I had planned to blog about something else this month. But I've personally been so impacted and overwhelmed by what’s going on in our country that I decided to change course. I consider myself to be an empath and I think emotional and energetic sensitivity to others is a great skill in my role as a therapist. I also notice how profoundly it impacts the way I interact with the world – especially when that world is deeply troubling.
Let’s start with what it means to be an empath. At its heart, the term strives to name the experience of emotional or energetic sensitivity. It has its origins in the world of science fiction, a paranormal ability to sense the mental or emotional state of others. You can experience it as a skill, a quality, a superpower and sometimes, a burden. Empaths are the sensitive kids. The emotional kids.
The emotional sensitivity of empaths can fuel deep emotional and personal connections. But that energetic and emotional sensitivity can be difficult to ‘turn off.’ Consequently, I think empaths are significantly impacted by the pain and suffering of others and the injustices they perceive around them.
And here lies a deep conflict. Empaths care deeply and naturally want to help others. But because empaths can be so significantly impacted by the world around them, it can become very hard to continue engaging.
In our current climate, I believe this can translate as an avoidance of activism and a tendency to hide away from the intensity of what is going on around us.
So, how does one survive turmoil and upheaval as an empath? How do you engage and not drown in a sea of emotional overwhelm?
I have a few ideas I’d like to offer collected from both my own experience and the experiences of others.
1) Start or return to therapy. This many seem like a self-serving thing to put as number one! But hear me out. Healthy boundaries are key for someone who is emotionally sensitive. As is the ability to sort through what parts of your experience are yours and what might be being pulled in from outside. A therapist can support you in this work. And returning to therapy can provide ongoing support during deeply intense times. If you’re interested in working with me, please contact me. If not, please contact me for referrals!
2) Give yourself a break. In order to maintain your ability to engage with difficult stuff for the long haul, you have to give yourself a break from it on a regular basis. If you don’t your psyche and body will intervene for you and you become desensitized. Notice if this is already happening to you. Do you have the ‘oh look, one more horrific thing has happened today’ response? If so, you might need a break. Make the break conscious and delineated. I’ll avoid Facebook for three days. I will not discuss politics this week.
3) Choose specific, manageable actions. Overwhelm is fueled by a sense of having no control or influence over what is happening. That helpless feeling is hard to tolerate for any length of time. So, don’t try to do or care about everything all at once. Focus your energy on one or two things that feel possible for you. Is that a regular donation to an organization on the front lines of the fight? Is that engaging with friends or relatives with decidedly different political views? Is it attending a march or protest regularly? There are many wonderful resources that help you select actions to take daily or weekly at your pace. I’m including some in the resources section below. And that takes me to my next point…
4) Don’t compare your actions with others. “Comparison is the thief of joy.” In this case, I think it is the thief of meaningful action. No one can do all the things. Being realistic about what your part of the fight CAN be will allow you to continue to take action. We all have to be in this for the long haul. Don’t defeat yourself preemptively by comparing yourself to your friends – there will always be someone who is more of a social justice super hero activist than you are.
5) Increase your self-awareness. Check in with yourself more around what things are secretly draining your energy. I realized lately that I had been having political conversations on a daily basis and after each one, I had not been as nourished by time spent with those dear friends as I might have been. Keep noticing how you are being impacted and adjusting accordingly. This links back to point one – consider therapy to support you in this step, especially if you’ve been regularly overwhelmed.
6) Don’t stop engaging with it. The key is to find a way to stay active and engaged – even with the hard stuff. And we do this by finding our own system of titration.
The world feels scary right now. And it is scary. Things are happening in government that we have never witnessed the likes of before. We have to foster the things that will sustain us and keep us going. Foster the faith and the hope when you can, let others carry it for you when you cannot.
5 Calls gives you five specific numbers to call daily to help your voice be heard around issues you care about.
Shaun King is a journalist and activist with a great daily newsletter. He offers concrete actions around important topics. Robert Reich, Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center, is another great source of information and action items.
The Women's March is offering 10 Actions 100 Days and they also have an email list you can join.
Countable has both a website and an app and makes it easy to understand what Congress is voting on and contact your representatives.
If you're local SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice) is doing some great local organizing.