self-empathy & self-care
Updated: Jun 21, 2020
So you're someone who feels a lot of empathy for others, and you go out of your way to express it to them and hold space for them. Maybe it's part of the work that you do. Or maybe it's just part of who you are as a person in this world, in your interactions with your family, your friends, the clerk at the grocery store, the people whose paths you cross as you walk your dog.
I always know which ones of my patients are empaths, because they always want to know how I am doing and are super in tune with what's going on with me. I may share a bit briefly, if appropriate, then bring the conversation back around to them, because, after all, they are paying me to take care of their needs! Empaths are always highly attuned to the wellbeing of others around them - they can't help it. Empaths want to give love and caring to the people in their lives. They love giving their energy and presence! And they can burn out on that if they're not skilled at setting boundaries and recharging their own reserves. They also can get bummed out when others don't meet them with the same level of empathy and presence that they so wholeheartedly offer.
So how do you replenish as an empath?
First of all, fill your own tank. Make time for self-care. Lots of it! Whether it be reading a book, taking a walk, soaking in the bathtub or taking a hot shower, writing in your journal, watching your favorite TV show, or spending time with your pets... make sure you incorporate at least a few self-care activities daily. Also get lots of rest and drink plenty of water!
Secondly, keep friends in your circle who get you and are able to offer empathy in return. There are some relationships in your life where you'll tend to be the supporter and the uplifter. You can keep playing that role - as long as you are getting support of your own, as well. Sometimes that may come in the form of a therapist, a healer, or a life coach; someone you're monetarily compensating for holding that energetic space for you, who's trained to do it. There's a lot of value in that. Seek that out if your budget allows, and also cultivate friendships with people who care as much about mutuality as you do. Within those friendships, too, there will be fluctuations, and there will be times when one of you shows up for the other more, because they're going through a tougher time. But you know these friends will show up for you, even when they are having a tough time of their own! You can't expect any one person to be available at your beck and call, so build a community. Build a whole network of friends, and you know the right person will show up for you at the right time - just as you'll show up for another at the perfect time for them.
I have a few friends I know I can always reach out to. It can be as simple as a text message saying, I'm having an extra rough day today, and the response may be as plain as, I hear you. I've got you. You got this. I'm here. That's all it takes sometimes. Sometimes, we don't even need to go into the gritty details of whatever situation is weighing on us. It can be helpful to talk things through at times. Other times, it may serve us better not to give the heavy stuff more energy by rehashing it. Only you will know, and, if you tune into your intuition, you'll know when and with whom to share how much detail.
Sometimes, there just isn't anyone available that we can reach for. There are those days when all of our usual go-to people are busy with other things. And there are also times when we are with somebody, but that person doesn't know how to show up for us in the way that we wish they did. It's not their fault, and it's usually not a reflection of how much they care. They may care very much, but just may not have the know-how to express support and empathy in just the way that we most yearn for in that moment. We can't hold that against them - nor expect it of them. (Trust me, you'll both end up miserable if you do!) These are the situations when we really get to practice our self-empathy!
I remember one of the times I first consciously gave myself empathy successfully at a time I wasn't receiving it from another in the way I’d have wished. It was so rewarding and empowering to experience that, regardless of the situation and how the other person showed up for me (or not), I could still take care of myself! We were having a phone conversation, and there had been a trigger for her. I found myself getting equally triggered and realized the conversation could quickly escalate and spiral into major disconnect between us. I really didn't want that, and I was sure neither did she, although we both probably were somewhat attached to a bit of righteousness around the situation. That day, I was able to make an active decision not to let my own triggers get the best of me, and I redirected the energy of defensiveness that had been building in me to one of openness and warm curiosity. That's what I'd been learning in my NVC (Nonviolent Communication) classes (see previous blogpost for more on that): how to communicate from a place of empathy and warm curiosity. I love that term: warm curiosity. I feel warmth and expansion in my chest just at the mention of these words. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could all communicate like that, let's say at least the majority of the time?
So, that particular afternoon, as I was sitting on my couch, talking to my friend on the phone, I placed my hand on my chest, and I poured so much empathy into my own heart. I said soothing words to myself (quietly), acknowledging the feelings that were surfacing for me, offering myself validation, and doing lots of deep breathing. I tried to really get curious about what the emotions were behind what my friend was relaying to me, and I took guesses at them. I softened into the edginess I'd been feeling, and I tried to open to what was alive for her in that moment. She softened in return.
The conversation went on for a while, and her agitation didn't lessen immediately, but I was able to sit with it without succumbing to my own wounded reactiveness. Things felt a whole lot smoother than they could have, and I was really proud of myself that day for actually putting what I had learned into practice at a time when I felt triggered; for being able to turn that energy around in me. I must admit, there have been plenty of times since then when I wasn't so graceful and let my triggers get the best of me when wounds were stirred. It's not an easy practice, although very simple.
My desire is to keep remembering to come back to my breath... to soften... to listen before speaking out of upset... to stay curious about what might be surfacing for the other person... and to keep returning to my own heart and give myself the empathy that I need in order to show up as my very best.
This week has been more demanding than usual, and I've put out a lot of energy and empathy. Mostly, I'm pretty good at being self-resourced these days and meeting my own emotional needs. Tonight, I was craving being on the receiving end of the support and empathy I'd given out so much of all this week. I felt the little child in me clamor for attention. I reached out to a couple of friends, who, in very few words and some heartfelt emojis, contributed to refilling my empathy tank. I'm grateful for them. I also listened to music and inspirational messages, pet my kitties, and cooked nourishing food that will sustain me through the next few days and the continued energy output. Watching both kitties snooze peacefully right now from my spot on my couch in my cozy apartment, a candle lit next to my wooden Buddha statue, I'm placing my hand on my own heart and infusing it with soothing, loving care. I'm drawing on the visualization I often give my patients before leaving them to rest, picturing a golden glow emanating from the center of my heart and expanding out to fill my chest and the entirety of my being. It's very soothing. I invite you to try it.
What have you done to fill your own empathy tank today, and what can you choose to do right in this moment?
So much love.
Angie K. 💗