Posts

,

The Paradox of the Extroverted Empath


~
I have a pretty clear image of the “classic empath” in my mind.

She’s shy and sensitive and loves nothing more than curling up with a good book, a cup of tea, and a pair of socks she probably knit herself. She’s a gentle soul, deeply in touch with her emotions and sensitive to the feelings and experiences of those around her. She cherishes her solitude and the lucky few she trusts enough to love.

It’s a pretty picture—but it’s not that simple for everyone.

For those unfamiliar with the term “empath,” it’s a character structure built upon empathy for other beings. There are many other terms to describe this experience—including HSP, intuitive, “giver,” and more. Many consider it a gift, but also a challenge to navigate in our high-pressure, high-stimuli world.

Empaths have a few identifying characteristics including:

Hypersensitivity to people’s emotions, noises, stress, and stimuli of all kinds.

Emotional absorbency—taking on others’ feelings as their own.

Strong intuition or “gut feelings” about people and situations.

Loving and needing alone time.

Through all the pieces I’ve read and personal conversations I’ve shared, these qualities seem relatively undisputed, but one in particular I just cannot resonate with—introversion.

As sensitive and spongy as I am, I’m also (and have always been) a die-hard extrovert.

I thrive in relationship with others and need a boost of human interaction to keep my energy up during the day. I can’t help but feel an unending love for people. The truth is, when I spend extended periods alone, I actually feel heavy and drained—the exact way most empaths express their experience after too much socializing.

This is the paradox of being an extroverted empath:

We need human connection to thrive, but still feel drained after spending time with people.

We can relate deeply and personally to many people at once.

We feel a great sense of purpose from understanding other people’s experiences.

We need our alone time, but don’t always want to take it.

This is a highly challenging place to be in, but it’s the truth I’ve been trying to balance my entire life. Frankly, not all the “empath survival guides” out there speak to this experience and the unique needs of the extroverted sector of this community.

I’d like to change that.

How do we take care of ourselves as outgoing, extroverted sensitives in this life?

Here are a few practices that have proven helpful to me:

1. Breathe.

Some sort of personal breathwork practice is imperative to staying in balance. As an empath—especially an extroverted one—we are exposed to the emotional dispositions of many. So familiarizing ourselves with the feeling of our own bodies, feelings, and energy allows us to recognize when we’re holding something that isn’t ours.

I have benefitted from basic Buddhist meditation, self-reiki, and chakra balancingpractices, but the options are limitless. Find one that works for you!

2. Ground and center.

Carrying other people’s emotional energy leads to feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and ungrounded. Once we recognize we’re feeling this way, re-centering our awareness back to ourselves and getting grounded expands our capacity to hold space for others without sacrificing our own well-being.

Grounding is as simple as sitting in meditation and bringing awareness to our tailbone being supported by the Earth, or the simple sensation of our feet on the floor. We can also get grounded by spending time in nature, noticing all the sights, sounds, and smells around us. In terms of centering, I like to just close my eyes and take a few deep breaths into my heart and belly—visualizing all my scattered thoughts and emotions drawing back to me.

3. Let go of what isn’t ours.

Extroverted empaths are drawn to engage with many kinds of people, and naturally absorb thoughts and feelings that aren’t ours. For example, that sudden feeling of anxiety was actually our mother’s, that grief was our colleague’s, or that flood of love was our best friend’s. Whether or not the feeling is pleasant isn’t important—only that it’s not ours.

When we choose to regularly engage socially, it’s even more important to check in with ourselves and make sure that what we’re feeling is actually our own. Pause frequently and take a big sigh out to release anything that isn’t yours to hold.

4. Seek out smaller groups.

I’ve found that smaller, simple interactions are enough to fill me up with the human connection I need to thrive. We don’t have to be the fluttering social butterfly at a 50-person party every weekend to feel connected—in fact, more intimate personal relationships often generate the fulfillment we’re looking for more effectively anyway.

