Why HSPs Have Trouble With Controlling People

If you are alive, you have met controlling people.

Controlling people can drive anyone crazy, but If you are a highly sensitive person, you may find the effect of controlling very difficult to live with.

Controlling people can certainly have that effect on me.

Controlling people will probably not understand why their behavior is problematic for you, the HSP.

Each HSP, however, needs to understand that controlling people can be very bad for their health.

Why Do People Control?

Most people only want to be happy. Many believe that controlling themselves and others is a method to achieve the desired result of happiness.

Some of the reasons people try to control others include:

  • they have low amounts of trust possible because of negative experiences
  • they think they are more competent
  • they have deep-seated prejudices about right and wrong
  • they have been taught fear
  • they perceive themselves as better and/or more “normal” than others 

Controlling people sometimes assume that others want and need what they want and need. Although we all have needs and desires in common, over-generalizing about other people is a mistake that controlling people often make.

Controlling people often treat others as an extension of their needs and desires. In extreme cases, the person is narcissistic in demanding that they be catered to.

So one reason that controlling people control is to get their needs met.

The Hidden Agenda Of Controlling People

It is fairly easy to recognize that controlling people are trying to get their needs met as we have discussed.

Controlling behavior also has a social function: to maintain their comfort level which they do by enforcing social norms and conforming behavior.

One thing I have noticed about controlling people is that they often have a wall around them. You can detect it in interacting with them. They are often guarded and measured.because deep down they are afraid. Protecting themselves from that fear can be their hidden agenda.

So if there is a conflict between a controlling person’s comfort zone and another person, the comfort zone will likely win out.

The Comfort Zone Dilemna

The controlling comfort zones of other people can be hard for the highly sensitive person to handle for several reasons:

  • we are naturally loathed to hurt others. We can feel bad when we upset someone’s comfort zone when we had no intention of doing harm. Such negative reactions over time can cause us to pull back, and doubt ourselves. We can see ourselves in an unnecessarily negative light.
  • we are sensitive to nuances which means that what we perceive to be a constructive course of action may interfere with someone else’s comfort zone. We can take on and internalize the conflict blaming ourselves and as a result cause ourselves a lot of emotional pain.
  • we are naturally creative which means our strategies may be way out of the box for our colleagues and friends. We can have a lot of difficulties navigating our creative differences with others.
  • we can be very farsighted in a shortsighted world. Our long sightedness may step on the comfort zone of people who seek short term rewards.

All of the wonderful qualities of highly sensitive people can make their relationships difficult because an HSPs talents can often lead to unwelcome change.

So what to do about this?

Letting Possibilities Guide Us

Handling fear – our fear or the fear of others  – is an important skill to master.

When we are dealing with controlling people, we can use our natural empathy to help others reduce their fear:

  • we can demonstrate the benefits of an action
  • we can offer proof
  • we can demonstrate that there is nothing to lose and everything to gain if that is the case
  • e can take the risks out of the closet, put them on the table and create a positive perception about how they can be handled.

Sometimes we can make the case for  moving out of our comfort zones. When the possibilities are attractive enough and the risks well handled, successful forward movement is possible.

What about those situations when you are not able to create enthusiasm for new possibilities?

Let Compassion Be Your Guide

There are many situations where an individual or an group is not interested in change and you have to honor their decision. Sometimes when an individual is controlling in favor of their comfort zone, they are respecting their own limits, and that is a healthy decision to make.

I think it is dangerous to assume what someone else needs or should do. Many of us require healing. The demands of healing may preclude creative activities. Or perhaps an individual simply has too much on their plate. That happens frequently as well.

It is important to honor where someone is and treat it with respect even if you do not agree and think they are wrong. You cannot force change and you might be doing harm in pushing too much. Very controlling people may have made a decision in favor of a less creative lifestyle in order to respect their personal needs.

Whenever we encourage a controlling person to let go of fear and try something new, we need to be promoting joy and wellness. We need to be supporting the agenda of our higher selves and the higher self of the other person. That may mean that we need to back off.

Highly sensitive people are lucky that their natural empathy can help them find compassionate relationship choices that can help a controlling person feel heard and loved. That is a great way to reduce fear, and helps others engage more with life.

What is a great gift to offer others!

Masking Our Intuitive Sensitivity

 

It’s two days before Halloween as my wife and I head to our favorite Italian restaurant in the city.  Entering the foyer of the restaurant, I notice a message written on the chalkboard listing the night’s specials. In addition to mussels with plenty of garlic and Venetian zuppa de peoci soup, a psychic is also on the menu tonight. “This should be good”, I tell my wife as we walk through the dimly lit dining room to a booth along the far wall.

I had recognized the psychic’s name written on the chalkboard; a local woman named Carol well-known in the area for her accurate readings on a local radio show. Our antipasto has just been served as the night’s entertainment begins. Sitting on a stool in the front of the room, I notice as Carol politely refuses an appetizer brought over by the owner stating that she doesn’t eat before reading for people.

Noticing the owner’s surprise she explains that the food will make her sleepy and affect her energy. It was an awkward moment; the food in this restaurant was some of the best in the area and I don’t think the owner ever had one of his dishes refused especially when he decides to serve it to her personally. But she stayed true to herself; not letting social pressures distract her from the job at hand. Taking note of her behavior, I was pleased to see her actions embrace her identity.

Our main course was served as Carol began to walk around the room, stopping at each table. Since we were sitting over by a far wall, we had pretty well finished our meal by the time she arrived. Talking to my wife first, she addressed some health and career concerns my wife had before turning to me and studying my face for a moment. “You do some really good work with people” she commented; “But in public, you keep that side of yourself so hidden; why is that?”

