Laura Bruno: Help for Empaths: Navigating the Should’s
This topic arises so often in sessions that I feel led to address it here, too. Many times, life tugs in different directions. Empaths, especially, sense how our own decisions affect the people we know and love. To some extent, this is a good thing. A person who lacks any empathy is also known as a narcissist or sociopath, so yes, we do need awareness of how our behavior and attitudes affect other people.
Empaths feel the emotions, attitudes, energy and thoughts of other people to a sometimes debilitating degree. Even the thought of hurting someone else hurts us. Without protection, we feel the disappointment, judgment, illness or whatever other pain of someone else within ourselves. When lived unconsciously, empathic “gifts” feel awful. Mysterious body aches, overwhelming sadness, anxiety, general confusion or lack of desire: I always advise empaths to ask, “Is this mine?” Because many times, it’s not. Good energy hygiene aides discernment.
I call this the Energy Brush Off, but it’s also a Japanese technique called Kenyoku or “dry bathing.” Bring your right hand to your left shoulder and then sweep down your arm, past your fingertips. Repeat on the other side, left hand to right shoulder, sweep down past your fingertips. Alternate sides three times, then flick your fingers like you washed your hands and can’t find a towel.
Repeat morning and night, like you brush your teeth. You can also do the Energy Brush Off anytime you felt good until you interacted with someone or something then suddenly felt tired, angry, sad, oppressed or “not as good as you did before.” Sudden shifts in health, emotions or energy levels often indicate some kind of empathic exchange. Brush that energy off before it settles in and becomes “yours.” It won’t really be all yours, but it becomes much more difficult to sense your own emotions, desires, attitudes, hopes and dreams when you embody those of everyone around you.
Good energy hygiene offers a regular reset to your own energy field. The more often you return to yourself, the more you recognize your own energy, including your own longings and desires.
The more often you return to yourself, the more obvious it becomes which people and situations dampen or drain your energy. Awareness of these dynamics doesn’t always mean you need to cut all contact. Some situations might require that step, but in most cases, a little strategy goes a long way. If you know someone’s patterns and how they usually affect you, then you can protect yourself in appropriate ways. Since Empaths lack the separation/boundaries that most people have, good strategies involve not only releasing picked up energy, but also creating a healthy buffer zone.
Some of my favorite empath tricks include:
- The Energy Brush Off shared above
- Black tourmaline and/or onyx for energetic shielding
- The Algiz Rune (creates a “moat” effect around your castle/energy field)
- Using a mantra like “I deserve good things”or “You do you, I’ll do me”
- Educating yourself about patterns in narcissism, BPD and sociopathy
- Educating yourself about codependency and/or Adult Children of Alcoholics
- Reciting the Serenity Prayer
- Walnut Bach Flower Remedy (to live your life path in the midst of others)
- Crabapple Bach Flower Remedy (if being around others shames you)
- Pine Bach Flower Remedy (in situations requiring more forgiveness than you feel)
- Cultivating relationships that support and encourage your own sovereignty
Number 11 on that list happens more naturally and easily the more you commit to “navigating the should’s.” Yes, life, society, work and family place obligations on us, but not all obligations are healthy or appropriate. Sometimes a should just means a habit. Sometimes a should entrenches unhealthy behaviors and expectations. Sometimes a should was good for awhile, but now no longer serves. Refusing to accept every should at face value can feel scary, wrong, or even “evil,” depending on the situation and characters involved.
At first, you might not have anyone in your life encouraging you to explore and process underlying patterns. In that case, a coach, counselor or support group becomes a lifeline until you can internalize your own encouragement and support. As you grow more confident, you will begin to attract different caliber relationships into your life.
Good discernment tips include:
- Focus on “power to, not power over.” Empowerment honors individual sovereignty without forcing one person to bend to another’s will or expectations.
- Walk on it: take your question(s) outside with you and let your mind and emotions process to the regular rhythm of your feet, legs and swinging arms.
- Sleep on it: ask your subconscious mind for guidance before you fall asleep. Pay attention to any dreams, as well as noting first thoughts/feelings upon waking. I often awake with snippets of song lyrics, which when researched, provide incredible insights and answers.
- Remember that we train people how to treat us. Establish boundaries and then act in consistent ways. Reward good, respectful behavior. Refuse or call out attempts to manipulate or coerce.
- Realize that people accustomed to benefiting from your lack of boundaries won’t appreciate your desire to change. That doesn’t make you a bad person! It may not even make them a bad person. If you want change, then the onus of change rests upon your shoulders. Freedom from the destructive effects of too much empathy brings great rewards, but those rewards often come with criticism. If someone freaks out because you ask for boundaries or a little more space, consider that confirmation of the imbalance you sensed.
- Do what you need to do from as kindhearted a place as you can, including kindness to yourself.
- Get to know your Inner Child. If you were his/her parent, would you allow your child into this situation or with this person? How would you help this child to deal with a sometimes unfair or hostile world? How would you help this child to know his/her own value, regardless of what others say or think?
Navigating should’s becomes easier the more you get to know and love yourself. Most empaths excel at loving others, but the self love comes hard. You deserve good things. You deserve respect, and you deserve a chance to thrive. Only you can live your unique life with the unique qualities, challenges and gifts you bring to this world. If you feel surrounded by conditional love and overwhelming expectations, take some time to nurture and reclaim yourself.