Have dinner with a few close friends, or meet one-on-one with someone to share a creative project. When I do find myself in spaces with many people—like a concert, party, or bar—it helps to have an “anchor person” who I know and trust to check in with if things start to feel intense or overstimulating.

5. Take breaks.

We have to be willing to take breaks alone to recharge—even if it’s for an hour or two—to avoid emotional burn-out. This has been a lifesaving lesson for me. If I want to be social after work, I’ll go home to make dinner, lay down, listen to music, or read solo for a little while before reconnecting with people again.

Meditation, or even a five-minute walk, is an incredibly effective means to do this when we don’t have time to take a full break. Finding (or creating) small windows in the day to reconnect with ourselves ultimately allows us to keep up the energy to support our extroverted nature.

6. Be alone in the presence of others.

Many of my favorite “me-time” activities involve taking myself out to enjoy things I love in public spaces where I don’t know anyone. Extroverted empaths can’t help but engage on a deep, emotional level with people we know, and this takes energy, but complete solitude can be equally draining. Solo time in public is the “Middle Way.”

I love to take my laptop to a coffee shop and write, or take a book of poetry to a bistro and enjoy a nice glass of wine. Others may like to hang out at the beach, hit the rock climbing gym, or maybe peruse an art museum. Enjoy the company of the strangers without directly engaging with them.

These are just a few practices I have found allow me to fully express my social, people-loving nature while maintaining my sense of balance and energy as an empath in this world. Are there any other extroverted empaths out there? I’d love to hear how other tips for embracing the paradox that we are.

In Soul, Danielle

(This post was originally published on Elephant Journal)

,

Honoring Sensitivity in a High-Pressure World


~

I’ll come out and say it—I’m sensitive.

Indeed, a “highly sensitive person,” as my closer companions often call me—“HSP” for short. And I’d like to acknowledge for a moment that it takes courage to share this identification with the world.

We pay a lot of lip-service to sensitivity these days. Brené Brown’s Power of Vulnerability skyrocketed from bestseller to instant-classic-manifesto status. We proudly proclaim ourselves as “empaths” (albeit with a twinge of self-pity) and we find ourselves riding the wave of the millennial self-love revolution. “Staying in is the new going out!” read lifestyle magazine headlines. And I can’t argue with any of it—most of the time I’m in full agreement—but does our culture actually mean what it says?

Frankly, I’m calling bullsh*t.

At the end of the day, we live in a high-pressure world. The new American Dream demands us to rise up, keep up, and make a name for ourselves—all while being 100 percent self-sustaining, “healthy,” environmentally conscious, and making a thriving living off our entrepreneurial dreams. In a culturally-relevant (i.e. expensive) urban oasis. Oh, and honoring our sensitive nature.

I have a hard time believing our culture is sincere in supporting this sensitivity. We can be sensitive as much as we want—off the clock. We can be sensitive as long as we are still highly-functioning, profitable members of society. Ultimately, we can be sensitive if we keep it to ourselves.

Does this pose a dilemma for you? Because I’ve been mulling it over for months, if not years. How do we honor our sensitivity in this high-pressure world?

First of all, we have to honor it within ourselves.

This is easier said than done—but it’s a must. It starts with a simple acknowledgement: “I’m a sensitive.” Hey, that wasn’t so bad, was it? Honoring our own sensitivity requires deconstructing the judgments we hold against it. I am in firm belief that our true nature is one of self-acceptance, so sourcing our inner-critic requires a little personal archeology.

Who said it wasn’t okay to be this way? Was it the boss who told us to get our sh*t together after a breakup? Was it the parent who signed us up for countless extra-curriculars, or demanded academic perfection? Or perhaps it was the schoolyard peers who said crying is for sissies. Dig deep and find the root of the belief.

Once I understood why I didn’t accept my sensitivity, I was able to have compassion for myself and change the script. While the outer world may still supply this message, I was no longer one of the voices. I became my own voice of care.

Then, honor it with our actions.