Still studying my face, she raised her eyebrows urging me to say something. There wasn’t much I could say; the fact that she knew that I always kept my intuitive sensitivity hidden around strangers without having ever met me was a testament to her psychic sensitivity. Perhaps, in response to my startled expression, she gave me kind smile and moved on to the next table. Watching her walk away, I knew without a doubt that she had just shown me how I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin.

Still studying my face, she raised her eyebrows urging me to say something. There wasn’t much I could say; the fact that she knew that I always kept my intuitive sensitivity hidden around strangers without having ever met me was a testament to her psychic and intuitive sensitivity. Perhaps, in response to my startled expression, she gave me kind smile and moved on to the next table. Watching her walk away, I knew without a doubt that she had just shown me how I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin.

Being Comfortable In Your Own Skin

For highly sensitive people, it is very easy for us to feel the emotions and unspoken attitudes of those around us.  During our interactions with others, if our intuitive sensitivity prompts a negative reaction from them, we are painfully aware of it. And, if over time this pattern repeats on an ongoing basis, we can become very hesitant to show our sensitivity at all.

In my own life, as a child raised in a household where I was taught that men didn’t cry or show much emotion, I could feel my father’s disapproval whenever I got too emotional. There was always that unspoken judgment hanging in the air between us. Being that I could sense the emotions of the people around me very easily, this mindset created a conflict with my sensitivity when I was growing up. Funerals were especially difficult where I would feel overwhelmed by the mourner’s emotional energy circulating within the room. Taught that crying in public was taboo, I would fight my sensitivity to keep my emotions in check.

Now sitting in a restaurant many years later, I found it ironic that right around Halloween when it is tradition to don a mask in order to elicit a specific response from those around you, I realized that I had been following that pattern most of my life; hiding my sensitivity behind a mask of acceptable social behavior.

Learning To Accept Our Intuitive Sensitivity

To be comfortable in our own skin means we have to be accepting and nurturing to the gifts our sensitivity bestows us in the face of a culture where being highly sensitive with intuitive sensitivity may not generate a favorable response. The key here is to stay focused on our values; following our values keeps us authentic which in turn allows us to acknowledge, and work with the gift of our sensitivity.

Living A Meaningful Life

In his Extraordinary Living Program, author Stephen Cope points out that in order to live a meaningful life requires we not only work with our gift but acknowledge the sacrifice which often accompanies it. For Highly Sensitive People, working with the gift of our sensitivity may require us to sacrifice the emotional need to fit in by not attracting unwanted attention. I find it interesting that Cope also states that most gifts are borne from a background of suffering at some level. Like myself, the majority of highly sensitive people I have met raised in dysfunctional family’s dealing with alcoholism or addiction issues also battle the “Don’t ask / Don’t tell”  syndrome of putting up a false front  in order to not attract attention to your family. Learned at an early age, we blend into our environments like a chameleon in order to avoid the predatory eye of judgment.

The Gift And Its Sacrifice

For the highly sensitive it’s not always easy. Recently, I spent an afternoon hiking with a friend who was grieving the death of a family member. Although I didn’t feel it at the time, the energy of her shared grief affected me on an emotional and physical level. Days later feeling moody and morose, I decided to take an early morning jog alone along the Mohawk River rather than meet up later that morning with my running partners Linda and Shelley. I simply did not have the energy to pretend that everything was OK with me and didn’t want my mood to bring them down.

However, in response to my text declining participation in our usual Sunday run along the river, I was surprised when both texted me back stating they would be on their way shortly and would meet me by my car. Shelley was the first to arrive. A highly sensitive person herself, as she got out of the car she immediately sensed my emotional state. As I spoke about my hike with our mutual friend earlier that week and its effect on my emotions, I saw her eyes tear up a bit as she went to hug me. My stammered apology wasn’t necessary. Shelley knew of my sensitivity and saw it hiding behind the mask of self-reliance I was trying to present.  “You need us right now” was all she would say.

Self Sacrifice Can Make You Sick

Self sacrifice is very hard to escape.

It is so conditioned into us that whether you are an HSP or non-HSP doesn’t matter. You are subject to the expectation.

Self sacrifice carried to an extreme will make you sick, emotionally and physically.

Why is self-sacrifice such a problem?

Self-Sacrifice Solves A Lot Of Problems

Self sacrifice solves so many problems:

  • if there are scarce resources, self-sacrifice ensures that there is “enough”
  • if someone is abusive, expecting self-sacrifice from victims “erases” a problem and injustice
  • if life is unfair, it is because self-sacrifice is your “lot” in life
  • if the system does not work, self-sacrifice enables us to avoid dealing with the problem
  • expectations of self-sacrifice ensure that social inequities remain in place by allocating support only to some
  • expectations of self-sacrifice maintain unequal relationships and relationships that are one-way streets. They maintain power imbalances and the status quo.

How Self-Sacrifice Affects An Individual

Self sacrifice feels devastating to the individual who experiences it. It is more than feeling like you are less than others. It is a way of appropriating the life force of one individual for the benefit of others.

For highly sensitive people for whom emotional vampires are a danger, a life of self-sacrifice can be even crueler since you are being both emotionally and usually physically exploited without any hope for reciprocity and care.

People stuck in self-denying situations often feel angry depleted and robbed of their lives.

They are right!

Self Sacrifice Destroys Relationships

Self sacrifice is culturally conditioned. That means it is expected and is often the basis of social and familial approval.

When such an arrangement is socially supported, change becomes more difficult, because the social support for change is not there. Generally, some people benefit from the arrangement and therefore will not want to end it.

A sacrificing arrangement takes away the power from the person who is sacrificing because it is in the nature of the relationships to deny the validity of any claims from the individual who is being used. That is why many people who have been in self-sacrificing situations will feel rage and powerlessness at the same time: two uncomfortable emotions and even more hurtful together.

An unequal self-sacrificing relationship is set by expectation and social custom, therefore, it is not always possible to negotiate a better arrangement, and if improvements are possible they are often hard won and hard maintained.

