Sometimes we put pressure on ourselves to have a ‘better-than-human’ response to unpleasant or difficult events in life.
We become self-critical when we don’t measure up to that aspiration of ‘superhumanhood’—whatever vision we have of that for ourselves.
This is especially the case for those of us who are high in empathy and place hefty expectations on ourselves to be constantly in attunement with and responsive to the needs of others.
I’ve always contended that the higher one is in empathy, the more challenging it is to set interpersonal boundaries.
Empaths may feel an inner conflict that begs this question in the relational domain: ”Where do I end and the other person begin?”
Empaths might resonate with this thought process too: “If I intuitively or tangibly know that another person wants or needs me, I can’t pretend I am blind to that, so I must act on it.”
When we do set firm, possibly out-of-character, boundaries with others, or don’t perform our social role in the way we have boxed ourselves into, it can feel jarring—almost as though we are doing something wrong.
As a clinical counsellor, I see so many clients who experience their lives dictated by the “I’m not good enough” self-script. In my position as a school counsellor who works with youth, I hold discussions with them about how we all come into this world readily accepting an idea of being on nearly-constant trial with all of the ways we interact with the world with the verdict being a dichotomous good or bad.
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” ~ Rumi
These words speak to allowing one’s self (and others’ selves!) to play in the grey area of non-perfection.
In both my personal and professional work, I am focusing on self-compassionate living; this means empathizing with our humanness—all the emotions, thoughts, actions—and, from there, allowing genuine motivation lift us to our potential.
I share with clients and students that this might look like checking in with yourself around why you might have, for instance, had a strong, unpleasant verbal reaction to something a friend said and then empathizing with why that might have been the case (e.g.,“My friend touched on a raw spot with those words and I reacted strongly because I got hurt.”).
Self-identified empaths and everyone on the empathic spectrum (which is all of us!), I invite you to experiment with playing outside of the box you have contained yourself in (and others have reinforced over the years), where you have maybe siphoned off true parts of yourself.
During this experimentation, take note of what responses you get from others. You might be pleasantly surprised to find that you have an increase in energy and this more ‘authentic’ way of being–where sometimes you’re not as giving or loving or patient–is appreciated by those you interact with.
I believe that as long as our intentions are to be kind towards ourselves and others, we all work best alone and together when we’re dancing in our real, complex, human selves.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Renée Picard
Image: Juliana Coutinho at Flickr