1. You’re constantly called “type A” or “anal retentive” or just “a perfectionist.”
People credit you with going above and beyond the call of duty, and always executing things to an nth degree. They poke fun at how you (sometimes unintentionally) seem like you have a “my way or the highway” mentality, like it’s just a personality quirk. In reality, the idea of not finishing something or doing something exactly how you’ve envisioned makes you sick to your stomach. Things like someone coming over and seeing your laundry or missing a deadline by even an hour makes your head spin. They shouldn’t seem like a big deal to you, they should be something you can move on from and not dwell on, but they aren’t. You obsess and overthink, dwell and stew. So your perfectionist ways (seem) to manage that.
2. You have little ticks that manifest physically, but they just seem like “bad habits” to the outside eye.
Nail biting, hair picking, knuckle cracking, lip chewing. Even picking at your skin or scabs or leaving your cuticles in a bloody mess. They’re all little symptoms of your anxiety. You try to keep your panics and nervousness internalized as best you can, but it slips out in these seemingly little things.
3. You don’t know when to say when.
“No,” is your most underused work in the English language. You don’t know how to stay away from reaching your limit. So you pile things on top of each other, always assuming that you can just handle anything and everything. You stretch yourself way too thin and then even after you’re breaking, still try to take on more.
4. You can relate to the idea of “compartmentalizing” your emotions.
No one would ever be able to say that you’re someone who wears their heart on their sleeve. In fact, you do pretty much the opposite. You’re so used to and trained to behave like everything’s “fine” even when that couldn’t be further from the truth, that you’re nearly impossible to read. You’ve told yourself so many times that you’re just being “dramatic” or that no one would understand that you’ve become a professional level faker of being fine. You rarely let how you’re actually feeling show, instead you just bottle it up and cover it up and hope that it goes away.
5. And because of this, you’ve been called “stoic” or “unemotional” even when that couldn’t be farther from reality.
You’ve likely gotten a reputation for being rational and logical to a fault, because you don’t let how you’re actually feeling show. Your compartmentalization is next level. Rather than feel your feelings and process them in real time, you put them on a metaphorical shelf in your mind in order to “deal with it later.” Problem is, later rarely comes. And then there are all of these anxieties and issues and feelings that pile up on top of each other and it becomes unbearable to manage.
6. You joke about having FOMO — but it’s much bigger than that.
It’s not so much an “I wish I was included” notion, it’s more a deep-seeded fear of missing out on an opportunity. It’s the fear of being a bad friend if you don’t go somewhere with someone. It’s the fear of not being enough if, for some reason, you’re not able to do everything.
7. You worry about opening up because you’ll be accused of “not getting it” because you seemingly live a normal day-to-day life.
There’s this idea in your head that because you’re still “functioning” your anxiety isn’t a problem, and won’t be perceived as one. Even if you don’t mean to, thinking this way plays into that “trauma olympics” mentality. It’s the idea that because you DON’T do something that’s associated with anxiety, or because your anxiety is different in any other way, you don’t “qualify.” So, rather than say, “This is what I’m struggling with,” and open up, you say nothing at all.
8. You lose a lot of sleep.
You keep yourself up at night often. Whether it’s because your mind is going 10,000 miles a minute or because you’re convinced you can just finish one more thing, you’re way too familiar with being exhausted. “I’ll sleep when I’m dead!” you probably laugh after another sleepless night. But reality? It weighs on you. Both physically, mentally, emotionally. It’s a problem.
9. Most people would just call you an “overachiever.”
Because when you look at someone who’s so good at compartmentalizing, repressing, deflecting, and who’s anxiety manifests in a way that makes them hyper-vigilant about very specific things (ie: work, staying occupied, cleaning, list making) it can be so, so easy to only see their successes. But what you don’t see, is the battle that it took to GET there. People only see the achievement part, not the stress, the anxiety, the sleeplessness, and the self-deprecation that it took to get there.
10. You joke about needing to be busy to be happy.
“I LOVE being busy.” “I’m happier with a full to-do list.” “Keeping busy keeps me out of trouble!”
It sounds like a glorification of being busy, but really, it’s a cover-up for a fear of what will happen if you stop. The go go go becomes like a drug. The “always having something do” keeps your mind off of, well, your mind. The constantly chasing something else and doing something is ultimately, a big distraction from the anxiety that is ever present in your life.
11. One of your biggest fears is letting people down.
“You could’ve been better.” “Why did you do this?” “You’re such a bad daughter.” “I wish you were a better friend.”
Are those things being said? Probably not. But in your head, in your anxiety-riddled brain, you hear them when presented with the possibility of not doing something at a top tier level. The pressure you put on yourself is enormous. And it ultimately stems from the idea that if you don’t hold yourself to some near-unacheivable standard, you’ll be letting someone down. And that breaks your heart. It may be the anxiety talking, but that doesn’t mean you don’t feel it every single day.
Empathy is the gift of being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and feel things as if you were them. Empaths are those in your life who are the healers, the nurturers, the highly sensitive lovers that give, and give, and give, often to the point of exhaustion. Though considered rare, empaths actually make up 15-20% of the population, meaning that there is a chance you yourself could be one.
What Is An Empath?
Empath (n): a person with the paranormal ability to apprehend the mental or emotional state of another individual.
Empaths are deeply sensitive individuals who are highly attuned to the emotions and energy of others. They can easily take on the emotions of others as their own. This can be a challenge when they have porous boundaries and end up absorbing the pain and stress of others. Empaths are sharply intuitive and are adept at reading people and situations beyond just surface-level impressions. Due to their giving nature as well as their keen insight into the human psyche, they tend to be natural healers.
While most of us have the ability to empathize, Dr. Elaine Aron (1991) discovered that highly sensitive individuals make up approximately 15-20% of the population. So, if you have ever felt like your personality almost continuously attracts those who need guidance and help in life — you may be an empath.
