It has taken me 40 years to learn how to use my empathetic superpowers.
I have spent much of my life feeling mentally battered and bruised by taking in, and taking on, all the emotions of those around me. It…is…exhausting. This is the life of an empath who has not learned how to use the gift of empathetic superpowers in the way they were meant to be used.
It took the discovery of mirroring neurons and one too many situations in which I felt like my comfort levels were pushed to far for me to say, “Enough is enough! I will not be tossed back and forth in the emotional sea by other peoples emotions!”
Empathy is a gift…but it can become a curse if it not protected, carefully guarded and maintained. The ability to feel someone’s pain and then comfort them is a beautiful thing. I believe it is a superpower. It allows us to connect with others on a very deep level.
Brene Brown discusses empathy in her RSA short where she states that ‘‘Empathy fuels connection.”
We are designed to live in connection with others and empathy provides a fast track to creating connection with others. So how can something so beautiful cause so much pain for the giver of such a gift?
I have a six-year-old girl. I watch a lot of the movie Frozen. I almost have the entire movie memorized. In Frozen, Princess Elsa is caged by her superpower of freezing because she does not know how to control it. It leaves her isolated, alone, and depressed. Like Princess Elsa’s freezing superpower, the superpower of empathy can leave us feeling empty, alone and overwhelmed if we don’t learn how to protect our empathy and become an “empathetic superhero.”
Here are some strategies that I have learned in the past year to protect my gift of empathy and become an empathetic superhero.
1. Get counselling and learn how to have healthy boundaries.
I think it would be safe to say that most people who have the gift of empathy have blurred boundaries as far as what they should tolerate and what they should not. When we feel someone’s pain and want to help them, it is all too easy to accidentally move into the role of enabler which creates a dysfunctional situation for all players involved.
Counselling from a trained professional can help empaths learn what type of behaviour is acceptable and allowable in their life. Many of us “empaths” need a little hand holding and guidance to help us learn how we should be treated by those around us.
2. Use wisdom about who you allow in your “circle of trust.”
In the movie, Meet the Parents Robert De Niro’s character explains to Ben Stiller what he needs to see for Ben to meet the qualifications to be in his “circle of trust.” It is quite humorous to watch Ben Stiller nervously attempt to persuade Robert De Niro that he belongs in the circle of trust, but
Jack might be on to something. We need to have people we can talk to about anything—just vent to, laugh with, and be ourselves with.
Because we are empaths, we can relate to almost anyone. This can put us in a situation where we have placed our trust in people that may not be trustworthy.
One strategy I have started to use with people in my circle is the “you get one of those” principle: if I have allowed you into that tender sanctuary where I share my soul with you, you get one time where you can offend me or speak disrespectfully (for whatever reason…you’re tired angry, depressed).
If it happens more than once, you are still my friend, but are bumped out of the “circle of trust.” I have learned that if someone feels like it is okay to speak disrespectfully to me more than one time, it is likely that will happen over and over again…this is dangerous territory for an empath.
We need to guard that circle of trust and keep only healthy relationships within it.
3. Practice the art of simultaneously caring and letting go.
I have a friend who is going through a hard time. There is no available solution that I can see right now.
I feel really badly for the friend, but there is absolutely nothing I can do to help them at this moment, other than let them know I am here. I have to consciously let go of the worries for my friends or they will weigh me down, and that does not serve them or me. Care for those in your life, do what you can to help them if that is an option and then let their worry go. Sometimes letting go can be in a form of a prayer for them, sometimes it can be in the form of saying out loud, “I can do no more for them, I let them go.”
We must learn this art so we are not overwhelmed by our empathy on a daily basis.
4. Feed your own soul.
Do what makes you come alive! This will make you strong and help you to use your gift of empathy from a place of strength and power, not weakness.
5. Guard your sensitivity.
We empaths are sensitive, and that’s okay. In fact, it’s more than okay, it’s how we were designed to be. So protect that sensitive heart. Don’t feel badly if there are situations that you are not comfortable being part of, purely because you are sensitive. Empathy breeds sensitivity and it needs to be protected.
Empaths do not “grow out of it.” This is who we are at our very core.
The gift of empathy is indeed a superpower. If we can learn how to protect and control it, we can become empathetic superheroes and use our gifts to make deep connections with those in our circle of influence and make a unique difference in this world.
Author: Wendy Haley
Editor: Renée Picard
Image: eelssej_ at Flickr