Several empathic and sensitive readers have shared on the blog that they struggle with knowing when they’re experiencing their own feelings versus feelings they have "picked up" from someone else.
To review, empathy is the ability to tune into and experience another person's feelings as if they are your own. Sometimes we even process emotions for other people so they don't have to, which isn't exactly fair to either person. For more information about empathy, see my article "Understanding Empathy." Most empaths are untrained intuitives who haven't learned to strengthen their boundaries and consciousness to make their psychic ability work for them. Once you have developed your empathy, you'll be a clairsentient or skilled empath, able to clearly distinguish between your feelings and someone else's feelings.
Here are some key steps to developing your ability, and beginning to discern what you are experiencing:
1. Make It Conscious As an empath, you naturally tune into other people. The key is to learn to do it consciously. Recognize and accept that you can pick up on other people's emotions. Name what you are experiencing, and don't second-guess it. This is part of learning where your boundaries are. My coaching teacher, Marcia Collins, uses a wonderful technique of naming out loud every emotion she picks up. She understands emotion as simply being "energy in motion," and chooses to experience it as such.
I also recommend using yarrow flower essences to help you raise your consciousness around your empathy and learn to differentiate your emotions from others.
2. Know *How* You Are In order to tell the difference between someone else's emotions and your own, you first have to know how you are feeling. Regularly tune into yourself and ask, "How am I feeling right now?" Another helpful tool is the use of morning pages -- writing three pages, stream-of-consciousness style, every morning. Meditation is also a powerful way to strengthen your energy field and sense of yourself.
3. Know *Where* You Are Are you in your body? Are you grounded? You can learn energy skills to ground yourself so you can be more present in your body and in your own experience. You might also try breathing into the places in your body where you feel tense, anxious, or are experiencing an emotion. This will help bring you back to yourself. Spending time in nature or simply getting outside is also of great benefit. I've heard it said that being around the nature spirits of plants and animals can help us discharge what we pick up.
4. Use Self-Inquiry Once you are conscious and aware of your own experience, then you can start to dialogue with yourself when you pick up something that you suspect isn't your own. Simply ask, "Is this mine?" Then, allow the answer to come from deep within. When you do pick up on something that's not yours, spiritual teacher Sonia Choquette recommends saying, "This is not my experience." Also try, "This is not mine. Everything that is not mine, leave now!"
5. Establish Strong Boundaries Strengthening your boundaries on both an energetic and interpersonal level will also help you learn the difference between what's yours and what’s not. To do this, work with saying no, honoring your own needs, and learning energy shielding techniques. Consider also that others have created their own experiences on a soul level and that they don't need you to rescue or overly identify with them. In fact, doing so may actually be a disservice to them. Sonia calls that a "vote of no confidence."
6. Clear Away What You Do Pick Up If something just won't go away, chances are it's not yours. Keep paying attention and keep asking questions. If you have picked up on something that isn't yours, you can use energy techniques, take Epsom salts baths, or you can get help from an energy healer to help you clear it away.
7. Know When and Where You Are More Susceptible Your awareness will be much more resilient when you are taking proper care of yourself and aren't worn down or overstimulated. Remember, being highly sensitive is both a gift and a responsibility.
You may be able to prepare for your "trouble spots." For instance, spending more time with your family and friends over the holidays may be empathically tricky. I suggest putting a pre- and post-event plan in place to check in with yourself. You might even want to have an Epsom salts bath lined up in advance!
8. Consider Your Environment Give serious thought to carefully choosing the people you spend time with. Make sure you have a good support system in place, made up of people who understand and validate your experience, for times when you do run aground. As a sensitive and empathic soul, you ARE affected by other people. It’s worthwhile to be conscious about the people you choose to be with.
9. Keep Practicing The more you practice the easier this will become, as you build up your own experience and learn to rely on it. The more you work with this, the better you will be able to differentiate and choose when you want to connect with someone empathically or not.
I hope this is helpful!
I give special thanks to Elaine La Joie, fellow coach, intuitive, and energy healer/light body worker, for consulting with me on this article.
Copyright 2004-2011, Jennifer Avery, All rights reserved.
Jenna Avery is a highly sensitive coach and intuitive who specializes in guiding sensitive souls to find a deep sense of inner rightness within themselves so they are inspired to step forward and shine. Jenna is a Certified Life Coach based in Berkeley, California. She can be reached at 510.984.3474. You’re invited to take her free online assessment: "Is Your Sensitivity Working For You?" on her website at www.highlysensitivesouls.com.
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