This wasn’t something I always knew how to do. Growing up, my girlfriends couldn’t wait to hit the shopping malls and go to parties, the bigger the better – but I didn’t share their excitement. I always felt overwhelmed, exhausted around large groups of people, though I was clueless why. “What’s the matter with you?” friends would say, shooting me the weirdest looks. All I knew was that crowded places and I just didn’t mix. I’d go there feeling just fine but leave nervous, depressed, or with some horrible new ache or pain. Unsuspectingly, I was a gigantic sponge, absorbing the emotions of peoplearound me.
With my patients, I’ve also seen how absorbing other people’s emotions can trigger panic attacks, depression, food, sex and drug binges, and a plethora of physical symptoms that defy traditional medical diagnosis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that more than two million Americans suffer from chronic fatigue. It’s likely that many of them are emotional sponges.
Here are some strategies to practice. They will help you to stop absorbing other people’s emotions.
To detach from other people’s negative emotions:
First, ask yourself: Is the feeling mine or someone else’s? It could be both. If the emotion such as fear or anger is yours, gently confront what’s causing it on your own or with professional help. If not, try to pinpoint the obvious generator. For instance, if you’ve just watched a comedy, yet you came home from the movie theater feeling blue, you may have incorporated the depression of the people sitting beside you; in close proximity, energy fields overlap. The same is true with going to a mall or packed concert.
When possible, distance yourself from the suspected source. Move at least twenty feet away; see if you feel relief. Don’t err on the side of not wanting to offend strangers. In a public place, don’t hesitate to change seats if you feel a sense of depression imposing on you.
For a few minutes, center yourself by concentrating on your breath – this connects you to your essence. Keep exhaling negativity, inhaling calm. This helps to ground yourself and purify fear or other difficult emotions. Visualize negativity as gray fog lifting from your body, and hope as golden light entering. This can yield quick results.
Negative emotions such as fear frequently lodge in your emotional center at the solar plexus. Place your palm there as you keep sending loving kindness to that area to flush stress out. For longstanding depression or anxiety, use this method daily to strengthen this center. It’s comforting and builds a sense of safety and optimism.
Shield yourself. A handy form of protection many people use, including healers with trying patients, involves visualizing an envelope of white light (or any color you feel imparts power) around your entire body. Think of it as a shield that blocks out negativity or physical discomfort but allows what’s positive to filter in.
Look for positive people and situations. Call a friend who sees the good in others. Spend time with a colleague who affirms the bright side of things. Listen to hopeful people. Hear the faith they have in themselves and others. Also relish hopeful words, songs, and art forms. Hope is contagious and it will lift your mood.
Keep practicing these strategies. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time you’re on emotional overload. With strategies to cope, you can have quicker retorts to stressful situations, feel safer, and your sensitivities can blossom.