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.

Race, Culture and HSPs: "Black People Don’t Do Therapy"

 

I am no doubt an HSP. I’ve read Elaine Aron’s wonderful and eye-opening books, I’ve taken the quizzes in the workbooks and I’ve been greatly helped by much of the advice given on HSP websites and by knowing that I’m not alone. And like very many HSPs I’ve suffered bouts of depression and very high anxiety, the type that requires professional help. Yet there’s still this nagging feeling I always have, one I have to constantly temper, that my sensitivity and the symptoms it causes are just my “weaknesses,” and that I have to work hard to not let my weaknesses show. Now I know this is just negative self-talk, which any white person who is also HSP can relate to, but my feelings and self-talk are largely influenced racially and culturally as is true for many black people.

Black People And Sensitivity

Admitting to and showing great sensitivity is a no-no in my (Black American) culture.  Being “tough” and not “letting it ‘get’ to me” are what I was always encouraged and at times, demanded to do. I can still remember my dad screaming at me, “You got a WEAKNESS!” when I was about 12-years-old and being picked on at school. My mother would threaten to hit me if I ever cried. And since we customarily “take over” for our parents as adults and end up treating ourselves just as well or as badly as they did, I got to the point in my late 30s where I couldn’t leave the house without having a four-alarm panic attack and the bravest thing I could do was seek treatment. I could no longer function in that anxious, unbalanced state. All that “not letting it show” made me physically, and severely psychologically and emotionally sick. So even though seeking help put me in a category that is downright scary to contemplate (according to a recent Al Jazeera America special report, black people are half as likely to seek treatment for anxiety, depression or any other mental health-related issue as Whites), I had to save my sanity and my life. I weighed 112 pounds. I needed help. I was sick.

Black People And Therapy

According to a paper published by the National Institutes of Health in 2008, many people of color who end up seeking treatment stated that it was the need to get well that triumphed over the opinions of the family and community when it came to seeking treatment, and often at the crisis stage.

112 pounds! Panic attacks! Hello?!??

Jinneh Dyson, now senior manager of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Arlington, VA, had debilitating depression while at college in Texas and rejected the idea of therapy for years. Loved ones would say, “That’s going to make you crazy. You’ve just got to pray and have faith,” recalled Dyson, who is Black and the daughter of a Baptist minister. “They said, ‘That’s the way of the white man, poisoning you.'”

But guess what? I’m not religious. And I’m intelligent enough to know that neither God nor prayer can stop a serious panic attack. Therefore, I, like Ms. Dyson, sought treatment.

The statistics are pretty scary:

  • African-Americans are 20 percent more likely to report having serious psychological distress than Non-Hispanic Whites;
  • Non-Hispanic Whites are more than twice as likely to receive antidepressant prescription treatment as are Non-Hispanic Blacks;
  • A report from the U.S. Surgeon General found that from 1980 – 1995, the suicide rate among African Americans ages 10 to 14 increased 233%, as compared to 120% of Non-Hispanic Whites.

Heart disease, obesity, diabetes and many other stress-related illnesses also affect Black Americans more adversely. This is no accident.  Therefore, it must be discussed and taken into account that all the anxiety and overstimulation affecting our community, and in particular those of us with highly sensitive natures, are large factors in these adverse medical outcomes, and can be addressed lovingly and effectively through good therapy.

Of course, race and culture weren’t the only factors in my getting sick. There was the job I lost, there was losing my sister, and losing the romantic relationship I was in at around the same time; there was even my lack of understanding about how important it is to my HSP nature to eat healthy, organic food and exercise regularly. Yet, I wasn’t thinking about those things when I opened the door to this new therapy center. I was thinking about connecting with someone of my culture, who speaks my cultural “language” and regularly uses Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) in her practice, which I’ve been wanting to try (it’s the “doer” in me), to help patients with social anxiety, so that I don’t feel like such an alien in my brown skin anymore.

The Loneliness Problem

 

If we took a survey of HSPs, how many would say they are lonely?  Loneliness is not the same as being alone. Being alone and enjoying it come from our full engagement with life.  Loneliness is something else.

Loneliness often feels like we have been graded and found wanting.  It feels like a suffocating prison to which we do not hold the key. When we experience loneliness, we often experience it as a form of rejection. Sometimes it feels like we are in a different place from everyone else, and so we feel the loneliness of our difference. Our inability to find or share common ground can give rise to feelings of loneliness.

Being a highly sensitive person inevitably invites lonely feelings just because of who we are.  Because we perceive and experience differently, we are often at a disadvantage in our relationships. On an interpersonal basis sharing differences in perception and experience is not so difficult.  The greater difficulty comes from not really sharing the language of the competitive culture; our basis for interpersonal exchange is not there. The sensitivities and values difference that come from holistic perceptions and living from energetic experience are hard to integrate into an us vs. them culture.

