An Empath’s Guide To Self-Care

They don’t understand you because your heart bleeds colors the world has never seen before.” ~ A.R. Lucas

For much of my life, I’ve felt misunderstood as a result of the labels and expectations put upon me. When I was growing up, I got used to hearing how “shy” and “quiet” I was; I didn’t speak up very much because I had an irrational fear of causing unnecessary problems, hurting others {by being truthful} or being abandoned. In retrospect, I realize that I taught others how to treat me and they responded by expecting me to be compliant and go along with whatever they wanted. I often felt as though my thoughts, opinions, and feelings didn’t matter and that they were testing me to see how far they could push me. That these people didn’t really care about my feelings became clearer as I matured and became more aware of the fact that I couldn’t stand up for myself without eliciting anger or the silent treatment. After years of exploiting my reluctance to speak up, I found that they had become unapologetically used to doing so.

In my world of “quiet observation”, I learned how valuable it is to listen and really observe what people say and how they act. I can tell a lot about people by listening to them over time and I find that certain people in my life have forgotten things they told me through the years only to contradict themselves somewhere along the way, thinking I’ve forgotten what they’ve told me before.

When I was married to my abuser, I remember our conversations ending in sheer frustration because he wasn’t “getting” what I was saying at all. I eventually questioned my ability to verbalize my feelings because I knew what I was saying made sense to me, but his responses were deflective and/or combative. Every attempt at resolving our problems failed and he made me feel stupid if I said something he didn’t agree with. I developed anxiety when it came to saying anything because I knew that everything I said would be subject to criticism, ridicule or fall on deaf ears. To this day, I still sometimes over think what I want to say and I’m trying very hard to overcome the anxiety that’s associated with my past experiences.

I prefer to not be the center of attention, which confuses some people with regard to my “writer persona”, which makes me seem more extroverted than I really am. People are always asking me how I can share so much about my life in my blogs because it doesn’t seem like something an introvert would do. What people need to understand is that I share more through my writing because it’s where my confidence is. When people are reading my posts, they’re getting more of my heart and soul, but they’re also not looking at me while I’m talking. Big difference. The idea of talking in a group, all eyes on me, is scarier than people reading my posts in my absence. I prefer people learning more about me that way because there’s more to me than what people see externally.

Sometimes, I don’t feel very strong because I can’t witness the suffering of others. When someone shares a video showing someone who is badly injured or an animal that’s obviously been through abuse, I can’t watch it. I couldn’t watch the video of the Chicago kidnapping victim in its entirety. I can’t watch any video depicting an accident or even a near-miss. Until recently, I felt ashamed because I thought I was being too dismissive or that I didn’t care enough to watch such videos; I now know that it’s an empathic trait that I can’t help. I’m deeply affected by the pain and suffering of others, but I have come to realize that this is not a weakness; I am a strong person because I’ve survived some challenging experiences. My mom and her mother raised me to act gracefully in difficult situations; my mother taught me the value of silence as a valid response to those who lack the capacity to listen with an open mind. It’s not easy to be an introvert and/or an empath in today’s world, even though we have a better understanding of such qualities. My extroverted family/friends sometimes forget that my energy levels deplete more quickly than theirs; it’s an even bigger problem when I’m unable to recharge properly due to stress or lack of “me-time”.

I learned from experience that the lack of self-care caused a multitude of stress-related symptoms ~ depression, anxiety, panic attacks, digestive problems, headaches, insomnia, mood swings and crying spells. If you take away nothing else from this article, please let it be this: We control what happens in our lives, who we surround ourselves with, when we are ready to act, where we want to be, how we spend our time without having to explain why.

Self-care is different for everyone and it’s up to each of us to decide what our self-care involves. For me, it’s the following:

– Cease relationships with toxic people. Everyone’s definition of “toxic” is different since we have varying degrees of what we tolerate in our relationships. We decide what/who is toxic to us because it’s not for anyone else to decide.

“When a person tells you that you hurt them, you don’t get to decide that you didn’t.” ~ Louis C.K.

– Find a method of communication/expression that works for you, but whatever it is, make yourself heard. If you don’t like talking on the phone, resist any pressure to do so. If you find it difficult to converse in a group, opt for one-on-one chats. If you feel most comfortable texting or talking via instant messenger, say so. True friends will understand.

“Vocal rest is awesome. It is like any kind of fast. Firstly, it is a purification of speech. It made me realize how not careful I am with the things I say. It also makes you find new ways of communication and new methods to connect with people. ~ Matisyahu

– Understand the value of quiet observation. What we see is often more telling than what we hear.

“Don’t underestimate me because I’m quiet. I know more than I say, think more than I speak and observe more than you know.” ~ Michaela Chung

– Speak up when necessary. Don’t condition others to believe you’re a doormat. Certain people in my life always assumed I wouldn’t rock the boat and simply accept everything they dished out. I’m now convinced that they exploited my place in the pecking order; it’s hard to be taken seriously when you’re the youngest of any group.

“It is more powerful to speak up than to silently resent.” ~ Unknown

– Don’t cultivate self-doubt. Explore how you feel and what you believe with the intent to attain a greater understanding of who you are. Stick to your principles.

“Important principles may, and must, be inflexible.” – Abraham Lincoln

If this post has resonated with you, please feel free to share your experiences in the comments. How has being introverted and/or an empath affected your life and relationships? What measures have you taken to maintain your comfort zone, practice self-care or distance yourself from toxic people? Feel free to reach out using the contact form, if you’d like to discuss things further.

Until next time…

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