This often requires compromise. I hate to burst the invincible bubble, but we actually cannot do it all. We are human beings. As a sensitive, this is even more valid. Honoring our sensitivity means assessing our energy-level frequently and respecting where we’re at. Checking-in with our physical and emotional bodies allows us to make loving and informed decisions about how to fulfill our deeper needs.

We aren’t going to be up for every invitation or request. This requires saying “no” to others a lot more than we’re likely comfortable with. Start practicing. If we need to, we can say “no” in small ways and work our way up. “I’m sorry, I can’t drive you to the airport next week. I have a lot on my plate.” could eventually become “I love you, but I can no longer engage in this relationship.” or “On second thought, I never wanted to be a doctor.” If it was scary to read that, don’t worry. Baby steps.

Lately, I’ve scaled way back on the expectations I put on myself in my spare time. I spend a lot more “me time” at home: cooking healthy meals, playing music, journaling, or reading inspiring books. I love people, but when I acknowledge my sensitivity, being an on-the-go social butterfly doesn’t fit my life right now. Maybe again someday, but what’s important is I’m listening to my needs in the present and making the kindest choices I can to reflect that.

Get clear on priorities.

Sensitivity is not a get-out-of-jail-free card for life’s difficulties. There is no such thing. Sensitive or not, there are aspects of life we have to face to survive (and ideally, thrive) in this world. And I believe it’s entirely possible for us, so long as we’re clear on our priorities.

I like to think of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs for this thought exercise. I’ve literally drawn the pyramid out in my journal and made commitments to each layer of personal development. The base of the pyramid is “physiological needs,” meaning food, shelter, and sleep. If any of these aspects are out of whack, it’s highly difficult to feel balanced and healthy, much less engage with the world without getting drained. So we start there. Prioritize a good night’s sleep. I know it’s not “sexy,” but you know what else isn’t sexy? A zombied-out HSP.

Then, prioritize a stable, sustainable work and home situation. Sensitives are more impacted by change than others, so finding a good fit long-term in these areas is super important. Despite my sensitivity, I’m highly ambitious, so I used to set myself up in harsh, demanding work environments for the challenge and prestige, but ultimately would burn out and return to the same ungrounded, high-risk place I started in.

I’ve learned my limits and I’m clear about them with everyone in my life, so now I’m confident in the long-term potential of my current life choices. I go to bed before 11 p.m., I maintain a nutritious diet, and I created a cozy, modest home that feels good to return to. Much peace arises from these choices.

Lastly, commit to self-care practices.

Reclaiming my sensitivity began when I learned (and consistently practiced) meditation. This is something I believe all sensitives would benefit from embracing. Meditation is, quite simply, taking time to be with ourselves. Free of demands, judgment, pressure, or misunderstanding. Sitting with ourselves allows us to get to know what’s actually going on in our minds, bodies, and hearts. How else could we know how to best take care of ourselves? After several years of practice, I now receive direct, intuitive insight in my meditation sessions about the best choices to make, and answers to questions I’ve struggled with off the cushion.

There are infinite other self-care modalities we can adopt, as unique as each of us. I have a friend who is devout about her yoga practice. Another who is basically a mermaid and jumps straight for an Epsom-salt bath. Another swears by reiki to rebalance after tough weeks.

We all benefit from different tools at different times. Usually, quiet time writing does the trick for me, but other days I just need a long talk on the phone with someone who loves me. When sh*t really hits the fan, I break out my emergency first-aid kit (“When Harry Met Sally” and a very large bowl of popcorn).

I write all this in hopes that I, and my fellow sensitives, can embrace who we are and empower ourselves to build our strength, restore our health, and live out our best lives. I don’t want to view this quality as an adversity; it’s just another part of how we walk through the world.

We can, and we will, rise to meet every day with integrity, honesty, and the beautiful sensitivity we have to offer. We are everything we need to be. We are enough.

In Soul, Danielle

(This post was originally published on Elephant Journal)