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As empaths, we have been programmed from childhood to give more than we receive, and to struggle or even feel guilty about actually receiving.
When we were growing up, we tried to not be a burden. As children, we thought that if we were well-behaved, took on extra responsibilities, and accommodated our parents’ needs, then we would get the love and attention we craved.
This, unfortunately, in most cases, probably did not happen, as many of us grew up in family environments where our caregivers were (emotionally) unavailable or there was some form of emotional or physical abuse.
A core part of our identity growing up and now in our adult lives is that of “the giver.” We derive our self-worth from giving and helping others. The act of giving is beautiful in itself, but not when it happens at our own expense.
The trap that many of us fall into is that we give 110 percent, this does not get reciprocated, we then, in turn, get disappointed or hurt and feel resentful toward the other. Essentially, we are replaying an old childhood dynamic—that of unreciprocated love. And by doing so, our limiting beliefs of not “being worthy of love” or that “love has to be earned” get confirmed.
More often than not, we get caught in this victim cycle of blame and suffering. We ruminate on how much we have given the other, all the times we have forgiven them, all the sacrifices we have made, and the fact that they still do not meet us where we want to be met. In order to heal this pattern, to heal our addiction to giving, we have to look inward and be honest about all the reasons why we engage in these behaviors.
What need does all this “selfless” giving cover? What does it give to us? Who would we be without it? Why are we always compelled to give more, forgive more, suffer more? Here is where shadow work comes in. Only by placing conscious, loving attention on our “darkness” can we let the light in and begin the process of reintegration.
In my case, I blamed myself for staying in unhealthy relationships longer than I should have, for giving more than I had and feeling empty and depleted after, for putting other people first, for not staying true to my values and not honoring my needs. I was angry at myself for a long time. I constantly would say silently to myself, “How could you do this to yourself?” “Why did you put yourself through this?” Frankly, if I had known then what I know now, I would have reacted differently.
Unfortunately, we need to go through some challenging situations in order to learn certain lessons. And these situations will repeat themselves until we have internalized the lesson 100 percent.
I realized that in order for me to form a stronger sense of self, enforce healthy boundaries, and cultivate self-love, I needed to forgive all those parts of myself that I had once rejected.
This is a visualization technique rooted in shadow work which I created:
Sit in a comfortable meditation position, and take some deep breaths to quiet the mind and relax your body.
Then, I would like you to bring up versions of yourself that you are not proud of and/or you have not forgiven. Personally, for me, images of different relationships where I discounted myself and settled came up: “The Cassandra who stayed in a toxic relationship for too long,” “The Cassandra who was cheated on but forgave,” “The Cassandra who was not treated with respect but was patient and waited for better days to come.” These were all instances where I rejected myself.
In the visualization, I want you to see those rejected versions of self; have a conversation with them; and make them feel heard, seen, accepted, and, most importantly, loved. Show these versions of yourself compassion, and then kindly invite them to “come home.” As an example, some of my internal dialogues looked like this: “Come here, let me give you a hug. I forgive you. You had to do what you did in order to learn and grow. You did your best. Thank you for being so brave. Come home now. I fully accept you. I release all guilt and shame. I choose to feel only love and acceptance.”
When doing the visualization, just let things flow. If an actual conversation starts, then let that manifest. Tell this version of yourself everything that your heart desires, but just be mindful that what you are saying comes from a place of compassion, love, and acceptance. Essentially, we want to make these once-rejected versions of self feel heard, seen, accepted, and loved so we can finally reintegrate them.
I hope this technique helps you, just as much as it helped me to start creating a stronger sense of self so that I could unapologetically start setting healthy boundaries, being open to receiving love, and, most importantly, truly believing that I was worthy of receiving it.