Do you feel the weight of other people’s energy? Words, glances and interactions cling to you like burrs on socks.
I first experienced this as a waitress during one college summer. I quickly realized that each table I waited on was like a small stage where a drama was being played out starring me in the role of director—only, I didn’t have a script or stage notes to work from. Life’s ups and downs unfolded over the daily special: hiring, firing, proposals, break-ups, blind dates, wakes, birthdays, tears, laughter. I felt, sensed, sympathized and connected with all of it—by the end of a shift I felt like a sponge cake left out in the rain.
What was wrong with me? It was frustrating to see my co-workers doing their jobs in a “comfort zone” impervious to all the emotional baggage they were serving up food to. I didn’t think mine was merely a case of being too sensitive. Nor did I think I was an empath with paranormal abilities to perceive the emotions of others. I was somewhere in between.
I decided to call it my Sixth Sense and frame my perceptive nature not as a curse, but as my Super Power. Visions of Wonder Woman came to mind with her bullet-busting bangles, golden lasso, and awesome belt buckle—I needed all of that! Instead, I came up with 3 principles to help me navigate life as a sensitive human–a Super Power Tool Kit to Sensitivity Survival:
1. Setting Boundaries is Not Only Okay, It is Imperative to Survival
Boundaries are not walls. We construct walls to hole ourselves up and keep people out, we create boundaries to develop parameters that help foster relationships. Personal boundaries are guiding principles for self-care and standards for healthy interaction with others. Each of us has unique vulnerabilities and triggers that boundaries help protect. Setting boundaries can be inspired by these kinds of statements:
- I can’t be expected to anticipate the needs of others.
- It’s okay to say no.
- It’s okay if others get angry.
- I’m responsible for making myself happy.
- People don’t have to agree with me.
- I have a right to my own feelings.
- It’s not my job to fix others.
The list is as endless as you need it to be. Setting boundaries is not only okay, it is imperative to survival.
2. If Someone Mistreats You, 90% of the Time It Is Not About You
Okay, so this is not scientifically proven, but through life’s bumps and bends I’ve come up with this intentionally high percentage. And, there is a caveat that assumes you navigate life by the Golden Rule of treating others as you wish to be treated. It’s incredibly powerful to take another person’s negativity or cruel words and reframe them with a question: “Is this really about me?”
If we remove our ego from the situation and consider the other person’s perspective, we gain objectivity and clarity. We can diffuse the emotion and power of the situation with questions like:
- “What is going on in this person’s life?”
- “What is motivating them?”
- “What messages in this attack are actually projection?”
- “Have I done something to provoke this?”
Compassion is the first step to resolution. If someone mistreats you, 90% of the time it’s not about you.
3. Expectations Can Be Self Defeating
Here’s a six word story:
“Who hurt you?”
“My own expectations.”
Think back to the biggest disappointments in your life. Why were they disappointing? Most likely, you had focused upon the expectation of an outcome over which you had no control. In situations where you have no control, expectations are a set up for disappointment. We’ve all had that experience of doing something for the first time and finding it absolutely incredible then doing it again and finding that things fall short.
In some cases, it’s powerful to set expectations—situations where we are in control and those expectations hold us to a standard and drive us to achieve. But, when we have no control, expectations can backfire. In particular, this applies to interactions with others. We can’t control the actions and behavior of other people, only ourselves. Placing unrealistic expectations upon those around us is not only unfair, it is damaging. When you are in control, use expectations to motivate, but in situations where you aren’t in control, expectations can be self-defeating.