It is true that our blessings and gifts can be our biggest curses.
This is most true for those who identify as empathic and intuitive. Being super sensitive can become a roadblock when it comes to social relationships.
I grew up as a highly sensitive child and teen, unable at times to separate my emotion from the emotions of those I shared space with. Those who didn’t share my sensitivities told me cruel things, like:
“You have no backbone. You have no self. You’re too sensitive. Don’t be so open. Don’t be so honest. You’re weak. You’re insecure. Don’t take others so seriously. Just let it roll off your back. Stand your ground. Buck up.”
All these messages have power. Words have an energy—a charge. And they can harm just as much as they can heal. All those words, well, they hurt. In fact, they still do. The only difference between then and now is that my old self believed those things. My current self, well, she questions them. She still smarts when she hears them, whether they’re being said to her personally, or to someone else.
It’s like nails down a chalkboard when she hears: “Why are you so emotional? Why do you think so deeply on things? Maybe you think and feel too much.”
Is there such a thing as thinking too deeply and feeling too much for a highly sensitive, empathic soul? In our own company, we would say: absolutely not! Bring those emotional storms, and let’s have a party with them—it’s one big feelings dance!
Why sensitive souls are desperate for sensitive-soul buddies:
Perhaps one can feel too much when it’s not just their feelings they are tuning into, but the feelings of other people around them. As empaths, we enjoy the company of other empathic people, with one caveat: sometimes the intensity of two similar, sensitive souls can become too much. Sometimes we get excited and we open to each other so quickly and deeply that we soon burn out the connection. And if we don’t burn it out, then we mar it.
I’ve had a rather mystical connection with all of my empathic friends. There is often what I call an unspoken psychic communication. When we are in the room together, the energy feels palpable and magnetic. And when we are away from each other, we can still pick up on the nuances of what is happening in each other’s lives. We have dreams about each other that feel prophetic. We get feelings, impulses, and visions about each other that, when shared, offer the other person a sense of clarity that deepens our connection with each other, and enhances the one we have with ourselves.
I think the best gift my empathic, highly sensitive friends have to give is the validation that my connection—the felt sense I have in the moment—is on target. I’ve suddenly thought of a friend, and then she texts me. When I share that with her, she says she suddenly felt me me too, which is why she texted. We can be living across the globe, and yet it’s as if we are here, together. Physical space holds no power over our connection.
But—there is a caveat. There is a pitfall.
It resides in those paper-thin lines between us: a lack of boundaries. To be so profoundly close that you can sense another’s deepest thoughts, yearnings, or insecurities is a powerful thing—a sacred thing. However, it can also be dangerous.
Come on, friends, step on my heart:
There have been times in the past (before I knew how to create those boundaries) when I was like a completely open field—anyone could just step right into my space, romp around, and do as they pleased until their hearts felt content and they moved on to the next boundary-free empathic playground.
The problem was, at the end of their romping, my heart did not feel content.
At the end of their “let’s use Sarah as a tool for our emotional release” session, my whole being felt depleted and drained. My giving, loving heart felt hurt. And over the years, those individual hurts morphed into one big wound. A year ago, the intensity of my anger and rage made me want to close my heart and hide it, keeping me safe—so no one could find me and have their way with me—but isolated.
But recently, I realized that being alone was not a permanent solution. My playful self desired playmates.
Was it possible to let down the walls that encircled my heart to those who would respect it? Perhaps it was. Perhaps I could leave only a small fence up that would keep a part of me protected.
I now understand that being open to the feelings of those around us is a wonderful gift. It is powerful and validating to have kindred souls to share that with. However, if we don’t learn to create healthy boundaries for ourselves, the world at large (including our fellow empathic and highly sensitive friends) will take advantage of our openness.
I’m going to share a few techniques I’ve used to create healthy boundaries.
Boundary-setting 101: How to turn your paper-thin lines into thick, concrete walls.
Be okay with saying no.
Yes, you heard me: “No, thank you! Not right now. That’s close enough. No, I’m not interested. No, I need space right now. No, I’m not available tonight.” You get the gist. Saying no sets the stage for you to allow only what is right for you. When you set the stage, your new friend has a path laid out before them to walk—spike tape, if you will.
And if they choose to walk outside of your lines, well then, bye! You’ve discovered they are not healthy for you. I encourage you to practice saying no to a friend, and that you’re too tired—just for the sake of practice. If they’re your friend, and they love you, they will say: “Get some rest! I’ll miss you but would love to see you when you’re feeling energized again.”
Self-care, self-care, self-care!
Goddess, this term is overused, isn’t it? It’s overused because it’s under-used. We need to do more of it.
One of my favorite self-care rituals to replenish my energy when I’ve been drained is taking a warm Epsom salt bath with candlelight. Epsom salt is said to clear negative energy. It also relaxes your muscles. I add in some essential oil, or if I am feeling indulgent, I’ll use a bath bomb. I take that time in the bath to just soak in the hot, steamy water until I sweat out all my feelings of overwhelm.
Self-care means listening to your needs and meeting them in the moment, the best way you can. If your sensory system is suddenly in overdrive and you’re at a big group function, self-care might mean removing yourself from the group and taking a walk outside, or a trip to the bathroom, or maybe you even leave. Self-care means honoring the boundaries you’ve set for your heart, even if the other person becomes pushy.
Honor your right to choose.
I call my friends my tribe. Unlike my blood family, I get to choose my friends and my partner, and that is such a blessing. When I feel I have chosen unwisely, I can always make a different choice, or I can make my boundaries firmer and see if that shifts the relationship. In some cases, that choice involves loosening my boundaries with folks who have really gained my trust and shown me they honor and respect my boundaries, just like I honor and respect theirs.
My friend, you get one life.
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” ~ Mary Oliver
Relephant bonus: The One Buddhist Red Flag to Look out for.
Author: Sarah Theresa
Image: Lauren Treece/Flickr
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Copy & Social Editor: Travis May