If you’ve been told to stop taking life so seriously, then you are most likely a highly sensitive or empathic soul.
If you’ve been asked to, “Stop being so emotional or over-dramatic,” then taking life seriously is a good thing.
Well, let me tell you a story first.
I have heard the following colloquialisms all of my life. Tell me if they ring true for you as well:
You take things to heart.
You are so serious.
You take things too personally.
You are a drama queen.
What’s the big deal? Just let it go!
You seem so uptight! Loosen up!
I’ve heard all of these statements when I’ve been in what I call “emotional overload.” These statements have come from folks who had a lot of pent-up, unresolved emotional stuff themselves—due to their own emotional overload.
What is Emotional Overload?
Emotional overload occurs when you are full to the brim with feeling. It happens to me when I have experienced an onslaught of “intense” experiences and haven’t had time to process them.
It can also happen when one specific traumatic experience happens that leaves us in shock—rather like a deer in headlights—spinning in our head and in our heart around those things that we can’t quite control. And traumatic doesn’t have to mean really, really bad. I love the Course in Miracles quote, “There are no small upsets.” Someone could be just as shocked when yelled at by a grocery store cashier as another could by being handcuffed by a cop.
As an empath and highly sensitive person (HSP), I often feel my own thoughts and feelings are more harmful than any external force. How I perceive the exchanges I have with other human beings is a mere reflection of how I am feeling at the moment. If I am feeling raw or vulnerable when I put myself into an intimate situation (with a partner, friend or my child) or social situation, then my interactions with those around me feel muddled in raw, unmarinated emotions.
How do we Marinate our Emotions?
As a foodie, I am fond of metaphors around emotions that take my thoughts to the delightful colors, aromas and scents of all those edible wonders that make my taste buds shout, “Hooray!” I am 38. I was born an empath/HSP. I only recently embraced, with authentic confidence, this aspect of my nature. Thus, I only recently started to practice what it was to really let my feelings be. To let my feelings be means I have held space for them in my mind, my body and my emotional heart. Holding space for myself feels like this:
I recently had a conversation with my daughter’s father (whom I have not been in relationship with for about four years, but with whom I co-parent my daughter). I asked him if we could switch the half-time parenting schedule we have to be fair. He has had the weekend end of the schedule for two years, partially due to my work schedule. Recently, my schedule has become a lot more flexible and I have also been paying deeper attention to my needs around, well, everything. I realized this was not going to work for me anymore and I also felt it was time for me (out of fairness) to have the schedule that allowed for me to have a bit more time with her on the weekends and less drives to school, considering her father has the bus route at his house and I don’t. When I expressed my needs to him, he merely said, “No.” I felt hurt, and disrespected. My needs didn’t seem to be taken into account, and no reasons were given for his “No!”
So, what happened? I was immediately pissed, as I have been with him so many times before. But I let myself feel the emotions. I gave myself the day to process and marinate in them before I took any action steps. I remember reading from one empathic teacher that she felt sleeping on it was the best method to diffuse intense emotions. I totally agree with the sleeping on it method. In my marination, I felt anger, confusion, sadness, rejection, and abandonment. I felt it as I walked and cooked and ate dinner with my daughter. It came in waves. And then I went to sleep. I awoke refreshed. Something felt lighter. The fight feelings I felt before I went to bed had dissipated. I was hurt, but it was more of a faded, jaded sense of hurt than the raw, open wound hurt of the day before.
To marinate does not mean to drown. When we marinate in our emotions, we soak in them just long enough to feel cooked. Our rawness turns into a done-just-right-ness that tastes moist and savory when we digest it. We know we’ve marinated long enough when the “trigger” feels neutral to us.
When I awoke from a deep and healing sleep, for instance, my thoughts about my ex and our uncomfortable conversation the day before were not “charged.” I felt a sense of peace and release around it that gave my mind and heart a feeling of lightness, in lieu of the heavy, leaden feeling I experienced the day before.
What if we Really Honored and Respected our Feelings, Treating each One as a Sacred Prayer?
Treating each emotion as a sacred prayer.
Yes, you read that right. Okay, this is where the ultra-serious sensitive self gets an award for being ultra-present with everything that’s happening internally.