The Main Empath Traits
Am I An Empath? Questions To Ask Yourself If You Think You Are An Empath:
Am I often called highly sensitive, or emotional?
When a friend feels hurt, or overwhelmed, do I start to feel it too?
Do my feelings get hurt easily?
Am I drained, both physically and emotionally by crowds?
When drained, do I need time alone to recharge?
Do I cope with emotional stress in destructive ways, such as overeating or promiscuity?
Am I afraid of becoming completely overtaken by intimate relationships?
If you answer yes to 1-3 of these questions, you are partly empathetic. If you answer yes to 3 or more of these questions, you are a highly sensitive individual, and you have found your personality type.
Empath Traits Explained — 38 Signs You Are An Empath
1. You experience an inner sense of knowing. Empaths have a deep sense of knowing that is unwavering and unquestionable. They are capable of reading others without obvious cues and can describe what’s really going on beneath the surface. They know if someone is being dishonest or not speaking their truths. The more attuned they are to their empathy the stronger and more frequent the knowing and reading abilities will be.
2. You’re an effective listener and communicator. Empaths have a natural ability to listen with all their senses, allowing the person they are listening to to feel as though they are being heard and understood. They can intuitively guide a conversation with sincere compassion enabling even the most reserved person to respond and express their deepest and even most painful thoughts and feelings they wouldn’t ordinarily share.
3. You feel easily overwhelmed in public places. Shopping malls, supermarkets or stadiums where masses of people gather can be overwhelming and even lead to panic attacks or anxiety due to the myriad of emotions being sensed by an empath. Until an empath knows how to control these feelings, they will steer clear of being in said surroundings.
4. You feel others’ emotions, pains, illness, and stresses. Due to heightened sensitivities to emotional and physical energy, it is a very common occurrence for an empath to deeply take on the emotions etc. of others and not even realize they are doing so. Empaths will directly mirror the emotions, as though they were their own feelings. Consequently, empaths have a hard time distinguishing what is belonging to themselves versus what they connected with, and picked up, from another. This makes life extremely overwhelming. However, when an empath matures, and figures out self-awareness, they can develop a greater degree of control and the ability to determine whose emotions etc. are whose.
5. You experience mood swings and can come across as unpredictable / needy. Empaths can experience extreme highs and lows which makes them unpredictable. One minute they can be happy and the next minute they can be very sad and withdrawn. This is not always the result of how they actually feel, but rather, what they have picked up in others, and this can be confusing for them. Empaths can also be very demanding of attention — be it for good reasons or not. If they feel they are not being heard they will act out and come across as needy, even narcissistic, due to being so overwhelmed with emotion.
6. You’re sensitive to TV, movies and real life chaos. Violence, cruelty, shocking scenes of physical or emotional pain or abuse can bring an empath to tears. They may even feel physically ill, bewildered and struggle to comprehend such acts as being justified.
7. You’re prone to illness, disease, and physical pain.The onslaught of emotional energy an empath takes on can become problematic and manifest into varying forms of illnesses or disease. It is vital for an empath to learn about controlling emotional energy, distinguish its origin and apply the tools that will allow themselves to move forward with balanced wellness.
8. You embody a magnetic pull of trust. Others, including strangers are drawn to an empath like a magnet and find it easy to express themselves. People resonate with empaths on a deep and meaningful level; they will often feel like they have known each other for many years even though they may have just met. Human beings have this innate sense of trust and feel comfortable and relaxed in an empaths presence, even when they are often the reserved or closed off type. An empath has the capacity to crack even the toughest of shells wide open.
9. You are constantly fatigued. Empaths are drawn to helping others and in doing so they take on more than their fair share, and sometimes find it difficult to emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually cope with this onslaught of output. This, therefore, causes them to experience chronic fatigue. They may need to take daily catnaps or retreats just to replenish their energy and feel revitalized.
10. You are prone to addictive behavior. An empath wanting to escape from what they are bombarded with, or needing to feel connected, and listened to, could display addictive behavior. Their heightened sensitivities more than often don’t come with an awareness of how to deal with it, and they will adopt addictive tendencies to drown out, numb and distract them, such as drinking, smoking, taking drugs, binge eating to gambling etc. Unfortunately for some, in doing so it can heighten their sensitivities even more and create greater issues.
11. You are drawn to healing and holistic health and wellness. Whether it is a career as a nurse, doctor, physiotherapist, neurosurgeon, psychologist or massage therapist, homeopath, naturopath, social worker or a veterinarian, those who have strong empathy from a young age are often drawn to these fields due to a pull to helping heal people and/or animals.
12. You are inherently curious and a seeker of truth. Empaths are driven by their curiosity to understand the intricacies of life and feel an intense desire to seek the truth and question much of everything until they feel understood.
13. You are interested in spirituality. Empaths are often drawn to the unexplainable, and the paranormal, and have a deep sense of spirituality (not necessarily religion even though they may lean towards such in order to find a sense of belonging). They will dabble in many areas until they find their niche and they will actively pursue it throughout their lifetime.
14. You are drawn to ancient / indigenous cultures. They are drawn to ancient cultures that adhere to long-held traditions cloaked in universal laws as they embody innate logic, common sense and practical uncomplicated ways in which to do all manner of things. They will often shake their head in disbelief when others do and act in a way that opposes universal laws.
15. You are interested in your ancestral lineage. From a young age, they are the child that listens to the stories of old that are passed down throughout the generations. They have a genuine interest in wanting to know where they came from and who their ancestors were and what they did in their lifetime and will grow up to be keepers of the family tree and possess a collection of photo albums and heirlooms. Feeling a sense of connectedness holds great importance and as they learn this, they in-turn will be the one to pass this knowledge on to their children.
