This past weekend, my entire body tensed up. It felt like I was being squeezed, or pressed, or holding my breath; it felt like fear - constricted and tight. At the time, I was interacting with someone who was very emotional and whose energy was particularly heavy. Usually, when I sense fear or resistance in others, I feel it in my right shoulder, but at that moment, it was like I was absorbing her energy into my entire body, literally.
This is what it means to be an empath: you can read other's energies and emotions, and often, you take them on as your own.
Over the past year, I've come to learn that along with sensing other's "blocks", I get a fairly nuanced read of their vibrational/emotional state, that, I can tune in to when I'm present. Honestly, I think I've always been pretty empathic, which has resulted in a proclivity to solitude. Absorbing the energy of others can be draining. Imagine the messages one receives about love as a young child when she's picking up on the pain others feel and her brain develops neural pathways between caring for someone and taking on their pain. It's a strange thing to admit, even to myself, and it's true: I am very sensitive to energy, and I pick up on everything.
If you can relate, you know that being empathic has amazing benefits: people feel they can open up around you; you are highly intuitive, and you are well-equipped when it comes to choosing who to invite into your life and who to keep at a distance.
There are some less-than-great effects as well...you might find yourself wanting to pull away from people. You might have a tendency to try and "fix" others, even when they don't ask for your help because they don't even recognize that there is a problem (but you do). I have found that I require tremendous amounts of alone time to realign, particularly after I've spent time with someone whom I perceived to have a low, draining energy that felt parasitic. I've also found myself taking on the role of "fixer", which is an endless rabbit hole of frustration.
Moreover, life doesn't always provide me with an endless amount of time to sit in solitude and realign myself after taking on the energy of others. Sometimes, I am thrust in the midst of people, either while working as a public school teacher, or just while I'm out and about in the world, being social, trying to be a human being.
And so here are some strategies that I am currently employing (or am setting the intention to employ) when I feel my energy shift around others.
#1 Recognize that you would not be sensing a lower energy if it were not, on some level, an energy that was within yourself.
The first way to shift anything is to own it, so in my case, this past weekend, what would have served me would have been to recognize that the fear I saw in someone else that manifested as being overly emotional was a fear that I have, even if, at the time, it was dormant. I could've recognized that some part of me is overly emotional.
#2 Recognize that the energy is NOT yours.
All things are paradoxical. Yes, some part of me is fearful and over emotional, which I projected on to another, and yet, at that moment, the tightness I felt in my body was NOT mine. I had taken on her energy. What would have served me would have been to say to myself: This constricted feeling in my body is not mine. It's hers. I release it.
That recognition creates space in one's consciousness. I could've chosen to take three breaths and release the energy that didn't even belong to me in the first place. Access Consciousness, an organization that teaches metaphysical tools, led by Gary Douglas, has a strategy that I often employ, which is to ask yourself the question: Who does this belong to? Often, feelings of guilt, fear, and sadness do not even belong to you! One suggestion they have is to follow up with a playful: Return to sender!
You might feel silly, asking yourself this question, or your ego might be telling you right now, "What good would that do?" So just consider how many emotions you have throughout the day that are, actually, conditioned responses. Someone cuts you in line at the supermarket; you've been conditioned to get angry. You lose your job; you've been conditioned to feel upset. You don't get into a college you applied to; you feel like you're unsuccessful or not worthy. What if losing your job was the best thing that ever happened to you? What if attending that college would've been a terrible experience? How would you have responded if there were no such thing as group-think. I wonder.
I've been playing with this question lately, as I've had some feelings of jealousy come up in me (and I'm usually not jealous at all). I've been asking myself who does this belong to? only to realize that it's society's energy - the collective conscious - that is telling me that I SHOULD be jealous under x, y, z circumstances. It's that same energy that tells me that I should have this sort of job or that sort of relationship or be happy if I weigh this many pounds.
I mean, I don't even believe in jealousy, which is founded on the precept of possessing another! It's just another construct of this world, and I feel lighter when I let it go, and so I release it. Return to sender!
3. Set boundaries.
Here's another paradox: one spiritual truth is to allow all things; receive all things, while another truth is that boundaries are healthy. So how does an empath set boundaries? By actively setting the intention to protect your emotional well-being. I say to myself: This energy is yours. This story is yours. I will not take it on. I will not absorb it into my body/mind/soul.
I observe my ego here, because some part of me wants to get involved. Some teacher/uplifter/healer part of me wants to take on other's fear for the purpose of helping them to transmute or dissolve it.
And while I can hold space for them, sure; while I can consciously (or unconsciously) entrain their energy, I cannot take on their energy to the detriment of my own well-being. That would not serve me, nor would that be loving to myself.
It's not always easy; especially if I love someone, I will feel their fear and pain deeply, and still, I can create a space - a bit of breathing room - so that I may maintain a consciousness that is expansive and loving, and because I cannot be of service to anyone if I do not, first and foremost, serve myself.