If there is one thing the past several months have taught me, it's that self-awareness is truly life-altering. I say that because, for so many years of my life, whenever relationship challenges would come my way, I'd spend more time trying to figure out the other person more than myself.
But like the French philosopher, Michel de Montaigne once said, "The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself." Indeed. And, if you want to get to the root of your relationship issues, look within…first.
And after going through a series of pretty devastating transitions in some of my relationships, I realized that a part of the reason why I attracted some people who weren't healthy for me — and why letting them go was difficult even though they were toxic — was because I show a lot of signs of being something that, while growing up, I didn't hear a lot about: An empath.
You don't have the time and I don't have enough word count space to get into all of what an empath is, but a bottom line definition is this — empaths are individuals who have an uncanny ability to not only understand other people but can literally feel what they are experiencing too; so much to the point that they are able to mentally and emotionally put themselves in someone else's position, sometimes to their own detriment.
This means that empaths are highly sensitive, extremely discerning, and can oftentimes absorb the emotions of others. Some other traits of an empath include being introverted, a loving nature, preferring to spend time alone, and they can get easily distracted by noises and smells too.
Although in many ways, it's a beautiful thing to be an empath, it does come with its challenges.
Because they are so intuitive, they tend to be targets to energy vampires and narcissists (check out the video "15 Things That Happen When an Empath Loves a Narcissist" when you get a chance). Empaths are also known for giving more than they receive plus, it's very easy for them to get completely overwhelmed in their relationships — almost to the point of caring more about the choices their loved ones are making than their own loved ones do.
Did you just read all of that and have a huge light bulb go off? If so, welcome to the world of being an empath (if you want to double-check, do this self-assessment test). Now that you know why you've been going through some of what you have, as a fellow empath, here are three tips to help you experience less harm and guard yourself better moving forward:
3 Ways To Protect Yourself As An Empath
1. Take Your Time in Relationships.
The more I've studied about empaths, the more I recognize the importance of taking my time at the beginning of relationships and finding balance once I'm in them, whether it's a professional or personal one.
In the past, because I could sense a lot of what a person was going through or where they were coming from, I would immediately invest my all — time, effort, energy, and even resources — without allowing time to reveal if they were someone that I should get that deeply involved with.
Sometimes you need months — even years — before you can comfortably say "This is someone I trust" or "This is someone I can call a friend." Personal bumps and bruises have taught me that sometimes feeling what a person is going through is not about getting intimately involved so much as offering a word of encouragement, praying for them, or just meeting an immediate need. No more, no less.
(Accepting this alone is a total game-changer!)
2. Recognize Patterns.
As I'm doing some healing from childhood trauma, I realize that because I am an empath and I didn't make dealing with the PTSD of my childhood and adolescence as much of a priority as I should have, oftentimes I kept re-victimizing myself by choosing my childhood abusers as an adult; only, they were in forms of different people.
Now that I am aware of this, I see that, as an empath, I have a tendency to even want to rationalize my abusers' abuse because I am wired to feel what they feel (deep, right?!). Knowing this helps me to recognize when I'm about to repeat this kind of pattern with other toxic individuals.
For instance, if you do research on narcissists and sociopaths, a lot of them become that way due to their own unresolved childhood stuff. A narcissist and an empath are an intense combo because the narcissist wants to drain the empath of their good qualities, while an empath wants to do whatever they can to make a narcissist better. See what I mean? #breakthepattern
3. Require Reciprocity.
Not everyone is an empath. That's not a good or bad thing; that's just the way it is. To me, I think empaths are a lot like silk — simultaneously strong and fragile. Because of that, they need the kind of people in their life who will treat them that way.
Something that a strong-yet-fragile individual — an empath — needs is the kind of relationships that will give as much as they take. Since an empath feels so much and their heart is so big, reciprocity cannot be a preference; for the sake of their overall health and well-being, it must be a requirement.
As I've been settling more and more into understanding that while I am an empath, my past relational bumps and bruises have been healing and, it's been quite some time since I've encountered any new ones.
I'm telling you, sometimes, the best way to resolve issues with others is to truly understand yourself. Self-awareness makes this possible. Whether you're an empath — or not.
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