16. You are a quiet achiever and /or a strong leader. Although they are quiet achievers who prefer to do the hard work behind the scenes, empaths will often be found in positions of leadership due to their ability to be focused, organized and supportive, quick thinking and capable of inspiring and motivating others with magnificent poise. They are more comfortable in giving sincere praise upon others rather than accepting it and are often found mediating to maintain a balance of harmony.
17. You are creatively talented. Empaths have a great love for expressing their creativity as artists, musicians, singers, dancers, performing artists, acting, poets and designers etc. They love to tell a story and can captivate an audience through a vivid imagination and an ease in which they can take you directly into the picture as though you were actually experiencing it firsthand.
18. You have a love of nature and animals. Inclined to have a pet as they love to give and receive unconditional love that come from dogs, cats, rabbits etc. and are often advocates or supporters in the prevention of cruelty to animals. They enjoy being outdoors, amongst the forest or high in the mountains and are content being connected to the land and will often escape from the busy world to rejuvenate their senses.
19. You believe in the cleansing powers of water.Be it swimming in the sea, floating in the pool, walking in the rain, a long soak in the tub or a hot shower to cleanse and wash away the troubles of the day, empaths have a tendency to sense the healing properties of water, and always feel comfortable and most calm in it.
20. You need solitude. Although empaths can be very sociable, they also like to escape from the hustle and bustle and are content with their own company enjoying the tranquillity that comes with being in a quiet space reading a book, watching a movie, drawing a picture, pursuing a hobby they love to just relaxing. They will display this tendency from childhood and throughout life.
21. You are easily bored or distracted and frequently daydream. Empaths need to be stimulated and focused on one project or another and will give all their energy to any given task whether it is at school, work or home life. If the task fails to stimulate their senses they become bored, distracted and will either begin to fidget, doodle or be off in their minds daydreaming.
22. You seek adventure through travel or spontaneous acts. Empaths enjoy spontaneity in their life and will seek out adventures, travel to far off places or find enjoyable activities nearby. They enjoy being free spirited, leaving the constraints of the world behind them, and if they don’t get to do this as often as they would like, they become quite restless and agitated.
23. Your sensitivity to energy flow makes you sensitive to clutter. An awareness of energy comes naturally and an empath will feel weighed down by clutter and chaos. Although they may collect things, everything has a place and order and they will constantly de-clutter to balance out their environmental energy. Empaths have an ability to place furniture or even plant gardens in a way that energy flows in and around everything.
24. You are a rule breaker. Routine, repetition and rules can become mundane for the creative empath who continuously seek ways in which to express their love, and the things they enjoy in life. If they are told they cannot do something, within reason they will find a way that they can, as the willingness to challenge themselves goes hand in hand with being spontaneous.
25. You demonstrate great enthusiasm and appreciation of life. An empath is always bursting with energy and an appreciation towards life and living it as fully as they can. However the downside is that they can exert so much energy that they will burn out and need to take time to recuperate. An empath doesn’t do anything in halves; it’s all or nothing and they tend to feel disappointed if others around them don’t share the same zest for life as they do.
26. You are a humanitarian, a peacemaker and a meditator at heart. Conflict for an empath is extremely unsettling regardless if it is with family, friends, colleagues or if it is direct or indirect. Because of this, an empath will try extremely hard to find a peaceful resolution between others, in order to control the situation, and to find harmony. Because of this, they are natural born peacemakers.
27. You value antiques (vintage or second-hand). Holding objects such as rings, jewelry, clothing, ornaments or touching door handles to old buildings, entering historical homes etc. can bring through very vivid and accurate accounts of the owners history and life experiences. This can be extremely daunting and off putting to those sensitive to picking up energies, whereas those who are more aware and in control of their empathy will feel at ease, and be drawn to such.
28. You are given to lucid dreaming. An empath often has vivid dreams from a very young age and will have lucid dreams where they are awake in their dreams and have an ability to control certain aspects by willful thought alone. Empaths are capable of describing in graphic detail the dream content. Also, empaths have a strong desire to interpret their dreams knowing that they could have direct relevance to their physically awake life and in doing so can find answers to guide them well.
29. You are a lover, not a fighter. Empaths love to love others and be loved in return and will seek meaningful relationships throughout their entire lives. Empaths, however, are not always adept at self-love as they are inclined to give of themselves freely to others and can grow up thinking (by what they learn from society) that it is selfish to love themselves. They do not like to be caught up in fights be it verbal or physical as communication comes easily to them, however they will not be passive either, but rather, they will aim for a peaceful resolution as quickly as possible. They will get extremely frustrated if the other person is not willing to resolve the conflict fully as they don’t see the logic in dragging things on.
30. You are a visionary, an entrepreneur, and /or a problem solver Empaths are intense visionaries, and this trait, blended with their adventurous love of life and their enthusiasm, affords them many opportunities and allows them to expand their potential, feed their creative minds and do the things they love to do. Empaths have this instinctive belief that they are capable of achieving greater things and will constantly think outside the box and push through any and all boundaries, (often against the odds) with focused and determined energy.
31. You are forgiving, sometimes to a fault. Empaths have a tendency to be overly forgiving of those in their lives. Because they feel so deeply, and can connect with someone on an emotional level, empaths aren’t the kinds of people who hold grudges — they always see where someone was coming from. However, this means that empaths sometimes attract those who may take advantage of their good nature, and sometimes this can lead to toxic friendships and relationships.
32. You have trouble standing up for yourself. As mentioned above, empaths are the emotional type that most often attracts toxic relationships. An empath never really knows when to walk away from someone, as they are always understanding and deeply intertwined with another persons struggles. They have a hard time justifying walking away, and see it as giving up on someone they can help. An empath thinks that if they just listen a little longer, or love a little harder, or give a little more, they can fix things with a person who may not be treating them the best.
