I talk a lot about surrounding yourself with positive people – not letting other people ripple your waters and if they do; to keep paddling on. I realize that this isn’t always easy, because it’s just not realistic. We don’t always get a choice of who we are in the company of and even if we do, we can’t escape the fact that energy is highly transferable and we can take it on sometimes without realizing it or inviting it. I, as many of us do with the exception of narcissists and sociopaths, have a very empathetic nature. I am affected greatly by other people’s energies, moods, and thoughts. I can take on the emotions of others to a fault. I say to a “fault” because this becomes a very exhausting way to live your life. Coworker’s, friends, and even complete strangers can send me into an emotional tailspin that’s not even my own. We can be sponges, and people are porous. The trick is learning how to ring out the excess and just keep what is belongs to you. While it’s always a work in progress, these are some of the things I’ve learned in my journey:
- Set boundaries with people. It is important to have guidelines, rules, and limits as to what are reasonable and permissible ways for other people to behave around you. You don’t need to hand over a checklist to every individual who walks into your life; even subtle nonverbal cues like shaking your head or politely leaving a conversation can indicate your boundaries to someone. If not, be direct – have a conversation about it even if it’s uncomfortable. I’ve found when I don’t communicate boundary violations to a person; I start avoiding or even resenting them. And I don’t want to feel that way about anyone because despite my best efforts – I like people.
- Take inventory of the people and places that drain you. There will always be gray areas here; for instance you can never avoid some places or people who drain you. Your nagging Mother isn’t going to cease to be your Mother in this lifetime, and if you don’t show up at work that usually doesn’t bode well with your employment status. However, you can negotiate these people and spaces and determine how they will affect you. When I find a particular individual to be draining, I will set some distance. It doesn’t mean I’m cutting them out of my life forever, but relationships ebb and flow and sometimes we need to temporarily or permanently let go of someone when they are not bringing anything positive to the table. With work, I always try to set myself up before I enter. I arise early enough to have a small pocket of personal time, and I take a few deep breaths before I walk in to start my day. If I have an interaction with someone that makes me feel unsettled – I do my best to respond with kindness, even when my internal monologue has something else to say.
- Know where you end and others begin. Sometimes I notice that I’m completely tensed up: my heart is racing, my palms are sweating, my jaw is clenched, and my mind is going a million miles a minute about…well crap. It’s at that point in time I realize that I don’t even know why these physical and psychological sensations are occurring – and that I’m totally anxious and have absolutely no fucking idea why. A good question to ask yourself when you feel this way is: “Does this belong to me?” Is what you are experiencing an internal or external problem? Oftentimes when I do this I realize I’m absorbing outside stimuli and reacting to things that are not even conducive to my actual affect and being.
- Find ways to ground yourself. Sometimes if I’m at my brink, I’ll take a five-minute meditation. This does not mean I sit at my desk and ‘Om’ (although I don’t think anyone would be too surprised if I did), nor do I sit cross-legged in the middle of a party to cleanse my solar plexus chakra. Sometimes it’s just stepping outside to clear my mind, or taking a short walk by myself. On especially hard days I try to write down a mantra I can look at. Brene Brown says this in respect to boundary setting: “Choose discomfort over resentment.” I like this because it goes back to having those difficult conversations with people, asserting yourself, and putting your emotional well-being above all. If you like it a little more blunt there’s also the “law of lesser pissers” via John Demartini: “If it’s a choice between pissing you off or pissing me off, I choose you.”
- Be self-aware. Not only of your own body, thoughts, and emotions; but what you’re doing with them. Do you find yourself projecting onto others? One important differentiation to make is whether you’re venting or projecting. Venting is okay, we all need to vent. Projecting however is the equivalent of emotionally vomiting on the other person – your metaphorical excrement is now stuck to them until they find a shower to wash it off in.
- Practice self-care and know when you have to be alone to decompress. Sometimes I know I need solace to the point that I plan for it, and then someone will call or text me and I half-talk myself in going out. Most of the time I’m able to bring it around and realize that I am exhausted and depleted and if I do that, I will only drain myself further and then probably expose people to my shitty energy the next day. This is why one of my spirit animals is a turtle. I’ve got a shell and most of the time I hang out outside of it, but I also have the ability to go within when I’m feeling vulnerable or needing to be an introvert. BE THE TURTLE (in moderation.)
- Going back to the subject of meditation, I have a specific meditation I like to do when I’m really struggling with a person called a ‘Loving-Kindness Meditation.’ You can start by doing them in three 5-minute sets, one following another. First I draw to mind someone with whom I have a loving relationship – a good friend, a mentor, or a family member for example. Then in my mind I repeat the mantra: “May you be safe, may you be happy and healthy, may you have ease of mind.” Next, I picture someone with whom I have a neutral relationship with – someone I don’t necessarily feel good or bad towards and present them with the same mantra: “May you be safe, may you be happy and healthy, may you have ease of mind.” Lastly, I conjure up the specific person I am having negative and unpleasant feelings towards and offer them the same sentiment. I know it sounds like a bunch of hippie voodoo bullshit, but you’d be surprised by the way you feel the next time you see that person.
- Yoga is a huge release for me. I could go in as wound up tighter than a facelift, and leave higher than a spaceship. Yes, I just quoted Nicki Minaj – No, I’m not sorry. I could go into yoga carrying the weight of the world and even the times I struggle through an entire class and internally curse until savasana – I leave light and feeling like a very happy limp spaghetti noodle. Whatever it was I had been experiencing on that given day, has moved through me – regardless of whether it was mine or someone else’s. Plus, at the very least there was probably a really hot chick doing downward dog in a sports bra and in my professional opinion there is also therapeutic benefit to witnessing that.
Being empathetic is a beautiful thing – it connects us to others. But it’s also kind of like when you’re carrying a purse and the person you are with asks to put their keys in it. Then they ask you to hold their wallet, cell phone, and lip gloss as well. None of is it too detrimental, you can handle it, but your bag would sure be a lot lighter without all their stuff in it too. It’s not to say we shouldn’t care for people – we absolutely should. But know when you are caring for someone versus taking care of them. Surround yourself with positive people when you can, and even when you feel frustrated with others – exude compassion. Remember it’s okay to be selfish because you can’t always be selfless. Ask yourself how YOU are feeling often and when you feel robbed of your energy – call it back to you. When someone is rude, smile at them – because holding your joy gives you the power. Learn from the people and situations that make you sad, and know when enough is enough. There will always be stress in life, people who may affect you or attempt to bring you down, but ultimately it is your choice what you do with it and how you allow it to impact you.