Without appearing too gloomy, it is important, to be honest about the deep difficulties faced by those individuals and groups whose lives have been damaged by individual, group and systemic exploitation. When you grasp and feel the intractability of racism and sexism, you can have some compassion for those recovering from those forms of discrimination.

Self-sacrifice may be physically and emotionally devastating to the victim, but it is also spiritually damaging, even more so for the perpetrator than the victim, although both are harmed, nonetheless.

Changing Your Life

Changing your life to one of healthy living and wellbeing is very challenging. It is important to treat oneself with respect during the difficult process of change.

People who seek more equal and more respectful relationships are often considered troublemakers, and misanthropes by those who gain from the inequity.

We see this resistance to change all over as our world gradually evolves to one where individuals share the world more fully. As desirable as equality is, it takes time to make a transition to an equality based life and can take a long time depending on the support that you have and receive.

As individuals recovering from racism can attest, the road to full acceptance can be a long one.

There are steps you can take to make the process easier:

  1. assess your skills and resources
  2. develop skills so that you can survive in the world
  3. determine what your basic necessities are and get them met s that you need as little as possible during the process of creating a self-respecting life for yourself.
  4. find support among people who share your desire and vision for a better way of life
  5. expect the process of change to take time
  6. honor yourself for making the journey

Developing a self-respecting life is a hero’s journey. Those who undertake it deserve compassion and respect.

What Our Emotions Are Trying To Tell Us

As a sensitive person, I am often caught up in the rip-tide of my feelings. They sweep me up. They leave me gasping for air. They throw me on the shore, battered and bruised.

Because they can be overwhelming, I have been wanting to get to the heart of my emotional life. Why do I relate to my feelings the way I do? How can I express them in a healthy way? How can I emotionally self-regulate?

Maybe, you, like me, are in this place as well. After all, it’s natural that in a world like ours, where we are never taught about emotions, we often end up with only about half the tools we need.

As I have worked to better relate to my emotions, I have learnt some things that might help you as well. They might give you some missing pieces for your own puzzle.

Here are some clues to help decipher what your emotions are trying, so desperately, to convey to you.

The Clues In Emotions

Every emotion has a function, even the so-called negative ones.  

Many of us have been exposed to a harmful unleashing of powerful emotions. Think back to how anger was modeled for you. It’s very likely that it only showed up in its destructive form.

Because we bore witness to this destruction, we might have started avoiding anger altogether. But all emotions, even the so-called negative ones, come bearing important messages.

Karla McLaren talks about this eloquently in her wonderful book The Language of Emotions. She tells us how deep-seated beliefs about “negative emotions” make us lose touch with the very power that could liberate us.

Since many of us avoid anger at all costs, we forget about the critical role that anger can play. Without it, we wouldn’t know when our boundaries had been invaded. Without it, our personal space would be compromised.

Standing sentry to our treasures is the true function for anger, and if we can understand this, we can re-form our relationship with anger. McLaren tells us that when we feel anger rising, we need to ask ourselves “What must be protected? What must be restored?”

Emotions Provide Important Questions

If we don’t ask these questions or allow ourselves to feel our anger, we leave ourselves vulnerable and undefended. For many years, I was so invested in being nice that I dropped my anger as soon as it came up. I couldn’t quite see the direct relationship between my escalating fear and my pushed-down anger.

How could I not feel shaky and insecure when I had effectively banished the protective energies of anger? I was opening myself to more and more harm, and the fear rose up to show me that I was, indeed, in unprotected territory.

If you have lose touch with anger, you might not know where you end and someone else begins. You might let things and people that are harmful into your space and your life.

Without it, you can’t defend your choices and ward off interferences.

Think about how healthy anger protects you. If you are like me, what would dropping a belief like “A good person never gets angry” do for you? Would it mean that you might sense, in the enveloping darkness, all those places where you have given up too much of yourself?

Wouldn’t that lead to change and to setting better boundaries to protect your most precious self?

Just like anger plays a very important role, fear, another so-called negative emotion, serves a crucial role. In its healthy state, fear is our intuition. It cautions us to check our environment for potential threats. It helps protect us from danger. It keeps us safe from harm.

Handling Stuck Emotions

Sometimes, though, we might get stuck in a loop where we are either always fearful or always angry. This can happen if we have experienced trauma that has locked some feeling response in place.

If you have suffered through some form of abuse, for example, you might be perpetually fearful and hyper-vigilant. Then, fear can become the default feeling and make you lose touch with the broader context of your emotional life.

If this is the case, then we need professional help to release traumatic material and unfreeze our feelings. We can’t do this on our own.

But in the course of our normal lives, feelings like anger, fear and sadness are all normal and valid. We can learn how to express them in a healthy way. They are as necessary to our well-being as feelings of joy and happiness.

If we cut them off, thinking we “shouldn’t” feel them, we are cutting ourselves off from many of our emotional truths. We are throwing ourselves off balance. We are taking up less and less space in our own authentic lives.

Embrace The Nuances In Emotions

Expanding our emotional vocabulary can help us know what emotional action to take.  

Like many of us, I didn’t grow up knowing that emotions can show up in different forms and guises. Because the feeling remained unnamed, it remained out of reach, bubbling and frothing underneath. I couldn’t quite find my way through it.

Did you know that indifference can be a form of anger? So can coldness, apathy and impatience. Did you know that fear can show up in forms as different as curiosity and worry?

Karla McLaren takes us right into the heart of these differences. She tells us that all emotions can show up in diffuse or intense forms. For example, in its diffuse form, fear can be experienced as caution, instinct and disorientation. In its mood state, it is visible as nervousness, shakiness, suspicion and worry.

Intense fear takes the form of phobias or a feeling of utter paralysis. Intense anger shows up as ranting and hatred.