33. You give more than you receive. An empath gives with everything that they have, sometimes more than they realize. However, a lot of empaths feel that when they need help, a lot of the people closest to them fail to love them the way they love others. Empaths seeking support therefore look internally, and sometimes bottle up emotions, because they don’t feel as if those around them care enough.
34. You are not a reactive human being. Empaths understand that words have power. They understand that saying something in a moment of anger or frustration can never be taken back, or undone. They understand that certain statements can cut deeply, and because of this they are almost always masters of self-awareness and discipline when it comes to arguments or unsavoury situations. An empath will always choose their words wisely, they will always think about a situation before allowing their feelings to get the best of them, because they do not want to hurt another human being, they do not want to make anyone feel sad or disappointed or misunderstood. Unfortunately, with this trait comes a lot of pressure, and sometimes empaths have breakdowns or mood swings due to the sheer capacity of their internal struggle.
35. You are a nurturer, but not an enabler. An empath will never tell someone what they want to hear just to appease their feelings. If someone was wrong in a situation, or if someone needs to change, they will always approach that conversation with honesty and thought. Because empaths care so deeply about those in their life, they want to ensure that they are actually helping the people they love, instead of nurturing them into complacency.
36. You are often accused of living in your head. As an empath, you are constantly thinking about the things going on in the world. Because you are deeply affected by everything around you, you have a tendency to mull over all of the issues others have, or you use daydreaming as an escape from your own mind. Because of this, empaths are often accused of living in their heads, and people might see them as narcissists because they are often in their own world and that can come of as being self-absorbed. In reality, because they are so absorbed in everyone else’s feelings, and emotions, they need to escape into themselves in order to relax, calm down, and balance themselves out.
37. Your moral compass is extremely strong. Empaths are sticklers for the truth. They believe in honesty, and they believe that everything in life should be rooted in honesty. If they find out that someone is lying to them, they not only feel deeply hurt, but they also feel extremely disappointed and sometimes disillusioned. Being lied to, or seeing injustice in the world related to anything that isn’t morally sound, often throws an empath into a tailspin, and they have a hard time not being sensitive to the fact that people can be dishonest.
38. You have an extremely hard time breaking up with others. Yes, as mentioned above, empaths have a difficult time burning bridges when it comes to toxic relationships. However, even in the relationships where they feel nurtured and loved, if an empath wants to walk away, they will still have an extremely hard time doing so. Because empaths never want to hurt those they care about, and those they have strong feelings for, they are often the kinds of people who will stay in relationships where they are not inspired or fulfilled. However, due to being highly sensitive, these feelings of moral dilemma will eat them alive, and they will be forced to end the relationship and potentially hurt the person they were with more than they would have if they were simply honest from the start. Sometimes, an empaths desire to protect, can actually hurt more than it helps.
The 9 Main Types Of Empaths
1. Claircognizant Empath
The claircognizant empath is an empath that has traits derived from both clairaudience (clear hearing) and clairvoyance (clear seeing) thus making them claircognizant — someone who is perceived as clear knowing. These souls have the capacity to simply know certain things, and they are constantly being enlightened with understanding, and vivid ideas, that puzzles and inspire others.
2. Emotional Empath
An emotional empath is an empath that is highly sensitive to the feelings of other human beings. These empaths have the capacity to connect with what others are going through even before they open up.
3. Physical Empath
A physical empath is an empath that is often referred to as being highly sensitive to the physical suffering of other human beings. These empaths are highly receptive to wounded souls, and they are known to quite literally feel and physically take on the pain others are going through. Because of that, physical empaths are often exhausted, and burnt out. They may even go through life feeling hostile, or used, because they have no control over how someone’s stress, pain, and emotional output makes their body feel.
4. Fauna Empath
A fauna empath is an empath that is known for their capacity to understand the mental state of animals, and their ability to connect with their emotions. Fauna empaths have strong relationships with animals, and are intertwined with their energies. These empaths are known to like animals more than human beings, and are often those who express feeling deeply connected to all species.
5. Geomantic Empath
A geomantic empath is someone who is known to have a deep connection with the environments they find themselves in. Geomantic empaths can feel the presence, or soul, of a certain place, and they are therefore subconsciously drawn to these destinations. An empath with geomantic tendencies can actually feel the happiness, or the sorrow, that a place holds, and often connect with older places like churches, and graveyards.
6. Medium Empath
A medium empath is the kind of empath that has established a deep, and rooted, connection with a supernatural force or the deceased. Not only do these empaths connect with forces they may not be able to see, but they feel, and hear, the emotional output of the spiritual world.
7. Psychometric Empath
A psychometric empath is an empath that has the ability to receive memories, energy and detailed information from physical objects. They can gather this information, or these feelings, from things like jewelry, photographs, clothing, and so on.
8. Precognitive Empath
A precognitive empath is the kind of empath that has a very strong sense of intuition. These people will have visions about events that have yet to happen. Precognition gives these empaths the capacity to foretell or predict future occurrences, and these visions often come to them in their own dreams. It is important to note that sometimes precognitive empaths do not dream about direct situations that will happen, but rather, sometimes they dream of signs and symbols that are relevant to the future.
9. Telepathic Empath
A telepathic empath is an empath that can decipher, and read, someone’s inner thoughts.
The Main Struggles You May Deal With As An Empath
1. You have a tendency to isolate yourself. An empath will always feel drawn to quiet, calming environments, and will consistently stray away from any place that can easily overwhelm them. However, most places in the world are loud and filled with crowds, which poses a problem for empaths. On one hand, they enjoy the way they feel when they are alone and safe in their own solitude, but that can easily become isolating. Because of this, empaths don’t have many friends. Due to their fragile nature, and their tendency to retreat into their shells when the world gets too overstimulating, they sometimes lack the ability to create new, foundational relationships the way most people do these days.
