Emotional sponge all wrung out.
February 6, 2022 6:08 PM   Subscribe

I am a highly sensitive person, having checked all the boxes of the Dr Aron's book. But it's the empath part that's been getting me lately. I have a dear friend I spend lots of time with, but he's slightly depressed and can get crotchety. There are protests going on in my city and in Ottawa, and everyone (my in-person and online friends) seems afraid and angry. I watched the world news for 20min today and spent the next half hour in tears.

I have many, many strategies for not absorbing the emotions around me, but I seem to be at capacity. Hit me up with your books, articles, podcasts, poetry... anything about creating and maintaining the bubble of my emotions inside and the emotions (real and projected) of others on the outside.
posted by unlapsing to Human Relations (18 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Afraid and Angry seems about right for the world we are living in...

Be your best, and hope that the world follows. We live in interesting times, sadly. Wish I had a better answer.
posted by Windopaene at 6:42 PM on February 6, 2022

Sometimes if you can't avoid absorbing, the next best thing is to let it flow through you. It's hard to let anger and fear flow through you but what if you focus instead on recognizing the positive yearnings underneath your friends' feelings. I could imagine that underneath your friends are wishing for good things like safety, connection and fairness. When you have some time for introspection, focus on the good things that your friends are longing for (rather than the negative feelings of fear and anger when the longing is thwarted) and then try to release those emotions into the world. (Like a compassion meditation) Hopefully when you are finished, you will feel a release of all of the feelings that you have absorbed.
posted by metahawk at 7:41 PM on February 6, 2022 [9 favorites]

Best answer: After Mum was diagnosed with cancer a dear friend gave me Pema Chodron's When Things Fall Apart. It's a masterpiece, and I went on to devour everything of hers. These days people talk about Brene Brown in the same breath.

More recently I've been grounding myself in deep history: The Dawn of Everything; The Horse, The Wheel and Language; The Epic of Gilgamesh; The Ohlone Way. All of this has happened before and will happen again. Our times are troubled indeed but people have always found ways to live good, meaningful lives in troubled times.

Wishing you peace and hope.
posted by rdc at 7:42 PM on February 6, 2022 [16 favorites]

It’s ok to take a break from news, protests, etc. it’s ok to set boundaries with people—not just the ones who puke feelings over you, but when you need to restore yourself .

I haven’t found it helpful personally to dwell on labeling myself an empath or highly sensitive person. That label just seems to add more complication.

It sounds to me like getting a break from obsessing about your feelings would help you more than reading more about them. What if you could restore yourself by reading about history or learning a new skill instead?

I cope with dark humor. Schadenfreude is helpful too because it’s the opposite of my usual bleeding heart ways. I read stories about lions eating poachers and laugh and laugh. That’s just me though.
posted by mermaidcafe at 7:50 PM on February 6, 2022 [9 favorites]

One trick is to start your day comfortably with yourself. Listen to your own inner space, take note of your mood, and do some breath exercises, before arising. Then comfort your self if you need it and give yourself breakfast. Learn what is you, and what isn't. Learn to retreat from external emotional manipulation, media, anything. Be still, serene, and help when you can. Ottawa would be difficult right now, but you get to be empathic, at the same time, set your own tone. Keep your personal energy intact, it may be that everyone and every situation, does not need empathy if it works as an amplifier of the general distress.
Here is Max Ernst's sorta over used, but still useful, Desiderata.
posted by Oyéah at 7:54 PM on February 6, 2022 [2 favorites]

When it gets that way for me I unplug from everything but personal connections, and some of those get pretty tenuous.

Some would consider it hiding; I consider it time to recharge my batteries.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:17 PM on February 6, 2022 [4 favorites]

I can't help you too much with any advice on how not to absorb the suffering of those around you. I have never succeeded in building a wall no matter how hard I try. I will say that the pain absolutely gets stored in the body. It is good you are allowing yourself to cry. I find that, as metahawk says, you kind of need to let it go through you. I find that the yoga nidra, a guided meditation that puts your brain into a sleep state even though you are awake, helps me, to relax my muscles and actually get some rest/stress relief when I am overwhelmed with my own emotions and those of others. Lots of good ones on YouTube.
posted by pazazygeek at 8:27 PM on February 6, 2022 [2 favorites]

I really appreciated seeing this in another thread recently:

It's not on you, it's on the person with the problem. The 3 Cs are really helpful to try and start getting your head around. You didn't cause it, you can't control it, and you can't cure it.
posted by danceswithlight at 8:57 PM on February 6, 2022 [1 favorite]