If we can see that these different nuanced feelings are expressions of the same core emotions, then we can get to the next level of learning to manage them. If we are feeling resentful, for example, we know that this is a less intense form of anger. We can start setting boundaries today, so that our feelings don’t snowball into a more intense form of anger.

In this way, we can check our emotional pulses. We can honor the truth of the feeling and learn to channel it in a healthy way.

A New Way To Release Emotions

There is a third way to release pent-up emotions.  

Many of us have seen only two ways of responding to feelings. Either you vent them, or you repress them. Many times, when feelings that feel dangerous start coming up, we push them down so they don’t create havoc in our relationships. And yet, we know that we can’t quite wish our feelings away. They lie underneath, and if they are not spilling out, they are festering inside and poisoning our own well.

This can often feel like a Catch 22. It’s no wonder that many of us try to avoid making this impossible choice at all. We fall back on automatic behavior. Maybe, in our families, we saw feelings being repressed, and so we unconsciously follow that model. Maybe, we saw them being expressed dramatically, and think that’s the only option available to us.

But there can be a third way, an alternative way that can help us safely discharge our feelings without venting or pushing them underneath. If we are feeling angry, one way to safely release that pent-up energy is to hit pillows for five or ten minutes.

Another practice for anger is suggested by Karla McLaren and is called conscious complaining. We all have so many things we are angry about, that we feel are unfair. We can give voice to these feelings by just sitting alone and complaining aloud. We can go through all our hurts, frustrations and complaints.

What we are trying to do is feel and experience our anger and move it out of our system. We are letting the steam off.

When we have done this, we can move to a clear-headed space and find solutions to address our complaints.

If it is fear that we want to release, we can mimic its shaky energy, put on some music and shake our bodies and shake the fear right out of us. Consciously feeling and releasing our feelings helps take their load off.

Again, if we have traumatic memories from the past — a history of abuse or a life-changing illness, for example — we need professional help to go deeper into our psyches and process and integrate our feelings. We don’t want to overwhelm ourselves, or go too deep, too fast.

But for feelings that come up as part of our normal lives, we can use these different tools to consciously express our feelings. This doesn’t come easy, of course. It takes effort. But this process can be very rewarding and help us listen to our feelings without getting swept up by them or feeling the need to shove them into some corner of our psyches.

I am learning how to do this. I know that when I haven’t listened to my feelings, I have willfully ignored important messages. Now, I know that my feelings have valuable things to tell me. They keep me safe. They tell me what my limits are.

They open the door to a conversation with my true self.

Sometimes, I step inside. Sometimes, I don’t. When I do though, I come back with greater awareness and feeling more in touch with me.

Maybe, like me, you will find this process rewarding too.

Your feelings can become your allies. They can guide you as you steer your life in new directions. They can point the way to new horizons.

Here’s to a wonderful new adventure!

Are These Energy Vampires Messing With You?

 

Have you felt your energy go down when someone enters the room?

Are there certain people that you avoid – perhaps even family members – because you feel bad when you are around them?

Meet The Energy Vampires!

When we think of vampires, Halloween often comes to mind. However, these vampires never go off duty, never take a vacation or a holiday. And you need to watch out for them.

  1. The Complainers.  The energy draining feeling from complainers can sneak up on you. It is easy to be taken in by them.  Sometimes they will complain about something that you dislike as much as they do so you won’t realize that you are being drained.  Life for a complainer is one long pity party. Being supportive of an individual going through a hard time is an act of friendship. Unfortunately with the complainer the hard times never stop. After a while you may wonder if some of their hard times are self-created. One way to know if you are dealing with an energy vampire rather than a person having a bad day is to suggest solutions. Complaining vampires don’t want their problems solved. If they were they would no longer have such an easy way to be the center of attention.
  2. The Non-Stop Talker. Non-stop talkers have a desperate quality to them. They often seem afraid of what would happen if they stopped talking or let someone else have the floor. The non-stop talker probably had to resort to extreme measures to get attention when he or she was a child – or may have been the designated family entertainer. Unfortunately. a winning childhood strategy is often a poor choice for adults, and can end up feeling used and depleted listening to a non-stop talker who has no interest in you.
  3. The Basket Case. The basket cases are the people who have one endless problem after another – unable to solve any of their own problems. Perhaps they were spoiled as children or perhaps they were made to feel so incompetent that they became helpless as adults. Whatever the reason, they want you to spend your time solving their problems which they don’t think are really theirs to solve. The basket case is a bottomless pit that take all of your time and eventually your whole life with their endless problems, if you let them.
  4. The Blamer.  Blamers can never do any wrong.  They tend to see all responsibility residing in others.  In other words, it is the job of the rest of the world to please them. They are an angrier version of the complainer. They feel entitled to have their expectations met and attack and blame others until their wishes are granted. Blamers are often perfectionists. It helps them maintain their entitlement and also look like a good person at the same time. Who cannot like such high standards!  The problem with blamers is that they always look like the hero either through high standards which sound good or by blaming the failure – you – who could not make it happen. Stay away from them.
  5. The Drama Queen. The drama queen acts like they are about to die at any moment – 24 hours a day.  It probably starts the moment they wake up. All of life is an emergency and they are constantly getting the short end. it is best to avoid them. If you must engage you might recommend some reading on time management but do not take on their issues. A drama queen will probably not stop the drama unless something happens to make them want to change.
  6. The Ruthless Competitor. This person is always looking for a way to one-up you, to look better than you or put you down. Life is a battle with them and they are always at war. You will not win with them so it is best to stay away. The ruthless competitor does not value friendship. This person is interested in keeping score, winning a battle, and destroying adversaries, which is probably what you are in their eyes. It is better to let them have their prize, whatever it is, and walk away.
  7. The Psychopath. The psychopath is a taker, but they need to hide the fact. Psychopaths wear the mask that they think you want to see in order to win your heart and loyalty so they can get what they want from you. Once they have they move on to another person with a different need and put on a different mask for that person. It can be hard to create consensus around the real nature of a psychopath because they present a different face to different people. They are actors and very bad friends.
  8. The Ideologues. Most people have some sort of worldview that informs their lives but ideology is only a part of life. With ideologues, you may think you are have a relationship with a like-minded individual however with them their real relationship is with their ideology not with you. It is an empty relationship. As long as you understand that they do not really have a personal relationship to offer you you can take care of yourself with an ideologue.