2. You get hurt very easily. Empaths have hearts that are pinned to their sleeves. Unfortunately, this is almost always the reason why they get hurt. An empath’s vulnerability often makes them a target, and they tend to find themselves in relationships and friendships where they feel taken advantage of. Because of their track record with feeling hurt in relationships, empaths have a hard time pursuing new ones, and even though they love deeply and give everything they have, they sometimes feel like they will never find someone who truly understands what it means to be them.
3. People are highly critical of your sensitivity. For the majority of their lives, empaths will be bombarded with others telling them to stop being so sensitive, and trying to help them disconnect from their emotions. However, these statements are hurtful and harmful, and because empaths don’t agree with their sensitivity being an issue, they get tired of consistently hearing these judgements. On the other hand, an empath would never think of telling someone that they needed to grow a thicker skin, or just get over their emotions. Highly sensitive people believe in others and they encourage them to feel as much as they possibly can, so hearing the opposite from those they care about can sometimes deeply hurt them.
4. You often feel emotionally imbalanced. Because empaths live inside of their own hearts, they have a predisposition towards anxiety and depression. Their feelings are the front and centre in their life, and they are controlled by their emotions. This can often cause an empath to feel overwhelmed and imbalanced, and sometimes these intense feelings manifest as stress, and physical illness.
How To Protect Yourself As An Empath
1. Allow quiet time to emotionally decompress. Get in the habit of taking calming mini-breaks throughout the day. Breathe in some fresh air. Stretch. Take a short walk around the office. These interludes will reduce the excessive stimulation of going non-stop.
2. Practice meditation. To counter emotional overload, act fast and meditate for a few minutes. This centers your energy so you don’t take it on from others.
3. Safeguard your sensitivities.
If someone asks too much of you, politely tell them “no.” It’s not necessary to explain why. As the saying goes, “No is a complete sentence.”
If your comfort level is three hours max for socializing–even if you adore the people–take your own car or have an alternate transportation plan so you’re not stranded.
If crowds are overwhelming, eat a high-protein meal beforehand (this grounds you) and sit in the far corner of, say, a theatre or party, not dead center.
If you feel nuked by perfume, nicely request that your friends refrain from wearing it around you. If you can’t avoid it, stand near a window or take frequent breaks to catch a breath of fresh air outdoors.
If you overeat to numb negative emotions, practice the guerilla meditation mentioned above, before you’re lured to the refrigerator, a potential vortex of temptation. As an emergency measure, keep a cushion by the fridge so you can be poised to meditate instead of binge.
‘Carve out private space at home. Then you won’t be stricken by the feeling of too much togetherness.
Authenticity is the opposite of shame. It reveals our humanity and allows us to connect with others. Shame makes us hide who we are, sacrifice our needs, and say yes when we rather not – all to be accepted by someone else. It warps our communication and damages our relationships so that we control, patronize, criticize, blame, deny, withdraw, attack, and make empty promises to keep a relationship and reassure ourselves we’re okay even when we don’t believe it.
Hiding Who You Are
For most of us, our self-doubt and hiding has been going on so long that by adulthood, we’ve lost touch with who we truly are. We’ve grown accustomed to behaving in certain predictable roles that worked in our more or less troubled families, in school, and in our work. In the process, we sacrifice a degree of freedom, spontaneity, vulnerability, and parts of ourselves.
Even if things look okay on the outside, if we’re fortunate enough not to be in an abusive relationship or one burdened by addiction or dishonesty, we may feel a malaise, an uneasy dissatisfaction and not know why. If we once shared vibrant love with our significant other or used to have a joie de vivre and hope for the future, we might feel trapped and wonder where our passion and enthusiasm for life went. What happened was, we started shrinking and stopped risking being ourselves.
Falling In Love
Often when we fall in love, we open up. Loving and feeling accepted in the eyes of our beloved catapults us out of our ordinary personality. We feel expansive and come alive. We rediscover our true self through the process of being vulnerable and revealing parts of ourselves that we don’t usually experience. Doing so is why romance makes us feel so alive.
Before too long, we discover things we dislike in our partner. Our feelings get deeply hurt, our needs conflict, we disagree and disapprove. In an attempt to make love last, we start keeping things to ourselves, withdraw, manipulate with words and deeds, or even try to change our partner into the person we imagined he or she was. As things pile up, the risk of being vulnerable and honest with each other looms larger. Even if words of love are spoken, passion and intimacy have vanished. Couples yearn for connection, but feel empty and lonely without intimacy, due to their fear of rejection and loss. We endure, or if the relationship ends, we hurt. Breakups can activate shame, chip away at our self-esteem, and raise our defenses, making being vulnerable again all the more risky.
Authenticity Requires Courage
Authenticity and intimacy require courage. Each move we make toward authenticity risks exposure, criticism, and rejection, but facing those risks also affirms our real self. There’s no question that rejection and loss hurt, but paradoxically, risking vulnerability makes us safer, and our defenses weakens us. Healing our shame, building self esteem, autonomy, and our ability to be assertive and set boundaries can make us feel more secure. When we’re authentic, it invites our partner to do the same. It keeps love alive, and we’re more likely to get our emotional needs met. We not only feel stronger when we’re honest, it begins to heal our shame. It also avoids the myriad of defenses and the misunderstandings and conflicts that they create.
Sharing our vulnerability with others requires courage twice. First we must be honest with ourselves and be able to feel our emotions and identify our needs. Some of us have become numb to our feelings and are clueless about our needs if they were shamed childhood. When one feeling is unacceptable, they all more or less shrivel. As a consequence, we start to shut down our aliveness. When we don’t acknowledge our needs, they won’t get met.
