the concept of ’empath’ that has been romanticized. I started this blog a few years ago and for better or worse, the ‘spirituality’ scene has blown up. And I remember how stumbling upon explanations of first being a HSP and then an empath was so mind-blowing to me. It was like, wow, I’ve finally found an explanation of how I have been feeling all these years.

But since then, these terms are all over the internet – e.g. easy-to-digest and weirdly compelling lists ’10 Signs You’re an Empath’, Instagram posts and memes… Distortion and over-simplification are inevitable. It’s the nature of the Internet – people’s attention spans have become shorter, and we demand increasingly for bite-sized information that’s easily snack-able. McSpirituality. If it’s not easy, convenient, in a 10-point list or shorter, forget about people reading it. (I sometimes worry about the consequence of this, and am consciously trying to guard myself against this short attention span epidemic…)

(Also, it’s actually pretty tough to find good quality information and guidance out there now on this trait. I still turn to my trusted sources (books I’ve listed on the sidebar), and my own experience to guide me.)

But ultimately, I still find utility in the term. For me, the label ’empath’ is something neutral. It is just a word that describes a person who is able to absorb the feelings of others. The key word here is ‘able’ and not ‘must do so at all costs’. It is an ability. And for convenience, it serves as a useful label to help organize the information around this trait. Especially to differentiate between the more technical/scientifically researched trait of ‘highly sensitive’ versus ’empath’. And so, it’s not necessarily something I can retire from. I can’t change the way I was wired, but I can change some of the ways this wiring manifests in terms of thoughts, feelings and behaviors.

Why the term ‘Empath’ has been romanticized and distorted

One of the reasons is probably because people get caught up in wanting to feel special and unique about this trait – I know I did, and sometimes still do – and so perhaps have trouble committing to learning the proper ways to master this ability. Taking on other people’s emotions and participating in drama can also become a habit, and like any other habit, needs conscious, dedicated effort to unlearn. Many people are also perfectly content being caught in a drama triangle, because despite the emotional turmoil, it’s still a kind of homeostasis – there’s something predictable and thus comfortable about the devil you know.

Learning the proper ways to master this ability does take a lot of work – but it’s really more about having a willingness for self-inquiry. Some level of insight and patience is needed. There’s no way around it: it takes mindfulness and awareness to learn how to stay within the bounds of your own consciousness; it takes a lot of work to be aware of any potential drama that one is stepping into; it takes  work to unlearn and unravel patterns of victim/rescuer/bully behavior. When for whatever reason I haven’t been scrupulously watching over my own emotional state, I can still find myself sliding into drama patterns I’ve not yet healed or cleared. And then it takes work to figure out the emotional truth underlying whatever just happened, and to confront and clear it.

All empaths have felt at some point singled out, alienated, or victimized because of their feelings. I think it is a perfectly normal and natural thing to say ‘But I feel so much in this world that feels so very little’ – and wanting to be somehow applauded and seen as special for it. But the truth is, wanting to feel special for it can still come from woundedness – we’re still seeking external validation to make being who we are all okay.

The goal is to gain our main source of validation from ourselves. To know, believe and embody that we are intrinsically okay and that we have a right to be who we are – simply because we exist.

How about you? Do you still find the term ’empath’ useful or accurate for you in terms of understanding your traits and abilities?

Side note about this blog

On an unrelated note, I think the blogging landscape has changed SO MUCH and as a human being with multiple things going on and being easily overstimulated, I have honestly been too overwhelmed to keep up. I think I let it discourage me from writing for quite a long while. I thought: how could I ever compete for attention? How am I going to keep producing shiny new content when some things just need to be…lived out, and that takes time? But I have recently come to the conclusion that I LOVE writing, I love sharing. I do it primarily for me, because of this need I have to express and share, and if you get something from it, then great. So many of my favorite writers or poets have disappeared from the Internet or are planning to… And I have nostalgia for those days, when it was all more.. organic?

Yes. I am old-fashioned.

And above all, I have a relationship with words. I love how they sound, how they vibrate, the nuances of different languages. I have a love-hate relationship with the way we are oversaturated with words on the Internet and I will always crave for authenticity and connection. Which of course, I am cultivating offline – but it was nice when that wasn’t an entirely naive hope when it came to the online space!

So all that to say, I will still be blogging. I am not abandoning this blog. It may take on different forms, especially as I grow professionally. But I will still be writing. And if you’re still reading this, then maybe you’re totally an old-fashioned person like me, and that means I like you already 😉