What to do when it’s all too much

If you’re exhausted and emotionally on edge, you’re not alone. We are inextricably connected to each other and there is massive pain in the world today. -Brene Brown

I have been feeling battered raw by the inescapable sea of emotions in which we’re all swimming.Times like this test people like us who feel EVERYTHING deeply.

It’s all empathy’s fault. (Not that I need to point fingers, or anything.)

When the sea of feels becomes all that’s there and I start losing myself, I recruit my love of research and knowledge to help balance my perspective.

So, here’s some information about empathy, because knowledge helps us shift our relationship to things…..

Empathy is necessary for survival of the species. It is what alerts us to the needs of others and draws us to respond. -Babette Rothschild

Empathy is walking in someone else’s shoes, literally feeling them pinch your toes.

  • Empathy is both psychological and somatic. We experience it in our emotions and our bodies.
  • HSP’s have both more and more active mirror neurons (the nerve cells that collate sensory input into empathetic responses) than non-hsp’s. In other words, we feel everything that everyone else feels, plus we get the upgraded in-your-face graphics and shake the walls audio expansion pack. (yay?)
  • We feel ALL parts of what someone else is experiencing. We mirror their posture, feel their emotions, feel what they’re feeling in their bodies. We live their experience with them.
  • It’s especially hard for us to stay clear about where their experience ends and ours begins.

Smiling when someone else smiles is a good example of mirror neurons firing and triggering an empathy response. When we mimic that facial expression we feel both the emotion of happiness or contentment and the physical sensations of being happy or content: relaxing muscles, lower heart rate, slower breathing.

It’s important that we realize we’re allowed to have a separate self, and for our feelings to be valued for their own worth to us. -Barrie Jaeger

It works the same, but way more aching, when witnessing something like a child crying inconsolably, or seeing someone assaulted. We. Feel. It. All.

Empathy can be both conscious and unconscious, which is especially important to know for body-wise, sensitive folks…

Conscious empathy

  • leads to compassion which can lead to taking action which leads to feeling empowered
  • allows us to choose how entangled we become in someone else’s experience

When our empathy is unconscious…

  • we’re drowning in someone else’s experience before we even know what’s happened
  • our reactions co-opt our nervous system, energy and emotions.
  • it can be exhausting and overwhelming – like having an emotional infection

When highly sensitive people are overwhelmed, we tend to freeze, rather than fight or flee. We can end up paralyzed by overwhelm from an experience not our own.

Empathy is a survival tool. We can’t just turn it off, so it’s essential we walk our days being radically present to our empathetic reactions; being consciously empathetic.

It’s even more essential that we persistently cultivate resilience because unconscious empathy will happen, and we need to be strongly grounded in our own worth so we can disentangle ourselves from random emotional experiences that aren’t ours.

This goes double for those whose work supports people in pain of any kind. I know, these days, that’s pretty much all of us.

And so we come to befriending trees. One of the best resiliency building practices, ever, IMO.

I befriended my first tree when I was a tiny, skinny, fawn of a girl.

He was a white pine standing three stories tall, waving and whispering at me from the corner of our house.

I loved resting in his branches and listening to his needles murmur. I loved that I still smelled like wind and sun and resinous earth long after I climbed down. I loved the sticky tattoos his sap left on my skin. They felt like a secret language just between us. I loved how I felt safe and loved in his branches, even though those weren’t concepts I could name at the time.

Watching him through sixteen turns of the wheel I learned what resilience and thriving meant. He was refuge and solace, teacher and guardian.

I remember seeing him bend and sway nearly to the ground during a fierce summer storm and discovering a visceral understanding of surrender woven with strength and persistence. In later years – when the weight of life bent me nearly to the ground – those wordless insights encoded in my cells kept me from breaking.

To befriend a tree you simply need three things: 1) A tree you’d like to befriend. 2) You with an open mind and heart. 3) Persistence. Then follow your excellent intuition 😀

There’s a beautiful description of one woman’s process for befriending trees in this article from Emergence Magazine. I especially love her reminder “Try not to refer to the tree as ‘it’.” I emphatically agree.

Wishing you conscious empathy and wonderful new tree friends!

2 Replies to “What to do when it’s all too much”

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