This morning as I was getting dressed, I heard yet another fight going on in the apartment next to mine. A young couple with small children lives there, and not a week goes by when I don't at least once hear a shouting match between them. Yes, the hazards of apartment living, but also the hazards of just being human in community. People disagree, emotions run high. We have reactions to things we see or hear. And all of those things are perfectly valid conditions of being human. When you're empathic though, it can get extra hard.
As I heard her voice raised, "God! I don't want to be with you!" my immediate response was to want to bite my nails. This has been a lifelong struggle for me, one that at times I do pretty good with and at times I just give up and relapse. When that urge appears though, I have learned to check in with myself and ask "Where and how do I feel like a trapped animal who needs to chew off her paw in order to escape?" I heard her words this morning, and I wanted to bite. Now, in my life I have no situation where I feel the need to escape like that. So it tells me that my urge is related to the emotion that I'm picking up from my neighbors. I recognized that the emotion wasn't mine to deal with, and let the urge pass un-acted-upon.
Imagine though, being a child who's emotions are running wild, with more intensity than your years should allow you to have access to. Maybe you don't have to imagine. Maybe you were one of those kids too. You feel too much for your little body and brain to cope with. You have no explanation for why you feel like you do, but you know it needs to stop. What things might you do to try to make the emotions go away? And how many of those options do you really think would be healthy and reasonable ones? It could be that a parent has had a really hard day and is coming home at the end of their short fuse. Or you watch tv and your favorite character has something bad happen to them and you just can't get the scene out of your mind. Maybe a sibling is being abused in the next room. None of these situations have you personally being effected by what's happening, but you sure as hell feel it in your whole system.
As an adult, you may or may not have better resources to deal with that. One of the hardest tasks, and yet the most important and foundational, for an empath, is to be able to figure out what feelings are yours and what feelings are external to you. One way to do that is to sink into the feeling instead of trying to shut it out. Really feel it deeply, knowing you are in a safe place. Then think about what imagery this feeling reminds you of. What does it make you want to do with your body? Then take a few steps back mentally from the feeling, and ask yourself if your current reality does indeed warrant that reaction. Listen hard and carefully if it does. If it doesn't, then chances are very likely that the emotion your dealing with didn't originate with you. Or at very least it isn't called for in your present day reality. Once you figure that out, your task becomes releasing it from your system. You could do that through dance, exercise, writing, creating art, meditation, yoga, or spiritual activity. Do what works for you, and that emotion will pass. They always do. And they go faster when you don't attach to them. Let it flow through. You don't have to hold onto it.
These days there is so much emotion floating around the atmosphere in our culture. You can't avoid running into people who are all fired up over something. Whether you agree with them or not, the emotions of it can have an impact on you when you're sensitive to it. In my practice I'm hearing all the time about free-floating anxiety or anger that doesn't seem to have basis in reality. Or maybe it absolutely does have a basis in reality! Lives are being impacted on a daily basis by presidential orders and exclamations. Clients sometimes don't understand why they're feeling like they are, why they're so reactive or so sensitive, or even so sleepy. This skill of separating self from others when it comes to emotion is becoming even more necessary. So, give it a try. Experiment with what discharging activities you can come up with and learn how things work for you. Getting curious is a whole lot healthier than getting bogged down in it.