Original post from September 2015:
I am late to the game on this, but after talking with one of my clients recently about being extra-sensitive to the feelings of others, among other things, I finally did a little search online about it.
I have never identified as a “Highly Sensitive” person because (according to my therapist) I have excellent coping skills, and (it’s my feeling that) I’m not THAT sensitive. I’m lucky enough to be able to dial it in and dial it out most of the time, but there are times when I have to do a little self defense in the empathic realm, and my education about how to do that has been piecemeal.
There are a lot of us out there who get stronger signals from the world, which many of us read as ANXIETY, dreadful inexplicable anxiety. Somatic Experiencing has helped me tremendously with that, making it possible for me to experience anxiety as a felt-sense phenomenon that may or may not have a real issue it is trying to help me with. My discernment skills around that have gotten pretty good, and I may be able to teach you some of those skills if you like.
But–in big energy situations where my senses tend to get weirdly overwhelmed (a great example for me is festivals, where lots of crazy energy is running rampant) I have found it necessary to to a little self-care up front with little practices I’ve made up on my own. If the message about how to take care of oneself in this way has had a hard time reaching me, a person who has been surrounded by resources for over 20 years of working in the healing arts, then maybe it’s having a hard time reaching you, too.
Here’s a local class for you sensitive peeps out there that might prove helpful: http://www.annaholden.com/sensitive-self-program-series/sensitive-self-defense-training-course/
I’ve been clicking around on this website, too: http://hsperson.com
Something about the language of this site speaks to me less (I don’t identify with it), but I appreciate her focus on research, and have her book reserved at the library.
UPDATE, August 2021:
I never did read that book, because it didn’t really speak to me. Here are some practical ways I work with being sensitive on a daily basis:
- If I am feeling something hard and it’s not obviously attached to the moment, I ask, “Is this mine?” Sometimes it is, and then I will use my SE tools to help me through it. Sometimes it’s not, and just asking that question helps dispel it. If it’s not mine and simply identifying it doesn’t allow it to move on, I will encourage it to keep *moving through me and consciously try not to attach myself to it, no matter how fascinating it is. It is a choice, then, and it makes less sense to hold other people’s stuff (off the clock) when I have my own to work with.
- *My teachers have counseled letting things move through rather than resisting. Resistance creates stickiness; allowing things to move through–well, they just keep moving. If there is inherent stickiness, I sometimes use a visualization to help it along. My metaphor is star energy that sweeps from the top of my head through my whole body (and whatever I am touching) into the ground, but you do you.
- When I know that I will be working with something challenging- a situation, a client’s particular issues, just a lot of stuff all at once- I place myself firmly in the context of my little piece of being. I bow in gratitude to the archetypal energies of the four directions, acknowledging my ancestors and the borrowed bit of the earth that my spirit animates right now, and in this way I feel more connected to all that is. No need to shoulder this stuff alone, especially since I didn’t create it all myself.
- When I have agreed to hold someone else’s psychic, physical, or emotional stuff for a while, I purposefully set it down once we have finished. I have a little ritual around it, takes about 15 seconds. I do this better in a professional setting, could benefit from remembering to do it when it’s less formal.
In my cosmology, I have agreed to walk the earth and do some amount of the work that needs doing. Discerning what is mine, asking for help, and cleaning up when done are all ways that keep me working without exhausting myself or burning out.