1. Identify Your Feelings and Needs
The first step is being able to name what we feel and need in order to communicate effectively. People often say that something made them “upset.” I have no idea whether they were angry, worried, or hurt. Emotions can be confusing. For example, often hurt masquerades as anger, resentment camouflages guilt, rage conceals shame, and sadness covers anger.
A key symptom of codependency is denial, including denial of feelings and needs (especially emotional needs). Being authentic with our rage that’s really a defense for shame damages our relationships and pushes others way – usually the opposite of what we really want. Similarly, if, like many codependents, we believe we should be self-sufficient, we might not honor and ask for our needs for closeness or support. As a result, we end up feeling lonely and resentful. Journaling is a great way to decipher our true feelings. Developing an emotional vocabulary helps us be understood, be better communicators, and get what we want and need.
2. Honor Your Feelings and Needs
We must be able not only to acknowledge, but also honor our feelings and needs if we’re going to risk exposing them to others. Many of us judge our feelings and needs, like pride or anger and affection or intimacy. We’re also unaware of the shame that conceals and derides them. Working with a skilled therapist will help you be able to feel again and accept your feelings and needs without self-judgment.
3. Improve Your Self-Esteem and Boundaries
It takes courage again to take the ultimate risk of sharing what we feel and need. Without self-esteem and boundaries, we take things personally and collapse into shame. Our prickly defenses immediately get triggered and destroy the emotional safety we’re trying to create. On the other hand, we derive courage from risk-taking. Taking the leap to be vulnerable builds self-esteem and empowers us. When we raise self-esteem and connect to ourselves, our boundaries improve. Flexible boundaries also enable us to discern when, where, how, and with whom we’re vulnerable. We’re aware that we’re separate from others and are able to allow their reactions.
4. Learn to Be Assertive
There are constructive and destructive ways to communicate our vulnerability. Most of us lack those role models from our families where communication is learned. Developing assertiveness skills not only builds self-esteem, but enables us to communicate in effective ways that promote connection. This is especially important when we want to share “negative” feelings about things we dislike or don’t want. Additionally, when we’re able to set limits and say “No,” we’re more generous when they say it to us.
5. Nurture Yourself
We can’t control other people’s reaction, so we also must know that we can nurture and sustain ourselves. This increases our autonomy. Most codependents don’t have good parental models of nurturing. Having supportive relationships and the ability to comfort ourselves make us less codependent on others. It’s also part of healing shame and building self-esteem. Taking reasonable risks builds self-esteem and autonomy, too.
6. Heal Shame
Developing self-acceptance required for authenticity may necessitate reviewing the messages and abuse from your childhood. Growing up in a dysfunctional family, many of us have internalized shame. A therapist can help guide you to challenge and cut through the dark cloud of false beliefs that hangs over you, undermining your self-worth.
7. Get Support
Working with an experienced psychotherapist is generally necessary to undo our old negative programming and support us in trying new behavior. Attending Twelve-Step meetings helps. Once we start living authentically, whether or not we’re in a relationship, we regain our zest and joy of living.
Everyone has seen fences. We have them along two sides of our property — one wood and one chain link. Just walk down the street and you’ll pass fences of all descriptions. They can simply be for decoration along the front of a lawn, they can surround a school yard, they can mark the perimeter of a farmers field.
The reality is that fences serve two purposes only.
They are used to keep things in or to keep things out. We build them ourselves or someone else builds them for us. They don’t spring up out of the ground like dandelions on our lawn.
People also build another barrier or fence — an invisible one.
These are the mental or emotional fences in our lives to keep things in or out, whether they be people, emotions, hurt, or pain. These invisible fences seemingly provide a sense of protection and comfort as we live our lives.
Emotional fence building starts early in life. Unfortunately, these fences get reinforced and strengthened as time goes by. They get built a little higher on a daily basis.
Just as physical fences can be made of wood, concrete, brick, or wire, the emotional or mental fences and barriers we build can be constructed out of:
• trusting others
• the past
The building supplies needed to construct the emotional fence of fear can be found all around us.
For many of us, there were two or three things about fear we figured out or, conversely, didn’t get a good grip on.
• we never learned how to overcome fear
• we learned that if we avoided making mistakes there was nothing to fear in life
• we learned to never take any risks due to the risk of failure.
Because we feared failure, we also learned the fear of trying. The hideous part of all of this is the spiral of fear of trying and fear of failure. This corrals us into a never-ending cycle of mind-numbing conformity of living life on a treadmill.
What Do You Fear?
We may fear starting a new career, asking a special someone out, or being in a long-term relationship. Perhaps it’s the fear of success, as we’re unsure how life might change as a result. Are you afraid of being pushed out of your comfort zone?
It is fear that tells us that we don’t have the correct skills for a new position when in fact we do. Fear convinces us that our new colleagues may not like us. Fear also convinces us that we are comfortable where we are, that life is good enough.
We fear intimacy or being in a relationship. We may have been hurt in the past and the fear of rejection or being hurt again whispers to us, “Don’t go down that road again.” As a result of this fear, we don’t. We turn down an invite for coffee, afraid it may go further. We come up with every excuse under the sun when that perfect someone shows interest in us. Even if we get into a relationship, our subconscious sabotages it because we fear the emotional intimacy.
The fears we have can appear to be real. Nevertheless, fear can pin us down like super glue. This results in us being stuck in a place we truly don’t want to be. We desire to move on in our lives, to grow and live life fully, but fear holds us back.
The fear of failure leads to the fear of trying, which leads back to the fear of failure. It is a vicious cycle.
Fears are personal — people are afraid of failure, rejection and possible conflicts.