How To Take Care Of Yourself With Energy Vampires

There are several ways to take care of yourself with energy vampires:

  • take good care of your health. You are always more vulnerable when you are tired and feeling poorly.
  • operate from a spirit of good will and expect the same. Notice when your feelings of goodwill go away. That is your cue to disconnect from the vampire.
  • consider the white light technique. Create a visualization of a white light surrounding your body, protecting you from the negative energy of other people. If you do this consistently, you will find yourself feeling increasingly protected.
  • have a list of requirements for people in your life: give and take, mutual respect etc. Notice when another person is not meeting minimum requirements for a healthy relationship and consider the actions you need to take.
  • get help if necessary with people who are seriously damaging to you.
  • leave when an individual is too toxic to live or work with.

Making The Best Of It With Energy Vampires

Many energy vampires are ordinary people like you and me who happened to have learned poor relationships habits. Sometimes they are not even aware of it. You can encourage the best in people but you cannot take on their problems.

Your life deserves protecting as much as anyone else’s. Keeping energy vampires at bay is one way to take good care of yourself. The damage they do can be significant  and should not be taken lightly.

Is Contentment Possible?

Do ever get asked a question that hits you like a ton of bricks?

Years ago a good friend of mine asked me something that I’ll never forget.

At the time I was pretty much all over the place. Feeling emotions very intensely, even taking on other people’s stuff. It was a huge energy suck. At the time I had no idea of my HSP trait. I just thought I was a little crazy.

So when I was asked this question it caught me off guard. Like somebody had “found me out.”

“Are you ever just content?”

Of Course, I Feel Contentment!

My first thought when I heard this was to scream out and defend myself: “Yes! Of course, I am!” But I knew it wasn’t true.

So I stood there, kind of stunned.

You see, I was truly all over the map with my emotions. I was in college, stressed to the core, and had zero ways to deal with it.

What was so eye opening about hearing this question was that it brought me face to face with just how stressed I was.

I was either really happy or down in the dumps. There wasn’t much of a healthy middle ground.

Even though I was feeling exposed in that moment, I was grateful that someone had the guts to check in with me at that level.

Where Is Your Contentment?

Now I want to check in with you. Do you ever just feel contentment?

Are you able to be with what is in your life, while still dreaming up whatever is next for you?

Being stressed can make us feel stuck because we are either reaching for the past or the future. Living on an emotional rollercoaster can keep us playing the “up and down” game – happy when things are up and sad when things are down.

But where does that leave you in all of this?

Where is the constant in your life, the underlying sense of “I’m OK”?

And how do you live in that place more often?

Something I love to do to help re-set and actually look at what is going on in my life is to schedule quiet time every day – even if it’s just five 5 or 10 minutes.

Close the door, turn off the computer, silence the phone. Take these few precious minutes to do what feels good to you and recharge your battery. Cultivate the awareness of how you feel when you are about to get into a “burn out” state, and give yourself a break before you begin to get to that state.

If you find yourself easily swayed by whatever’s going on in your life, this is a must. Give it a try and let me know how it goes for you.

What else brings you back to center, to your healthy middle ground? Let me know in the comments. Can’t wait to hear.

Have You Tried Ecstatic Dance?

 

“In many shamanic societies, if you came to a shaman or medicine person complaining of being disheartened, dispirited or depressed, they would ask you on of four questions: When did you stop dancing? When did you stop singing? When did you stop being enchanted by stories? When did you stop finding comfort in the seet territory of silence?”

So begins the forward to Gabrielle Roth‘s book, Maps To Ecstasy written by Angeles Arrien, Ph.D., a cultural anthropologist who has written The Four Fold Way and Signs of Life. Maps to Ecstasyis an introduction to the wonders of ecstatic dance.

Why Dance Is Making A Comeback

It’s noteworthy that dance is making a comeback at this point in time. Dance has never died. However its role is changing aided by several popular dance shows, Dancing With The Stars and So You Think You Can Dance. Although dance has always had a social role, increasingly its healing role is being recognized.  So You Think You Can Dance in particular has presented this therapeutic role of dance using dance for emotional, psychological and cultural healing.

These changes are not accidental. As institutional structures fracture and a new way of life comes into being, dance has the ability to help us not only heal the past but also to be more fully engaged in the present. You have to be present to dance, otherwise you trip over your feet or worse.

Dance gets us out of our heads. It heals the mind-body connection.  Dancing helps us be fully in our power and lets us see that we are OK and can trust ourselves.

Tribal Dance

It’s in the air. We can feel it.  As our monolithic economic system breaks up, the world is becoming more tribal. Tribes have had a negative reputation in maintream culture for a long time. Tribes have been depicted as ignorant, dangerous, worshiping many gods and having strange practices.

We are now learning a different story about tribes. Tribes have skills that we are very removed from: understanding nature, healing skills, and ecstatic dance skills to name a few.

Tribal dance is very old and has many functions. Many of us have heard of rain dances, but tribal dances actually had another function. Tribal dances have been used for emotional healing and psychological growth for thousands of years. Tribal dances let the dancer enter into the energy of their lives, relate to, accept it and let go. It is a way of processing deep emotional issues that is both non-harming and healing. It is a way of staying in right relation to life and the world around you.