To the empath: no feeling escapes unfelt.
To the empath: to feel is to connect—with both the inner and outer realities.
To the empath: emotion is a sacred ground for connection to expand—or contract.
To the empath: Hurt is not brushed over and forgotten.
To the empath: Being told to forgive and forget without feeling and without acknowledgment of said feeling, is sacrilegious—a smashing of the sacred prayer of their feeling state.
How to Treat each Emotion as a Sacred Prayer: Create a Safe Bubble to Explore.
Respect them. This means, when feeling overloaded in a public place: seek solace. Find a quiet place (outdoors, the bathroom, or quarantine yourself to a corner, just for a bit of mental and emotional space, or leave altogether and seek out some place you feel completely at home—maybe even your own home!). The safe space will allow you to create a safe bubble to just be with your thoughts and feelings. By creating the bubble, you have acknowledged and honored your feelings. You have respected yourself.
In your bubble, you can hold that space for yourself to let these thoughts and feelings marinate. You can ask: “What am I truly upset about?” Ask and receive. The receiving may come in a myriad of ways. We all process differently. Here are some ways you may experience and stay present with your process:
- Writing out your thoughts—even if on a notepad on your phone or a napkin in a restaurant. Let it come free-form.
- Observing your thoughts and feelings with detachment and compassion. Be the mother/nurturer to your inner experience. Stay present and accepting of all that is coming up for you. Honor it. Be with it. It is teaching you something.
- Talk to a space-holding friend, loved one or professional. This is someone your trust completely—who won’t judge you for your thoughts or feelings. Some of us need to talk it out or through. Talking can be like a verbal journal. Just let it flow and then you can let it go. You can also talk to nature or even record yourself expressing your feelings. I find that when I go out for a long nature walk, my thoughts and feelings really have space to come to the surface. Talking to the trees and the sky feels comfortable to me. Find something, someone or somewhere that feels comfortable to you.
- Close your eyes, and feel. Go into the bodily sensations and the emotions present within those sensations. Experience them without judgement. Give them space to breathe. Learn from them.
- What other ways help you to express, feel and process your feelings? Ponder and comment below! Your sharing can help others. As empaths, we are always gathering tools to expand our processing skills. The world of feelings will never end. Our growth will continue, and one person’s evolution will spark the evolution of us all.
Seriously Express Yourself!
We are here on this planet to be human together. Being human means expressing a myriad of emotions. It is both a blessing and a curse to feel so much. And in the process of feeling deeply, we are blessed with knowing life on a deeper level than the logical mind could fathom.
Feeling involves letting go of judgement. It involves surrendering completely to the raw nakedness of the moment. It entails abandoning reason. It sometimes feels like control is going to be lost and craziness gained.
Feeling is scary and unpredictable. And that’s serious sh*t.
So to say that an empath needs to take things more lightly is like telling Mother Teresa to stop helping to save lives.
It is a complete rejection of their nature. It shows ignorance.
One of my favorite quotes is, Kerouac’s, “Life is but a great, strange dream.”
What if it is? What if in this dream you and I chose to be seriously sensitive. What if we chose to feel so deeply that the pain of the world felt emblazoned in our breasts like an emblem? What if wearing that emblem so close to our heart actually started to heal that pain? What if loving it so intensely—with the serious ferocity of a lioness for her cubs—made the world feel safe?
What if, letting go of that role—in all its serious dedication, made us weep to no end? What if letting it go made the world fall apart—and not in a good way?
There is nothing so serious as a lack of seriousness for who you are and what your truth is.
And as we, empaths and HSPs and all those big-hearted, loving souls of the world embrace our roles with bad-ass seriousness, the world will become a little lighter. Perhaps we will smile more and worry less!
Why? Because we give a f*ck about our process. Because every damn thing that passes through our consciousness matters. And that, my friends, is seriously awesome. Don’t you think?
If we, as a world respected and honored everything we experience, we could expand our consciousness and experience together what the seekers and sages talk about as the ultimate state: realizing we are light.
Author: Sarah Lamb
Images: Main Image—Author’s own; Featured Image—Flickr/Petras Gigalis
Editors: Travis May; Toby Israel