Over my holiday, I had so many wonderful days. I think as you saw in my posts during Christmas week, especially this one, I embraced allowing myself to feel that full hearted, wonderful feeling of focusing on what is important – spending time with family, relaxing at home and listening to the quiet. That day, in particular, was oh so wonderful.
And thennnnn…… the next day happened.
I had something very interesting happen to me at the end of my time at home. It was really hard, but it ended up teaching me a lot about myself. If you’ll indulge me I’d like to tell you about it.
I went out to lunch with an old friend from high school. We often get lunch or tea each time we are in the same city, so it wasn’t an oddity that she said we should do so when we were both home. It was Dec. 28th, so both our holidays were coming to a quick close. At 11am she texted me to say, “lunch at 1:00?” I was paper deep in script work and was beginning to feel anxious about not having gotten the amount of work done as I thought I should have. I’m also not one that is comfortable with last minute plans. 1) As you know, I like my schedule and my space and anything asked of me last minute is more or less likely “messing” with the plan I had already made for myself – even if that plan largely includes lying on the couch with myself. 2) I tend to need a bit of extra planning or time before having a social meet up. I’m not exactly sure why… I just do.
But… I felt guilty. And I felt pressured. I knew if I didn’t say yes I wouldn’t be seeing her like I said I would. We aren’t super best friends or anything, so as mean as this sounds – that thought wasn’t heart breaking to me – but still, I said we’d get together so I’d feel like guilty poop if I went back on my word.
So I said yes.
We met for lunch and our conversation soon took on a very strange, tense energy. This woman, just to give you some perspective, is the most hard-on-herself, driven and high-achieving person I’ve ever known (I was in competition with her for grades from grade 5 to 12…so I know). She told me about this huge, and I mean HUGE, thing she had been in the running for, but then didn’t win. She was obviously very angry about this. In my effort help make her feel better – to be empathetic and encouraging – I made some comment along the lines of, “well it’s not like we are talking about a small town trophy here, this is massive to have even got that far!” She responded with extreme defense, saying “that’s exactly why I should be angry. It is massive. ”
To dig myself deeper, I “screwed up” again when I was trying to compliment her for her bravery, and – long story short – found myself apologizing for saying what I had said.
It was hugely uncomfortable and left this energy between us that felt, to me, like a wrench in my stomach.
I left this lunch and immediately just felt disgustingly awful. I was exhausted. I went and got a coffee and sat in my car in a KFC parking lot for 20 minutes simply because I didn’t know what to do with myself. My mind wanted to go to the gym… I knew that would take away these feelings… but I was seriously too exhausted to even want to move.
So I went home and continued to feel this awful sense of lethargy and crawling anxiousness for the entire night. Nothing would make it go away. It felt like every little thing that came up was piling ontop of eachother, making the world feel completely and utterly overwhelming. Every little sound… anytime someone spoke… all just felt like too. much. noise.
The next morning I felt just as awful, if not worse. I tried to meditate the feelings away, but these waves of tears and pure anxiety kept bubbling up into my throat. I would start to get angry at absolutely nothing. You know that feeling? I kept pushing it down, until I completely broke down in tears in the middle of my kitchen while trying to – with shaking hands – make my breakfast.
My Dad was able to get me talking and I soon was able to “mind dump” my way through this mess of feelings that I couldn’t even fully articulate. My mind dump took me back to how I was feeling before the lunch – already a bit anxious, guilty, angry at the fact that someone would ask me to lunch so last minute, and pressured. I did not really want to go to lunch in the first place. I wasn’t really feeling up to socializing. But then I went, felt the need to make happy conversation so that my friend would enjoy her time, felt guilty for saying these “wrong” things, and had my friends’ uncomfortable energies seep into me like hot sticky air.
I’m sorry if this sounds melodramatic, but sometimes I feel like I have this super power where I take on the energies of those around me. It’s like whatever the person is feeling gets sucked over onto me and I end up feeling them just as powerfully as they do. My friend was feeling angry and extremely hard on herself. Following our lunch, I, too, felt angry and hard on myself. My urges and guilt SKY ROCKETED. The day before, I felt compassionate with all I was eating (hello all the chocolate), and suddenly that day everything felt STUPID. I hated the fact that I had just eaten lunch at 2. I hated the fact that I was too tired to go to the gym. I hated the fact that I would be going home for dinner at a time not controlled by me. Food just felt so awful. On the outside I remained quiet and fought to remain gentle with others, but on the inside I was crawling and vowed to just be “better” the next day. It was the only thought I could find to make myself feel better.
