The following article is an excerpt from Kristen Schwartz’s book, The Healed Empath.
For most of my life, “Take care of me” meant change me.
If you had pulled a chair up beside me ten years ago and told me that self-care was the answer and if I cared for myself, it would lead to feeling how I wanted to feel, I would have rolled my eyes and wished you well. I had built my life on the notion that if I could morph myself enough—be more, be less, achieve, pretend I did not feel—I would attain the peace I desired. Instead, by the time I was eighteen, I had determined people were unsafe and acquired the survival mechanisms that expanded my misery. We learn how to “survive” by watching the adults around us. No child escapes picking up their parents’ coping mechanisms. Likewise, our grandparents learn from their parents, continuing through generations until we wake up to the destruction and take accountability to heal and learn healthier ways to cope. Although we can have different coping mechanisms, excessive fixing, staying small, and withdrawing to remain safe have caused my suffering as an adult.
As you can see, these survival skills are in direct opposition to each other, creating a war within. I was taking one step forward with an immediate step back. I was dipping my toe into relationships, assessing, and pulling it out for most of my life. These coping methods were what I knew—what was modeled and deeply ingrained in me. These behaviors felt familiar and safe, and I had adopted them without thought. Before we’re aware of our survival skills, we draw on them when we are emotionally overwhelmed, are triggered by our trauma, or do not feel safe (even if we are).
As an empath, I engaged my survival mechanisms most of my life. I learned to use my empathic abilities to access risk. I accessed each person and categorized them into three categories: potential non-threat (therefore, offer help and do for them to earn my keep), potential threat (be kind but maintain distance), and danger (build a wall and keep them out). Once I categorized someone, it did not mean they always stayed in that category. I was continually reassessing to update my risk.
Sometimes it is our unhealed trauma that causes us to be hypervigilant. In my case, it was trauma paired with my ability to notice the most subtle hints of inauthenticity and the discrepancy between feelings and words. I did not know how to reconcile what I felt versus what people presented. If I shared something fabulous about my life, and friends or family met me with a smile and a “that’s great,” but the energy radiating from them felt resistant, I would chalk it up to their inability to be happy for me and would deem them a threat. I never considered their unhealed trauma or pain—only how their energy affected me. It was not until I had a complete emotional and physical breakdown that I learned about empaths.
As I nursed and healed my trauma, it became clear there was another factor at play in the overwhelm I felt in my daily life. What caused my suffering was threefold: trauma, coping mechanism, and absorption of emotions and energy. Conversely, what saved me was prioritizing self, self-care, and healing.
Empaths are highly attuned to the emotions and energies swirling around them. However, they are also hypersensitive to this awareness’s effects on them. When they witness intense emotions, they experience harsh aftereffects. Maybe you’ve noticed you feel drained after attending an event, or you are like me and feel exhausted and emotionally charged after hearing others’ struggles without recess. Self-care is the difference between an empath feeling they have no control of their experience and creating the life they want to experience. The best thing I did for myself was making self-care a lifestyle. Self-care became a non-negotiable aspect of my everyday life.
Done are the days of a once-a-year Mother’s Day massage. I am an empath, and the world I experience differs from other people. Therefore, I have unique qualities and individual needs; and self-care is how I provide myself the support I need to flourish.
Self-care can be anything that feels good to you. It changes as our needs change and can be anything from a private dance party to three minutes of breath work, a nighttime walk, rest, writing, connecting with friends, alone time, acupuncture, or standing up for yourself. We know how well our self-care practice goes by how good we feel.
>> What will make you feel nourished this week?
>> How do you want to feel?
>> What inspires you?
>> Be curious and have fun. What have you always wanted to try?
If you are like me, you prefer to try different things and mix things up. My non-negotiables are meditation, movement, writing, rest, and nature. Over the years, I have sprinkled in infrared saunas, red-light therapy, acupuncture, Reiki, cryotherapy, talk therapy, sound therapy, breathwork, aromatherapy, sound therapy, and more.
Your self-care practice is all about you. Design it to soothe your soul and give yourself the love you have always wanted. Cultivating a loving, trusting, and supportive relationship with yourself means prioritizing yourself.
Everything is energy, including all thoughts and emotions. There is no better time than now to get cozy with the vital concept of energy. On any given day, most of us put ourselves in situations that drain our energy. The sheer act of thinking negative thoughts drains our energy. Although it is a popular pastime to blame others and their energy for affecting ours, it is our responsibility to protect and manage our energy. Saving our energy comes in two categories: ongoing maintenance that keeps us strong, like nutrition and movement, and more defensive tools to utilize when we notice dense energy in a room. Some protection tools like meditation, mind your thoughts, and clearing your energy can be day-to-day and situation-based.
If all thoughts and emotions are energy, then any past trauma we hold that is easily activated and affects our behavior drains a generous portion of our energy. We are not responsible for all our emotional wounds, but we are responsible for healing them. Taking accountability and the action required to recover is a massive step in protecting and preserving our energy. Shadow work can be energy-draining, but the long-term payoff is undeniable.
An energetic boundary is a buffer or protective energy field made by you and contains your energy. Creating these energy fields intends to keep your energy separate from others’ negative energies but allow the exchange of positive and loving energies.
Following are three things that make energetic boundaries possible:
1. Get familiar with your energy. Observe how your energy is affected in all situations. What drains you? What fills you? Be mindful of your thoughts and emotions; negative thoughts lower our energy. Prioritize self-care.
2. Accept that what you allow within your energy field is 100 percent your responsibility. Get clear on your intention for the boundary. The clearer you are, the more likely you will get the results you want.
3. If you are not comfortable doing what is suitable for you, commit to seeing any emotional wounds affecting your self-esteem.
When we have energetic boundaries, we take full accountability for our energy and what we allow in and out. Our awareness of our bodies, minds, and power in all situations helps us make deliberate choices and snap decisions that serve our energetic needs best.
Carrying the weight of your and their emotions, fears, and worries is impossible while maintaining a healthy existence. Nurturing our energy is something empaths should take very seriously. When you begin to create clear boundaries around your energy and prioritize your well-being with non-negotiable self-care, you will notice an immediate change in the people and situations you draw into your life. To become a true nurturer of your energy means you are willing to claim your energy independence, call your power back, and be accountable for how you feel. You are the answer you have been waiting for. Have fun, get creative, and allow yourself to experiment. You are deserving of all you desire.