Empathy, and emotions as teachers
The world is your mirror
When we absorb other people’s emotion sometimes these fall away again as soon as we are out of or away from the person or place we picked it up. If it stays, this is often because something in us is acting like velcro to it - it hasn’t moved through us because there is something magnetising it and holding it in place. This something in us is almost always some
thing that resonates with the frequency of the emotion we picked up - that is, the same or similar emotion that we are holding inside us. If you are around an angry person and find you carry that with you beyond that encounter, become curious whether this is because of some anger you are holding - whether acknowledged or unacknowledged, conscious or unconscious, felt or repressed. You can begin a practice of seeing these as trailheads - pointers to what you need to heal.
So here is the first shift: from today, choose to see all emotional content as data that is giving you important information. This information might be about:
What someone you are in proximity to is feeling (you are feeling them empathically, so this information is about what they are feeling - however, these feelings are in your body. As you start to resonate with them, it brings those same feelings up within your own body, and this is what you are actually feeling. You increase resonance when you synchronise breath and body with another person - if you ‘mirror’ their gestures, posture, and body language more, you will feel more the same way as they do. Can you notice when you are mirroring someone?)
What your unprocessed emotion or past traumas are (you are feeling the feelings of a part of you that has yet to be healed and integrated).
What your boundaries and needs are (you are feeling a response to your current situation as it pertains to you - bad feelings give you vital information about whether something is OK for you and whether your needs are being met.
The trouble sometimes, is knowing which kind of information they are giving you.
Mine or yours?
A key challenge for many people with high empathy is knowing when they are feeling their own feelings and when they are empathing another person’s feelings. It can easily become overwhelming when the emotional field is full of strong feelings and can easily lead to feelings of hopelessness if you believe that you need to process everything you are feeling. It is too much!
The ‘empath pattern’ is a pattern where a young person, usually under 7 but often just a baby, does not have all of their emotional needs for connection, unconditional love, and accurate empathy met. In order to connect to the adults who either don’t provide this, or provide it inconsistently, the child extends their attention outside themselves in search of it, and adopts the behaviour of emotionally attuning to the adult instead of the other way around. This pattern can get established so that it becomes a default. The ‘empath pattern’ gets set up so young, and often even pre-verbally, there is no chance at all that the ‘baby empath’ can understand and differentiate between individual emotions, let alone whose is whose. The very conditions that set this pattern up - a lack of emotional attunement - mean it is very likely that the level of accurate emotional mirroring and the implicit emotional education that this imparts, is also insufficient. The remedy is to get an updated emotional education in the here and now, and coach your inner children to learn the necessary skills. This work is covered in depth in my e-course “Emotional Intimacy for Empaths”.
In the meantime, here are a couple of guidelines for telling if something is not yours:
It comes on in the presence of a person and dissipates once they have gone.
It comes on strongly and is not triggered by something that either makes sense to you, or that is one of your existing emotional triggers.
It dissipates fairly quickly if you try a ‘clearing’ meditation or practice. (Like the ‘Clear, Anchor, Seal Meditation’.)
It dissipates fairly quickly if you exercise your sovereignty: say in your mind or out loud “I do not give permission to any of this [name the feeling] energy being present in my energy field that did not originate in me. I only consent to my own emotions being present in my energy field, and I immediately decree that all emotional energy belonging to another person is returned to them or to source, whatever is in the highest good. It is done, it is done, it is done. Thank you.”
Whatever is still in you once you have gone through this list, you can assume that either it is yours, or it has something important to teach you. Either way, you can then process it (if you don’t know how, I recommend “Emotional Intimacy for Empaths”). Hopefully these steps will at least reduce the overwhelm of it, so that it can be processed more easily.
Past or present?
How can we tell if what we are feeling is an over-reaction to the current situation, which is triggering past stored or held pain? A key question to ask yourself in relation to this is: when did I first feel this way? Often there will be many moments in life where we have felt the same feeling, and the core feeling is almost always in the first seven years of life. If that experience has not been integrated it will continue to arise, and further situations resembling that early one will continue to crop up. This is actually a gift, although when the feelings are strong and hard it sure doesn’t feel like one! It’s a gift because it can act as a portal to that early experience through which we can heal it. These experiences continue to happen to call our attention in, so that we can finally attend to it. Think of it like the emergency flares shot up by the inner children left abandoned, forgotten and scared in the scenes of pain they are frozen in. We have a way to see that they are still there, calling for help, crying for us to notice them and to bring them home to us. Whenever you are triggered by a past pain, know that there is a part of you who is stuck in that initial event, and they need you. They need you to show them it is safe now. They need you to tell them they are loved, that they are not bad, that it is not their fault, and that you will be there for them. What else does your inner child need to hear from you about this? We will work more deeply with our inner children in the 10 Day Inner Child Play.
Once you know how to differentiate between the kinds of information that emotions might be giving is, all of them are super valuable. Knowing what others are feeling can be a huge asset for you in the role of parent, therapist, teacher, friend, lover, or any person focussed profession, as we will be able to understand, reflect, have compassion for, and be a healing presence more deeply because of this capacity. Knowing what your unhealed wounds are is the necessary first step to healing them, so being triggered and getting to know what is underneath your emotional over-reactions means that you can turn your attention and care towards them. If you have self healing tools, you now know where to focus them, and you also now know what to bring to a therapist or healer to get support in healing them. Every other feeling is giving you information about your current situation that can be a guide through your life - these feelings just want to be felt, and to be listened to and honoured by acting in accordance with their guidance. The arising of emotion can then be welcomed as a valuable messenger.
The invitation here is to begin to listen. All of our emotional responses are giving us important wisdom - they are never wrong! One way to do this ‘listening’ is to begin to think of your feelings in a personified way - remember you are not your feelings. When anger arises, there is a part of you that feels anger. You can turn your attention towards it with curiosity.
Where is it in your body?
What does it feel like?
How does it affect your breath?
How does your body want to move, freeze, tense, or express?
Are there words that go with it?
You can ask it questions:
How long have you been feeling like this?
What do you hope for?
What do you fear?
What do you want to happen / not to happen?
What do you need?
How can I help?
As you repeat this practice with different emotions as they arise, you can bring these questions and any others that feel right into that practice. Tune in by focussing inside, and doing this inner exploration at the moments you most need it, or whenever you can, to build a relationship to the parts of you that feel emotional and learn what they are trying to tell you. There is no ‘wrong’ way with this practice. It really helps not to have an expectation about what you should or shouldn’t experience. You will find this easier some days than others, and some emotions will be easier for you than others. It is a lifelong practice, so instead of holding yourself to a standard of perfection, I gently encourage you to celebrate your little wins, appreciate and congratulate your new insights, and have as much compassion for yourself as possible. Lastly, it really helps to relax, and to breath.
Here is the (perhaps radical) shift that I have adopted and invite you to try on for size: there are no bad emotions. See how things shift for you if you begin to welcome your feelings with curiosity. Let me know how it goes!