Tribal dances are used at important life transitions to help an individual process the emotions they are experiencing so that they can release and be clear for the next events in their lives. Blocked and unprocessed emotions are inevitably harmful and prevent us from wholeheartedly engaging with life. Tribal dance prevents people from becoming frozen in an emotional state by using the free form dance to help the individual to move through their feelings.

Ecstatic Dance

Ecstatic dance is a freeform dance. Modern Ecstatic dance is the brainchild of Gabrielle Roth, who has used dance as a therapeutic method for many decades.

Gabrielle has written extensively about dance as a way to reclaim our ecstatic experience of life. Ecstatic dance gets us out of our heads into our bodies and helps us see ourselves as the actors in our on lives. It creates unity between ourselves and the life force of the planet. It helps us be one with the stages of life and accept and move through them gracefully.

Gabrielle has identified five universal life energies that she has incorporated into her dance. Interestingly they are also the stages of the creative process. She describes the five rhythms as:

  • the flowing rhythm: a teacher of fluidity and grace. Flowing is like a warm up, when we start to engage. It is gentle and curious.
  • the staccato rhythm: the teacher of definition and refinement. Staccato is structure and order, like working with building blocks. Staccato works with what is.
  • the rhythm of chaos: the rhythm of creativity seeking form. chaos occurs when we go beyond what is. We have worked staccato and now move into a creative phase with what we have been working on. All the curiosity of flowing and working of staccato prepares for chaos.
  • the lyrical rhythm: the rhythm of synthesis and integration. In the chaos phase of our creativity we open to the new and consider many possibilities until we find what will work. Lyrical is the integration and synthesis of that new information or solution.
  • the stillness rhythm: the rhythm of contentment and peace. After synthesis and integration, we can stand back, consider what we have done and gracefully let go, releasing ourselves and our work until we engage again.

The Value Of Ecstatic Dance For HSP’s And Everyone Else

As we enter a more tribal age, we each need to be in our own power and connection at the same time. For so long we have been glued to computers, assembly lines, and other structures of the industrial age, that many of us are stiff in our bodies, hearts and minds.

Ecstatic dance loosens it all up, gets our energy flowing, helps us see what we can control and what we have to let go of. Ecstatic dance is a dance for helping is to heal into a more mature and joyful time.

Ecstatic dance can help you learn to lead, to follow and to get out of the way, each in its own way at the right time. It can make us whole at a time when we desperately need whole human beings. Becoming more whole will also help us to respect and like ourselves more and in doing so we can like each other more as well, making a better world possible.

If you are a highly sensitive person, ecstatic dance can help you remain connected and remove stress so that you can stay more in your natural creativity. If you are a non-HSP, ecstatic dance can help you safely step out of your mind into you body and help you feel your connection to all things. If you have suffered harm or trauma, ecstatic dance can help you move through your feeling so that you feel like living again.

Ecstatic dance is a wonderful safe practice that can help each of us feel better and connect better. I can’t think of anything better for each of us than ecstatic dance.

What Happened To The Sacred?

The word “sacred” is one that we hardly ever use outside of religious settings or events. For a number of reasons it has become a word that we shun. It is, however, and important idea about an important subject that transcends cultural definitions about it meaning.

Because it has been so misused, it deserves a look to see if we can reclaim it in a productive way.

What Does Sacred Mean?

According to Wikipedia,

The word “sacred” descends from the Latin sacrum, which referred to the gods or anything in their power, and to sacerdos and sanctum, set apart. It was generally conceived spatially, as referring to the area around a temple.[citation needed]

The English word “holy” dates back to at least the 11th century with the Old English word hālig, an adjective derived from hāl meaning “whole” and used to mean “uninjured, sound, healthy, entire, complete”.

The religious meaning of sacred is the commonly used reference for the word. It is interesting that the English word derives from an adjective that means healthy and whole.

The Ancient Sacred

Aboriginal culture is one of the oldest if not the oldest living culture in the world. The aborigines migrated south from somewhere in Asia to Australia over c. 60000 years ago. They created one of the richest sacred traditions in the world known as “Dreamtime” . In their culture sacred referred to the land and the ancestors, both of which were considered the basis of well being of the people of the culture.

So for them, sacred was a life giving and life supporting idea. It was directly related to daily life. They help nature to be sacred since it supported their lives very directly.

The Sacred And Modern Life

Later cultures institutionalized the sacred under religious institutions and so the Roman (latin) definition of sacred as directly related to the gods located power in a religious/mythical figure and assigned those figures power. Nature was no longer the location of power.

With the institutionalization of the sacred, the sacred was removed from the individual and located in the hands of those with hierarchical authority. Once that happened, hierarchy and the sacredness of elites became a cultural phenomenon.

It does not really matter how the sacred is removed from nature to cultural institutions. Once it happens, nature becomes degraded as does the “average” meaning non-elite individual. We humans have been fighting about this ever since.

Hyperindividualism And The Sacred

Removing the sacred from our daily lives by cultural structures has impacted the relationship of individuals to one another especially since the natural world is often concentrated in the hands of elites. It has changed what we considered vital for our survival and elevated money as a need for our survival. As a result many people do not make the connection between the natural world and their survival and well-being.

Since nature is no longer communally owned we do not have a natural access to our survival and as a result have become disempowered. Few people have the ability and skills to survive in nature any more. All the money on the world does not protect us from that disempowerment.

HSPs And The Sacred

Highly sensitive people have a natural access to the sacred of life and to nature. It is our natural home. Our intuitive, energy sensitive natures cannot deny the sacred power of the natural world. It is unlikely for HSPs to transfer that awareness to cultural institutions no matter how respect-worthy they might be.

One of the special gifts of the highly sensitive person is our access to the natural sacred and it is one of the gifts we have to offer the world. There is a movement in the world to reclaim our rightful place in the world and that involves siting ourselves as a part of nature not over it. It also means rediscovering nature’s awe and mystery.

