How I Learned to Stop Absorbing Other People’s Emotions

“Sometimes I think I need a spare heart to feel all the things I feel.” ~Sanober Khan I felt her agony and loneliness as if it were my own. Even as I write that sentence, my eyes well up and heaviness fills my heart. Then, I’m reminded to apply the advice I give others. My mom was a special person, a sensitive soul just like me. Actually, I’m so much like she was, yet so different. One of the differences between us is that I had an opportunity to observe her life’s challenges. I saw her challenges reflected within myself and made a conscious choice to find healthy ways to cope. You see, my mom was a deep feeler and felt the emotions of people near and far. I imagine it was her strong empathy and personal challenges that led her to want to help others, as a wounded healer in a sense. But as a helper and healer, she struggled with her mental and emotional health over the years. Witnessing her life moved me to learn how to regulate my own sensitive emotions and set healthy boundaries. Sometimes I wonder if not knowing how to manage her empathy is what made her sick. There are many ways to understand the challenges my mom battled before her death in 2007. From her perspective, she had a rare, unknown physical illness. Some who knew her may have thought she was manipulative and attention-seeking. Some would see an addiction to pain medication. Psychologists would diagnose her with psychosomatic disorder, borderline personality disorder, and bipolar disorder. Maybe all and none of those explanations are true. But perhaps she didn’t have any “disorder” at all. I’m not really asserting that to be true, but merely posing a curious question. What if she was just a sensitive, empathic person who lacked the skills to manage the pain around and within her? What if one unhelpful coping mechanism led a to slew of other ailments? I believe my mom felt real physical and emotional pain. I struggled to fully understand her over the years. But after many years of reflection, I now trust her experience because of what I know about my own sensitive nature. As sensitive people, we may present with high emotion and feel easily overwhelmed by our senses. We’re often told by the world that there’s something wrong with us. And when we think there’s something inherently wrong with us, we tend to tuck these traits away into our “shadow” or unconscious mind. Well, now we’ve not only tucked away our core nature, but possibly the empathic depth that goes along with being a sensitive person as well. There may be a part of us that knows that we’re emotional sponges. Yet, we may choose to ignore our nature without really learning how to manage our empathy in such a way that prevents “dis-ease” and fosters well-being. This was me for a long time. Not only am I [...]