Highly sensitive people have much to give in a world that often does not want what we have to offer. Our hearts are so big but they are often big by themselves. It can feel like you are out on a limb in a world that wants to chop it down at any moment. Very risky! Yet you cannot do otherwise because you would then be betraying yourself.  So you, therefore, carry the torch even if no one can see it, even when you feel foolish, hoping that at some point the world will stop long enough to see that there is no them and that then you will not be lonely anymore.

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.

Social Habits And Sensitive People: The Four Tendencies

Once in a while, we come across concepts that are game changers for us as HSPs. This month, I would like to share something that has helped me in my own journey as an artistic HSP and might help you too. It comes from the work of New York Times bestselling author Gretchen Rubin, The Four Tendencies, one of several books she has written on happiness and habits.

Have you ever felt that you are hyper-aware of others’ expectations as an HSP and that it is easy for you to fulfill these outer expectations but somehow very difficult to fulfill your own inner expectations? While this can stem from many different and complex reasons (such as people pleasing), those reasons are not the whole story. It turns out that people have an innate, hardwired tendency that determines how they respond to different kinds of expectations. Learning about these can help us answer that frustrating question: Why am I so good at meeting other people’s expectations but not so good at fulfilling my own?

The Four Tendencies

In her latest book The Four Tendencies, Rubin talks about how different people respond differently to expectations. The seed of the book came in a conversation that Gretchen Rubin had with a friend. Rubin says:

“As I bit into my cheeseburger and my friend picked at her salad, she made a comment that would occupy my mind for years. In an offhand way, she mentioned, “I want to get myself in the habit of running, but I can’t, and it really bothers me.” Then she added, in a crucial observation, “When I was on the high school track team, I never missed track practice, so why can’t I go running now?”

“Why?” I echoed.

“Well, you know, it’s so hard to make time for ourselves.”

“Hmmm,” I said.”

Rubin and her friend then started talking about other things, but even after they’d said goodbye, she couldn’t stop thinking about their exchange. Why was it that it had been easy for her friend to go running in the past but that wasn’t the case anymore? Was it her age, her motivation, her family situation or something else?

Explorations About Social Habits

Although her friend had assumed that everyone had “trouble making time for themselves,” that wasn’t true for Rubin. She did not have any trouble making time for herself. So, what was the difference between them? Rubin would spend the next few years trying to answer this question.

This search led to Rubin asking some preliminary questions to readers of her website. She found, weirdly enough, that groups of people answered the same question in 4 identical ways, almost down to the words they were using. To the simple question of “How do you feel about New Year resolution?” a subset of people gave this almost identical answer: “I’ll keep a resolution if it’s useful, but I won’t start on New Year’s Day, because January 1 is an arbitrary date.” Rubin was intrigued by the use of this specific word because the arbitrariness of the January 1 date had never bothered her. But so many people gave the same answer; what did they have in common?

In a similar way, another group answered: “I don’t make New Year’s resolutions anymore because I never manage to keep them—I never make time for myself.”

Another group said: “I never make resolutions because I don’t like to bind myself.”

It was after a lot of this give and take on her blog and people naturally dividing themselves up into 4 distinct groups that Rubin had her eureka moment. She had found the key! The underlying question was: “How do you respond to expectations?” Answering this question led to her book, The Four Tendencies.

Expectations And The Four Tendencies

In fact, we all face two kinds of expectations: inner and outer. An inner expectation is something we place on ourselves, like a New Year’s resolution, while an outer expectation is something like a work deadline. Depending on how you respond to these expectations, Rubin found that people fell into one of these four types or four tendencies:

  1. Upholders respond to both outer expectations and inner expectations.
  2. Questioners question all expectations; they meet an expectation only if they believe it’s justified, so in effect, they respond only to inner expectations
  3. Obligers respond readily to outer expectations but struggle to meet inner expectations.
  4. Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike.

Guess where I fell on this framework? I was an Obliger. If something was imposed from the outside, like a work deadline, I usually met it. But for years, I could not figure out why I wasn’t able to do enough on the side (like some people I knew were able to do), to switch careers or work on my writing. It turns out that Obligers need outer accountability. So, if you have an inner expectation, you have to, in a sense, turn it into an outer expectation and then, you will likely complete it.

Looking back, I saw that I had only written consistently and been most productive when I had been part of writing workshops. Here, I was expected to write, and I did. But left on my own, time would trickle down and I wouldn’t get to doing something that I, personally, wanted to do. Instead, I was getting caught up in other people’s agendas and running around helping (or unhealthily rescuing) first this person and then another.