What’s lovely about it is that we HSPs have a wonderful opportunity to offer our eyes and experience of nature’s gifts to those who need to reconnect. It is a wonderful gift that we have to offer others.

 

HSPs And The Struggle With Body Image

Growing up highly sensitive can have its disadvantages, for sure. You already know that, and it’s different for each and every HSP. There’s a lot of crossover between us, but we each get to have our very own unique experience. It’s such a journey, right?

What I want to talk to you about today is what I would consider one of the more common “crossover” themes that we experience as HSPs: poor body image.

More specifically—working on perfecting your body.

Self Acceptance And Body Image

As an HSP, I have a strong tendency to want to be in control. This way I am not so overwhelmed. A certain degree of control is healthy and good. The control I’m talking about today is when the control goes to a place where we are sacrificing health to be perfect.

I’m talking about those of us who feel we need to be a different weight to fit in. I’m talking about the ones who feel like they are struggling on a daily basis with loving their bodies, just as they are.

Years ago, before I knew anything about my HSP trait, I was always trying to “get better.” Somehow I landed on using my body image as a way to improve myself. I could not see what was right with me. When I looked in the mirror I focused on every ounce that needed improvement: the scars on my face, the cellulite on my thighs, the bloat in my belly. I set out on a journey to get better quick—because once I got to that magical place surely I would feel less overwhelmed.

I truly felt like people were fixated on my every flaw, just as I was. I believed my thoughts (a dangerous habit for HSPs) and even got into the habit of creating other people’s thoughts for them. My thoughts were so loud, I felt that other people could hear them and were saying things like, “Yes,” in agreement, “you need to lose a few pounds.”

I often joked around that when I grew up I wanted to be somebody. I lived life from that place of not having enough and not being enough. Happiness was surely on the other side of having attained firmer thighs and a flatter tummy – the elusive perfect body image.

So in the midst of working out and trying to control my every bite with food, tirelessly creating my “perfect body” so that I could finally feel free in my own skin and love myself, my therapist at the time had other ideas. She burst right through my perfect bubble when she said something to me that stung hard.

“Maybe you’re supposed to be a different size.”

Um, excuse me?

“Maybe you’re supposed to be a different size.”

Speechless.

How dare she! Couldn’t she see that my body wasn’t perfect yet? Did she not see how hard I was working?

“Maybe you’re supposed to be a different size.”

It stayed with me like an echo. I couldn’t shake it.

And she wasn’t talking about a smaller size.

Reframing My Body Image

At the time, I was nowhere close to being overweight. But the thing was—I had never (ever!) considered gaining weight. Why would I do that? It went against everything I had ever learned. I needed to control my weight, right? Isn’t that what I’m supposed to do so that I can feel good about myself?

I felt so found out. Did I need to gain weight? It didn’t matter. I was put face to face with a new possibility, which was exactly where I needed to be. Somebody saw me, really saw me, and let me know about something new. The rest was up to me to figure out.

We are saturated with images—daily. We see how we are “supposed” to look, what we are “supposed” to eat, how we are “supposed” to be. The message is seemingly simple: if we succeed—if we become more and more “perfect”—we are granted access to happiness, feeling amazing in our bodies, and feeling loved by everyone around us.

Let me tell you—that is one hard path for anyone to follow, especially if you are an HSP. So why would you want to? It leads to more suffering and more overwhelm. The very things we already often have plenty of in our lives.

Of course, I didn’t get what my therapist said right away. I just took offense to it. I internalized it as I do with most everything and eventually came out on the other side having finally heard what I needed to hear. The message that came through for me was that I get to love myself NOW. In this body. And that I get to love myself in the future—at whatever size body I become.

Somewhere in between now and the future is some “bettering” myself, sure. But the self love can start right now. There’s no need to wait for my thighs to become “bikini ready” (they’re ready NOW when I put on my bathing suit, thanks!)

What do you think? Do you struggle with body image and how do you deal? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Life as an Emotional Empath

Last year, I went to India after two years of living here in the United States. This is the first time that I have stayed anywhere other than in India, and this shift of living in a new country has also shifted my perspective in many ways.

One of these is the way in which I understand my sensitivity.

Learning To Live In A New Country

Here, in the States, I live in a suburb in the heart of Silicon Valley, where I sometimes find the quiet too much and then think nostalgically about India. There, I lived in the heart of New Delhi, India’s capital, where the noise and the bustle were often too much for me.  

This time during my stay in my parents’ home in Delhi, I notice things about my sensitivity that I never had before. I am no longer submerged in my environment. I have a different experience to compare it with.

A day here starts with the ringing of the bell. My parents are part of India’s educated and fortunate upper-middle class. Like millions of other such households, the machinery of the house runs with the help of several pairs of hands. All through the morning, the bell rings as the daily packet of milk is delivered, the neighborhood dhobi (washerman) comes to pick up more clothes for ironing, and a lady comes in to clean the house. Such help is unthinkable in other places in the world, but here in India, for many middle-class households, this is the norm.

What is also normal are power outages that can last for hours (where people who can afford it switch to generators or inverters), no automatic hot water, and long lines for everything you can think of. Every day, so many different lives touch our own little lives, and there is little of the efficiency of America.

I interact with more people here in a day than I have for weeks before in America.

And it is normal that I would. After all, Delhi is the second most populous city in the world, with an estimated population of more than 25 million people. It contains more people within its sprawling, sweeping boundaries than cities like Shanghai, Mexico City and Sao Paulo.

In a city like this, you are part of an overwhelming sea of people. When you go outside, your senses are inundated by every kind of stimulation possible. There are people getting into your space constantly, taking the local metro is a mini-battle, and traffic jams can last for hours.

To say the least, it is a challenging place for a sensitive person.

And what if you are a sensitive person who also absorbs other people’s feelings?

This time in Delhi, I notice the mini-interactions and transactions I have with people throughout the day. I feel their curiosity, frustration and worry jumping out at me. My boundaries are permeable, not very solid. I get overwhelmed in crowds. I just want to stay inside.