I had a long talk with my parents and through it, many thing became clear to me. It became clear that a) I know I am an introvert and that social situations take a lot out of me. I wish it wasn’t so but I need to know this about myself. I need that extra time before hand in order to feel grounded and prepared. I always feel this pressure to make conversation and ensure the other person feels comfortable, when really, I’d be protecting myself more by saying only as much as I truly want. It also became clear that b) this weird thing I have with taking on other people’s energies has a very clear connection with my urges to purge. I take on all these energies, and of course all I want to do is find a way to get them out of me.
It literally feels like all these things are crawling over me and I have no idea how to get them off.
Hence the desire to go to the gym the next morning. Hence the desire to eat as little as possible. Anything that will make me feel cleansed and emptied.Why a super-feeler feels the need to purge. Taking on other peoples' energies: what's theirs is… Click To Tweet
Its a double wammy being both a super feeling and an introvert. Though actually, according to Susan Coin’s book, Quiet, “70% of introverts have a heightened sensitivity, and the other 30% tend to report needing a lot of “down time”….so the two are naturally found together. We really have to learn how to protect ourselves. We really have to learn our boundaries, our triggers, and learn how to prepare ourselves before situations that we know will be exhausting for us. Simply going out to a party with friends may involve more mental preparation before hand, and then even more time to recharge in compassionate solitude after.
Its all doable. It just takes a lot of learning about ourselves.
Unfortunately, this situation tried to strengthen my belief that “I’m safer off alone,” but I’m trying not to let that thought take over. Yes, some social gatherings we introverts push ourselves into do not end up well. And yes large crowds and lots of stimulus can feel overwhelming to highly sensitive people. But… some do turn out okay. Some actually remind us how important connection is to our wellbeing. That’s just the risk we take.
My mother gave me this image of zippering up something imaginary (like a dress bag) around you, before you go out to have that “lunch with a friend,”or whatever it may be. This zipper becomes the boundary between you and the other person. Whatever is said or felt, their energies remain on their side, and yours remain on yours. When the meeting is done, you can gently unzip yourself, step out, and remember that what is yours is still yours and what was theirs is theirs.
Do you ever feel affected by another person’s energy or mood?
Do you find you have to prepare in advance for a social situation, or that you need to recharge in solitude afterwards?
I wrote my first post on being a super-feeler here and continue to do my own reading on the subject (as well as its connection with introverts and the different forms of introversion). If you are interested, here are a few more resources with anecdotes that spoke to me recently.
“Asking, “Whose anxiety is it, anyway,” can help you put a space bubble around yourself so you can objectively identify how you really feel and think. Intense anxiety and the highly sensitive person may be partners, but you can step between them to reduce that overwhelmed sensation.” Intense Anxiety and The Highly Sensitive Person
“Empaths desperately need to decompress from the world around them, and may disappear for hours at a time in their room. Know that they simply need time to process their environment and recharge after going out in society, and that they don’t want to hurt you. They are not retreating or avoiding you, but rather, protecting their precious energy stores. They get their energy from spending time alone, so make sure to give this gift to your highly sensitive lover.” …If You Love a Highly Sensitive Person
“You get tired easily. Because you tend to take on the emotions of others, when you are around other people for extended periods of time, you often feel drained. Likewise at the end of the day, you’re pooped.
You often feel like you need to withdraw and be alone for some time to get relief from the stimulation of the world.
When you have too much to do it makes you feel rattled and overwhelmed. At least once per week you feel frazzled. You feel like everything around you is just too much especially if you have to multi-task or when others are relying on you.
You know how to help others feel more comfortable.
You are easily irritated or annoyed. Because there is so much going on within you, even the slightest things can throw you off balance and cause you to feel irritated or annoyed.” All found in You’re Not a Mess, You’re Just a Highly Sensitive Person
For those of you who stopped by yesterday, thank you. Yesterday’s post paints…