As an HSP, one of the challenges we have is figuring out a way to ‘deal’ with our always-on empathy. I believe the secret is to develop a relationship with the ability, rather than to try to shut it down or resist its pervasive presence in our lives.
The idea of developing a relationship with the defining characteristic of HSP’s is a by-product of the lessons I’ve learned from Headspace meditation exercises (I strongly recommend the practice of meditation to everyone, especially HSP’s). I was surprised as I worked through a thirty day session dealing with anxiety that the approach wasn’t about some magical way to rid my life of anxiety, it was rather a lesson on the relationship I had with the emotion. Changing the relationship, the way I interact with anxiety, meant actually ending the enervating effect of anxiety. The same applies to HSP’s and their relationship with empathy.
Without a way to positively relate to this essential, and beneficial, skill, HSP’s can find themselves in trouble. I can look back on more than one instance when I had a difficult time ending a relationship. I knew the ‘fit’ wasn’t right, but dealing with the hurt and anger and confusion I might be inflicting upon another by leaving sometimes seemed more exhausting than staying. Sound familiar? Or how about just saying ‘no’ to a request while at the same time actually feeling the other person’s rejection as our own?
It’s often as easy as just noting that I am being empathetic, thus providing a sense of awareness about where my head is at (usually in my heart, if ya know what I mean). In other words, when we become anxious because we’re engaging with empathy, sometimes all we have to do is just realize that, and let it go. We don’t need to examine it, or mull it over, or act upon it. We just have to say, “Oh, I’m feeling guilty for staying home tonight instead of joining my friends for a drink. But that’s because I feel like I might be hurting someone’s feelings. Okay. This is the empathy part of being an HSP, I’ll just let it go.”
In a relationship with empathy, we’re not identifying with the guilt, hurt, shame and taking them on as our own. We’re simply observing that is how we feel, and letting it go.
There are times I can get pretty far down the ‘analyzing’ street with a situation and find five different layers for the empathy I am experiencing towards someone or something. But the moment I realize that is what I am doing, I stop, notice it, acknowledge it, “I am really breaking this down.” and then I let it go. It’s true that I’ll start to chase after the thought train even moments later, our minds are going to do what minds do. But once I recognize what is going on, I can relate to the emotion differently. “Oh, I am really thinking about this a lot, okay, letting it go now,” and like magic, it’s gone and I can turn my attention back to the task at hand.
Relating to empathy instead of just following it where ever it leads allows for a more workable dynamic. If we can sort out the moments when we’re over indulging the strength from the moments when it actually brings clarity to a situation, then we are free to move through life without becoming bogged down in excessive guilt, shame, or hurt.
Here’s to a more productive relationship with empathy, and the subsequent ability to embracing its positive qualities.