It’s not just because of the sensory stimulation, which is part of it too, but the overload from all the emotions that I can feel and experience as if they are my own.

It’s no wonder that at different times in my life, I have coped in unhealthy ways. I have avoided people. I have avoided things. I have felt buffeted by other people’s emotions, so it seems like my center is not inside me, but somewhere outside.

Even now, when I walk into a room, I am most aware of what everyone else is feeling, and not really aware of what is it that I feel.  It’s no wonder that people who have this emotional sensitivity find it debilitating at times.

It makes us feel engulfed in certain relationships. It means we need a lot of time alone. It means that we hate going out in crowded places where we have no personal space and where everyone’s energy seems to be knocking us out.  

The Struggles And Soul Gifts Of An Emotional Empath

I read something recently on Anna Sayce’s’ blog (Anna works as a teacher of intuitive development) that put the challenge of being an empath in a way that connected some dots for me. For all people, Anna says, there is a close link between our struggles and our soul gifts.

This is what Anna says about empaths: “On the upside, these people were born with the ability to experience what life is like for another person. They make great mediators because they can see two sides of a story and can switch their point of view easily. They are the ones who are good at caring for and looking out for others. But they can sometimes have so much compassion and understanding that they might not always look out for their own interests sufficiently. Or they might be easy to exploit. They may fail to care of themselves while taking care of everyone around them. Most often, they may feel like their sensitivity is a burden.”

Strangely, for me knowing and accepting that the gift comes with the challenge is a bit of a relief. Maybe, things were hard because it is a struggle to figure out how to move from getting swept up in a storm of feelings to moving through them.

Becoming A Skilled Empath

As I have started exploring ways to become a “skilled” empath, I am walking the same path that maybe you are on as well. I am picking up ideas and turning them over, and seeing which ones work for me.

If you are an empath, you might have found (like I did) that one thing that is often mentioned online is shielding or protecting yourself so that you don’t pick up other people’s stuff. To do this, you can visualize yourself wrapped up in pink or white light, and that is supposed to help you stay protected.

While I know people I respect who do this, this exercise has never resonated with me because the subtext seems to be that we need to “protect” ourselves from something out there. That only encourages a feeling of distrust in the world.

It seems to say that I am weak and that I need constant protection.

Still, I do believe in the power of visualization. If you feel drawn to it, this might be a good beginning exercise. I think what might work here is simply the directing of intention. Even though we don’t often do this, where we choose to focus is where our energy goes.

As an empath, we are hyper-aware of others, so intentionally pulling back focus to ourselves in any way helps us feel more in touch with ourselves.

For me, the important idea here is directing our attention to our own experience. Thinking “What do I feel?”  and checking in with ourselves instead of getting swamped by the other person’s feelings is one way to stay inside our own skin.

Also, anything that helps us stay present – in our bodies and out of our minds – is helpful. One exercise that I like is by Sonia Choquette who says that when we want to come back to the present moment, it can be as simple as looking around us and saying aloud (not in our heads, but out loud) everything we see around us for four or five minutes.

So, I can look around and say that I am in a room with a framed photograph of a leaf, a bamboo that seems to be growing too big for its pot, and a half-eaten chocolate Yan-Yan box. Paying attention to the things around me helps me get out of my thinking and feeling state. It helps me notice where I am.

It can be as simple as that.   

The Importance For An Empath Of Accepting Emotions

Maybe, part of learning to use our empathic gifts is also about accepting that we do feel deeply, and letting ourselves feel whatever it is that we do feel.

A lot of sensitive people cry very easily.

Of course, there are many injunctions and prohibitions against crying publicly. But even privately, we often have very little permission to cry. We feel that we might upset someone who feels responsible for us and takes it personally. We think that we are already emotional people. We don’t want to spiral into over-emotionality.

But something that Dr. Judith Orloff says about the healing benefits of tears might give us some permission and some insight. In her book, Emotional Freedom, she discusses how tears help us. They protectively lubricate our eyes, remove irritants, reduce stress hormones, and contain antibodies that fight pathogenic microbes.

In fact, our bodies produce three kinds of tears: reflex, continuous and emotional. Reflex tears allow our eyes to clear out irritants produced by smoke or exhaust. Continuous tears are produced regularly and contain a chemical called “lysozyme” that functions as an anti-bacterial and protects our eyes from infection.

And emotional tears have their own specific health benefits.

Dr Orloff talks about the biochemist Dr. William Frey at the Ramsey Medical Center in Minneapolis who discovered that reflex tears are 98% water, while emotional tears also contain stress hormones that the body wants to discard. Other studies also suggest that crying stimulates the production of endorphins, our body’s natural “feel-good hormones.”

You have probably also had the experience where you felt better after crying. For an empath, it was not a spiral downwards or identifying yourself as a victim. It felt like a relief as pent-up feelings flowed out. You were left feeling lighter, at ease.

Stemming the flow of such tears would just mean that your emotions are getting backed up. There is no way for them to be transformed. There is no way for them to be released.

As sensitive people, we have to let go of the beliefs that are projected on to us. Crying does not mean that we are weak. The weakness comes when we don’t do something about the things that bother us, the things that bring us to tears.

Being out of touch with feelings is not a strength. It just means we have low self-awareness. It makes us brittle. It makes us weak.

I should know. As a person who feels a lot, I have dealt with my ability to feel others’ feelings in every way possible. At different times, I have been different people. I have turned towards people, and away from them. I have helped people, and have numbed out and turned towards myself. I have pushed feelings down, and I have also let them push me.

In the end, I think that doing what I can, little by little — engaging with the challenge, fighting with the monsters — may one day help bring the whole gift to light. On your journey as an empath, I hope you find that too, and that you go on digging till you have unearthed your treasure.