What you can do: Walk next to your depressed friend while they find their own path. Support the protests in some way if you feel called (and speaking up can feel energizing too), but come to an understanding with yourself that you aren't responsible for individually solving a society-level problem. Maybe take a break from your friends who seem afraid and angry; it's not forever, you'll come back to them. Find a center of safety and stability within yourself so that you are less shaken when the outside world doesn't provide those things. Be your own grandmother (or soothing presence) for a bit: "Oh honey, is the world going to pieces again? I know, it can be a lot sometimes. Here, let's have something to eat and a cup of tea. You'll feel better in no time." <3
posted by danceswithlight at 9:14 PM on February 6, 2022 [5 favorites]

Not a real solution, but a bandaid: I watch shows or listen to music that I know can reset my mood, or at least take the edge off, or give my brain some other story to be occupied by.
posted by trig at 3:49 AM on February 7, 2022

Spend less time with your emotionally draining friend, full stop. I've been both the depressed person and the person who gets leaned on, and it's an unhealthy cycle on both sides.

For other things, replace the bad with the good. Stop watching the world news in favor of quirky shows like Detectorists or whatever makes you feel cozy watching it. Change your social media notification settings so you don't get pinged all the time. Do the thing that gets you into a state of flow more often - you may have to do some digging to find it again - be patient with yourself and enjoy getting to know the "you" who's been overshadowed by the worries. Listen to happy podcasts like Make My Day. Exercise.

If you must take things on, be intentional about letting them go. A lovingkindness meditation is a great way to do that.
posted by headnsouth at 6:03 AM on February 7, 2022 [6 favorites]

I have kept strong bookmarks online, to stay focused, inspired, sane, or just not alone. Can second mermaidcafe or tellmenolies.
posted by firstdaffodils at 6:30 AM on February 7, 2022

Today I'm sleeping for an extra hour to combat going from scared to okay.
posted by firstdaffodils at 6:36 AM on February 7, 2022

(this is going to sound idk a smidge nutty) but i've been patting baking soda all over my body (under feet, arm pits, throat, allll over) in the shower in the mornings and it's been making me feel better about living in my city, in these times. i guess i'm combining the patting/slapping all over from kundalini yoga and the baking soda (i get the big box) from some random non fiction book that said baking soda neutralizes something blah blah idk.... that book stressed me out no end about how we all are endlessly bombarded by 'bad things'. i really like twirling smoke from palo santo wood but it annoys me husband so i can only do it when it's warmer out.
posted by BeeLIC at 7:24 AM on February 7, 2022

Best answer: I reread Anne of Green Gables.

She's a sponge, she's emotional, she experiences tremendous hardship and loneliness from infancy.

But she sees the good in others, builds connections, solves problems with aplomb, and treats her quirks as strengths.

It's comforting.
posted by champers at 9:43 AM on February 7, 2022 [5 favorites]

Is there a way for you to do less thinking/feeling/listening and more moving/doing/acting? The bad feelings in the world get amplified and passed on through news and discussion. The rise of global media and social media means each bad thing gets heard about and talked about and worried about by many more people, farther away (socially and physically) than would have heard about it and felt affected in any previous era. So we hear about, say, an act of hate that happened 500 miles away or to a stranger in your city of 500,000 people, and process it like it happened to our friend or a friend of a friend. It's an infinitely deep hole of bad things happening to people that you can fall down and feel personally about, without really processing the counter-truth, that you are still safe, that you or your family are alive and healthy, that your tree did not fall and your forest is not the one on fire. Every bad thing feels like it's right outside your window...

... So go outside your window. Be nice to someone at the local coffee shop. Plant some seeds and water them and watch them grow. Look at a tree and see a bird in it or a bee eating from a flower, or see it standing up under snow and watch new growth come up. You may get that I think nature is important here, and I do recommend it for clearing the mind and giving a sense of perspective.
posted by Lady Li at 10:40 AM on February 7, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Echoing rdc that I've found Pema Chodron's books to be very useful when I'm feeling the way that you are.

I also think a lot about my favorite quote, from Rainer Maria Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet:

"I want to beg you, as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer."

It feels like now more than ever everything is a state of flux and confusion. I'm trying really hard to live the questions.
posted by anotheraccount at 8:56 AM on February 8, 2022 [3 favorites]

Draw and protect your boundaries with your depressed and angry friends. While they have the right to feel what they feel, you need to also prioritize your own emotional health. It may sound a little hard hearted but I strongly recommend avoiding situations where you end up repeatedly listening to long hours of ranting, venting or problems being ruminated over and over. Rumination and venting can in fact reinforce their negative feelings so it’s not great for them too. Perhaps try steering them towards other things or activities, or be kind but firm when you need a break from discussing certain topics with them. As another poster above mentioned it’s really not great in the long run to enable such behaviors from friends who may come to treat you as a dumping ground for their negative emotions.
posted by pandanpanda at 5:04 AM on February 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

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