Self-worth is often tied directly to the level of self-esteem we have. At some point early in our life, we started to build those emotional fences because we may have felt unloved, awkward, or incompetent.
This can be a life-long construction project. The materials needed to construct the fence of self-worth can be delivered right to your front door by the truckload. Perhaps they show up on a daily basis. People with low self-worth are hypersensitive to the criticism and actions of those around us. The greater threat, however, in the construction of this emotional barrier can be found within.
We don’t believe in ourselves like everyone else does. Everyone encourages you, saying, “You have got a great talent for this or that,” but you don’t believe them, so you never try.
Every time that happens, you add yet another board to the fence of low self-worth. It slowly gets constructed higher and higher, year after year, until it becomes almost impossible to knock down.
The nails holding the boards together become stronger each time it happens. The boards become thicker and heavier.
You may hear negative comments, so you choose to never try. What might have been your destiny in life had you not allowed others to erect your fence becomes just another dream.
We come to believe we don’t have the talent, ability or skills to succeed in various areas of our life while those around us believe we are capable.
Poor self-worth keeps us penned in from entering into meaningful relationships. Why would they like me? How can I love others if I can’t even love myself?
Like fear; negative self-worth and low self-esteem are personal… real personal.
Like the boards on a wooden fence rotting away over time, so does trust.
I read some place that trust is a “fundamental human experience” necessary for society to function and for any person to be relatively happy. Without it, fear rules. Trust is not an either/or proposition, but a matter of degree, and certain life experiences can impact a person’s ability to trust others.
Issues of trust may come from experiences in childhood, such as inadequate love and affection, mistreatment or abuse. Perhaps you experienced bullying during your school years. Whatever the reason, these experiences have culminated into our adult relationships. It is harder to trust people if your self-esteem has been kicked out of you over time.
As an adult it could be a traumatic life event such as the loss of a loved one, an accident or illness, or physical violence. These issues could very well lead to your inability to trust in the goodness of others. It might have been with a partner who broke that trust bond with you.
It could be all of the above. Trusting others, as well as trusting one’s self-care, becomes a major issue.
It can be helpful to remind yourself that your current circle of friends/family may not be responsible for past events. It isn’t fair to them to make assumptions based on the actions of someone completely different from your past. It can be a hard process, but building trust is a choice, and building trust in any relationship takes time, especially if your trust has been shattered.
The fence of “trusting others” can be hard to change and renovate, but it can be done.
The past often creeps into perceptions about the future. Unfortunately, the past gets carried into the present as the “baggage of life.” And we allow it to happen.
The tricky thing about emotional fences is that we may not even know we’ve built them. We don’t realize we allow the past to build yet another fence of emotional baggage when we get involved in a new relationship. The hideous part of this is, if we haven’t dealt with issues from our past, we are potentially sabotaging this new relationship, which just may be the one that has long-term potential…
If we never deal with past events, our feelings of fear and hurt continue growing until we somehow crazily justify the whole mess and the cycle continues.
We do the same thing over and over and wonder why the results are always the same.
Fences that went up in the past don’t have to define our future.
Why Does This Matter?
Some fences we build on our own; some get built by others.
Regardless of who constructed them, complex structures require complex solutions.
We travel through life and convince ourselves we’re comfortable. We tell ourselves this is all we deserve. We base this on the fences and barriers we have built around us.
We build fences out of our insecurities — our fears, our self-defined inadequacies, our lack of faith or our approval from others. Other fences get built to protect a broken heart or to hide who we really are. Maybe we build a fence so we can’t be wrongly defined by society.
Board by board, wire by wire, higher and stronger the fence gets built. Thus we live within the fences created.
A good reminder when we build fences around our emotions is that it doesn’t just keep people away from us, it also keeps us from moving forward. Fences keep things in and inhibit us from moving forward. Like fences surrounding a prison, we become emotional prisoners.
Often, fences have a window that looks out at others. Every so often we peek out, admiring those who appear free. They walk freely, run freely, love freely, seemingly without any walls stopping them.
“How can I be like them?” Our window to the world opens in the fence WE ourselves have built.
There is good news. It’s not all doom and gloom.
Just as physical fences can be torn down, emotional walls and barriers can be knocked down and overcome.
Yes, it will likely be difficult. Speaking from my own experience, it is and continues to be a challenging but necessary process to go through.
In fact, you may need help at times. If we tried each day to punch a brick or take a board off the fence, someday there would be no fence at all.
Even if the fence only becomes smaller, we’d still be better off. When the fences come down, we can be like those walking freely, running freely, and loving freely.
How do we break down these fences?
How do we start dealing with the complex, difficult, and painful issues surrounding those emotional barriers in our lives? In my own experience, it takes these important steps — though you may not be in a place right now that reflect this and that is ok.
First, you need to makea decision to start — a real decision.
What are the fences or barriers made of?
A critical component is to identify what is keeping us a prisoner. Identifying and exploring what those barriers are helps to give us perspective, self-compassion and thus the catalyst to start the healing process. Remember, when you were born, you weren’t worried about building walls to keep from getting hurt. All that came later — much later.
Once we identify them, the work starts to destroy those false beliefs so that you can move forward in life. If we think we’ve dealt with thembut have only done so on a superficial basis, we can easily fall back into them. We revert to what is familiar to us.
You can’t escape from behind these barriers and move on in life if you keep retreating back into what is familiar.
This may not be an easy process; it certainly wasn’t for me. If you know you need to deconstruct these emotional barriers, remember you are not alone.
Ask for help
A good therapist can help you put in the effort and work needed to tear down emotional barriers, ones that can hinder us from a more fruitful life.
Therapy can help us with:
• rejecting irrational beliefs and self-defeating thoughts
•learning how to become empowered
• learning to identify and deconstruct harmful emotional fences
Remember, we are social beings; we were not made to go through life alone. There are plenty of people out there to support you and to be with you along this journey.