It was after I let myself practice this concept (instead of thinking that I “should” be able to motivate myself on my own (something that Upholders, for example, find easy to do), that I finally got a writing coach. This turned out to be one of the best decisions that I have made in a long time. I have written more, more consistently than I have ever before in my life. I have applied for a writing grant that took months of work. For the first time in my life, I have felt that I am finally on my path.

What it took was re-framing something basic about me. This is similar to the kind of re-framing we often have to do as HSPs. An Obliger wrote something to Gretchen Rubin that I resonate with:

“As a TV writer, I’ve struggled miserably with my inability to stick to any kind of personal deadline, yet I’ve always been a dutiful employee who submits scripts on time to my boss. I’ve given this tendency many names: laziness, being irresponsible, being a child in grown-up clothes, and many terms that wouldn’t get past your spam filter. By giving me a new name—Obliger—you’ve given me a way to accept myself. I can put the self-loathing aside and concentrate on devising clever ways to trick myself into doing stuff. It’s already made me more productive, but more importantly, it’s made me much happier.”  

Are You An Obliger?

Of course, as an HSP, you might not fall into the Obliger category. But considering that it is the largest category (Rubin’s study found that 41% of the sample were Obligers), I think there are many HSPs who are also Obligers. Maybe you, like me, have gone for years meeting other people’s expectations, and then suddenly, everything becomes all too much and you say a big No. Obligers are often prone to burnout and at certain points in their lives, to what Rubin calls Obliger rebellion. Suddenly, or so it seems to other people, we have had enough and we won’t take anymore. Then, we walk out, literally or metaphorically. So, learning about how we are wired and how to make that work for us can be crucial in keeping our resentment stores down.

Also, understanding the different categories can help us understand the people around us. For example: Although Upholders and Obligers both want to meet outer expectations, Obligers are much more prone to burnout because Upholders also hold themselves to their inner expectations. Upholders might also be dismissive of other tendencies who need different things than they do. Rebels (only 17% in the sample, with the fewest members) resist expectations and can get into all kinds of tussles with people who expect them to comply with outer expectations (like Upholders). A Questioner child who has to be given a reason to do every little thing might be trying for a parent who is an Upholder or Obliger. But getting a whole picture and seeing the strengths and weaknesses of each type might help us relate better to different people. It can also give us a perspective on how different social contexts might work or not work for a particular type. Rubin gives an example of how a Questioner might be highly valued in a place like Silicon Valley but get into trouble in a place like North Korea. A Rebel, if they become a rebel without a cause, might just be highly annoying. But rebels are also the ones who question existing systems and can help bring about change. As always, the context as well as the other qualities of that person matter.

Like me, you might have several “ahas”  if you read The Four Tendencies and come to see that we often see the people around us as very similar to ourselves. Sometimes, we think that they should be motivated by the same things as ourselves. We think that what works for us is what works for them. But that’s not true. Like Rubin tells us in this and other books, often diametrically different things are the keys to different people’s happiness and success. The question is: What specifically works for you as an individual? What is your own nature?

This is, of course, a bare-bones portrait of Rubin’s four tendencies. But like me, maybe figuring out your own tendency might provide as an essential missing piece for you as an HSP and help you in your own journey.   

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.

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.

4 Ways To Stop Absorbing Other People’s Energies

Learning to stop absorbing other people’s energies could be the biggest challenge facing highly sensitive people and empaths. We easily feel what other people feel, whether it is a family member, the grocery store clerk, a co-worker, or a stranger. Going through our day to day life requires a certain awareness in order to distinguish between our feelings and others. This ability to recognize what we are taking on allows us to make a conscious choice about what to do next. Though we gain a lot from this unique ability, we often pay a hefty price for it. We can feel controlled by this trait and allow it to influence where we go and who we see. But there is another way to live. We can learn to thrive in the world with this special gift, we just need the right tools.

Tools To Stop Absorbing Other People’s Energies

  1. Get Grounded – this is the most important thing we can do in the morning, or anytime.  It’s no secret highly sensitive people have trouble staying grounded because we feel everything so intensely and live in our heads. But grounding ourselves is the first step to take if we don’t want to carry around other’s emotions and energies as if they were our own. In 5 minutes or less, you can do the following;
    • Visualize roots growing out of the bottom of the feet, reaching deep into the ground. Picture this until the feet feel weighed down.
    • Run cool water on the wrists, or bring the wrists together, one on top of the other, with the hands going in opposite directions. Hold for 5 minutes. Take    a shower or bath. 
    • Spend 5 minutes meditating, focusing on deep inhalations and exhalations.
    • Say the word OM, drawing out the word slowly and repeat it for 5 minutes. Feel the vibration of the word in the body.
    • Sit on or touch the earth/ground. Walk on the ground in bare feet. Hug a tree.
  2. Visualize – visualization is very effective for keeping other people’s energy separate from our own. To do this we can visualize ourselves in a personal box. This box has four walls surrounding us, with a lid on top of our head. This box is designed for positive energies to enter, but repels energies we don’t want. People can’t tell we put it there. We still sense what others are feeling and thinking, however, once we have recognized their energies it stays with them. The energy does not become entangled in ours and it does not stay in our box.
  3. Clear – this is highly useful after we have absorbed unwanted energy. While alone and in a quiet place, we start to swipe away the energy surrounding the body. We cup the hands and start above our head. Using both hands, we cut through the energy in a quick, swiping action, pushing it away. Our hands are clearing our head area, then move down to the neck, chest, abdomen and so on. Continue all the way down to the feet. When we are done, we picture ourselves in a white bubble. We have effectively cleared stored energy from other people out of our personal area.
  4. Do The Work – this step is more complex than the others but cannot be ignored. We take on other people’s emotions, thoughts, and sensations easily but have we ever stopped and questioned why? There is a tendency for us to be unconsciously attracted to helping and healing others. One way we do this is by adsorbing other people’s toxic energy and letting them feed off of our higher vibrations. Whether we are aware or not, we are getting something out of this transaction. This is where we need to do some inner work. We must examine our core beliefs and honestly question ourselves about what the pay off is. Who would we be without this trait? What could we do with our lives? How do we feel when we help to heal others? How do we help heal ourselves? How do we feel about boundaries? Does worthiness play a role? These are all questions we can explore while doing our inner work. When we uncover outdated hidden beliefs, we can let them go and replace them with new ones. How about this one;

“I am worthy of a happy life, filled with thoughts, emotions, and sensations that I choose.”

By using these four powerful techniques to stop absorbing unwanted energy, we are free to focus on other things. We can use our new found energy to accomplish the dreams and goals we set out for ourselves. We are free to move through the world in a new, empowering way. A way that allows us to use this unique gift to our benefit, and to the benefit of the world.

Those Energy Thieves: How Overstimulation Hurts HSPs

Being a highly sensitive person can feel like you are living in a world that is too loud all of the time.

What do you do about raw nerves and nervous exhaustion?

Noticing The Energy Thieves

I call them energy thieves – all the demands for our attention that are unnecessary, counterproductive and unimportant. Unfortunately, there are so many of them.

It can take a lot of energy to deal with all of the energy thieves on our lives. Some energy thieves are obvious – television and social drama top the list. Others are not so obvious. In this consumer age, our time and energy are some of the things being consumed. The combination of high complexity and high demands for participation can wear down anyone. Highly sensitive people, however, are just worn out, they are at risk of getting sick.

When Speed Defines Life

The volume and complexity of daily life makes it difficult to operate at a manageable pace. The result is that unfinished business of all types pressures us for our attention as does our consuming social and economic system. Something has got to give and often in the case of highly sensitive people it is them.

Essentially anything that we have not dealt with becomes an energy thief and unfinished business becomes stored in our bodies. The minute something accesses our attention, it acquires energetic significance until it is dealt with.

Unfortunately, in the case of HSPs, our nervous systems are magnets for stimulus; often we become overwhelmed and are not able to deal with it. So we store it.If we are not careful we may start to feel that we are running out of places to store everything we have not been able to deal with and that adds to our stress even more.

All energetic information has a place inside us. There is one another place we need to look for energy thieves – our minds. The mind can be an energy thief in the following ways:

  • when we spend HUGE amounts of time ruminating about all sorts of things that are unhelpful
  • anger of the past
  • worry about the future
  • self-reproach
  • keeping score

How To Eliminate Energy Thieves

There is one form of keeping score that is useful: taking stock as often as you need to to see what energy thieves are laying claim to your time and energy. You are not doing this to push yourself harder but to seeing what is laying claim to your energy that should be examined. Too much entertainment, consumption, and personal dramas need to be considered and perhaps disposed of.

Taking Care Of What Is Important

Unfortunately, not everything that you would like to have gone can be discharged easily:

  • grieving the loss of a loved one
  • healing childhood abuse
  • ill health

Somethings require our attention for a long time and that may actually be good. Our best solution is to honor the process and the need by taking time for a meditation, journal writing or whatever healing approach we would like and let it have it’s place in our life without taking over. Once you have a process that honors you, you will feel more at ease. Your mind and body will be aligned with your well being and that creates internal peace.

Other thieves require a different approach. People, activities, and places that do not honor your value need to be reevaluated and if necessary given the boot. Notice the people, situations, and things that drain you as a sign of needed change.

It is very important to be patient with yourself. Energy thieves often do not go quietly. The more you take care of yourself, the easier it is to make necessary changes. Working on your energy health will help as well. Energy techniques like reiki and meditation can make a big difference in helping you realize the life you deserve.