A Final Reminder
My wish right now would be for all of us to move outside of our comfort zones.
I don’t know what may be involved in moving you from your “comfort zone” to that place “where the magic happens.” In reality, you may not be in the right place to start the work necessary to deal with the emotional fences in your life.
If that’s where you are, that’s okay. Tomorrow, however, may be your day. Regardless of where you are at the moment or where you want to be in the future, there is hope.
Fences are broken down one post at a time.
Our desire is to inspire others to get outdoors, discover yourself, and find inspiration. The hardest part sometimes is taking that first step to climb over your personal stumbling block.
The most successful people in history – the ones many refer to as ‘geniuses’ in their fields, masters of their crafts – had one thing in common, other than talent: most adhered to rigid (and specific) routines.
Routines seem boring, and the antithesis to what you’re told a “good life” is made of. Happiness, we infer, comes from the perpetual seeking of “more,” regardless what it’s “more” of. Yet what we don’t realize is that having a routine doesn’t mean you sit in the same office every day for the same number of hours. Your routine could be traveling to a different country every month. It could be being routinely un-routine. The point is not what the routine consists of, but how steady and safe your subconscious mind is made through repetitive motions and expected outcomes.
Whatever you want your day-to-day life to consist of doesn’t matter, the point is that you decide and then stick to it. In short, routine is important because habitualness creates mood and mood creates the “nurture” aspect of your personality, not to mention that letting yourself be jerked around by impulsiveness is a breeding ground for everything you essentially do not want.
Most things that bring genuine happiness are not just temporary, immediate gratifications, and those things also come with resistance and require sacrifice. Yet, there is a way to nullify the feeling of “sacrifice” when you integrate a task into the “norm,” or push through resistance with regulation. These, and all the other reasons why routine is so important (and happy people tend to follow them more).
1. Your habits create your mood, and your mood is a filter through which you experience your life.
It would make sense to assume that moods are created from thoughts or stressors, things that crop up during the day and knock us off-kilter. This isn’t so. Psychologist Robert Thayer argues that moods are created by our habitualness: how much we sleep, how frequently we move, what we think, how often we think it, and so on. The point is that it’s not one thought that throws us into a tizzy: it’s the pattern of continually experiencing that thought that compounds its effect and makes it seem valid.
2. You must learn to let your conscious decisions dictate your day – not your fears or impulses.
An untamed mind is a minefield. With no regulation, focus, base or self-control, anything can persuade you into thinking you want something that you don’t actually. “I want to go out for drinks tonight, not prepare for that presentation tomorrow” seems valid in the short-term, but in the long-term is disastrous. Going out for drinks one night probably isn’t worth bombing a super important meeting. Learning to craft routine is the equivalent of learning to let your conscious choices about what your day will be about guide you, letting all the other, temporary crap fall to the wayside.
3. Happiness is not how many things you do, but how well you do them.
More is not better. Happiness is not experiencing something else, it’s continually experiencing what you already have in new and different ways. Unfortunately as we’re taught that passion should drive our every thought move and decision, we’re basically impaled with the fear that we’re unhappy because we’re not doing “enough.”
4. When you regulate your daily actions, you deactivate your “fight or flight” instincts because you’re no longer confronting the unknown.
This is why people have such a difficult time with change, and why people who are constant in their habits experience so much joy: simply, their fear instincts are turned off long enough for them to actually enjoy something.
5. As children, routine gives us a feeling of safety. As adults, it gives us a feeling of purpose.
Interestingly enough, those two feelings are more similar than you’d think (at least, their origin is the same). It’s the same thing as the fear of the unknown: as children, we don’t know which way is left, let alone why we’re alive or whether or not a particular activity we’ve never done before is going to be scary or harmful. When we’re adults engaging with routineness, we can comfort ourselves with the simple idea of “I know how to do this, I’ve done it before.”
6. You feel content because routine consistently reaffirms a decision you already made.
If said decision is that you want to write a book – and you commit to doing three pages each night for however long it takes to complete it – you affirm not only your choice to begin, but your ability to do it. It’s honestly the healthiest way to feel validated.
7. As your body self-regulates, routine becomes the pathway to “flow.”
“Flow” (in case you don’t know – you probably do) is essentially what happens when we become so completely engaged with what we’re doing, all ideas or worries dissolve, and we’re just completely present in the task. The more you train your body to respond to different cues: 7 a.m. is when you wake up, 2 p.m. is when you start writing, and so on, you naturally fall into flow with a lot more ease, just out of habit.
8. When we don’t settle into routine, we teach ourselves that “fear” is an indicator that we’re doing the wrong thing, rather than just being very invested in the outcome.
A lack of routine is just a breeding ground for perpetual procrastination. It gives us gaps and spaces in which our subconscious minds can say: “well, you can take a break now,” when in fact, you have a deadline. But if you’re used to taking a break at that point in time, you’ll allow it simply because “you always do.”
Around you the sun keeps rising and setting. The traffic keeps pressing through in the most unrelenting way. The clouds roll by, the holidays happen. Everyone talks about how they can’t believe October is over and winter is almost here. And you smile as if you’re just excited as them.
But really, if you were being truly honest, you’d admit that nothing has felt different since the month of August. Rather everything feels blurry, muffled. You’ve lost track of the days and the nights because instead of being individual sunrises and sunsets, it’s just another day of you feeling like you’re walking upstream against a raging current. And instead of fighting, instead of it feeling like a challenge, you’re just getting tired.
Too many times you’ve just lain in bed avoiding any and every responsibility. You don’t know when the last time you checked your mail was. It’s probably overflowing with unanswered letters with bills and catalogs filled with girls who had enough energy to wash their hair that morning. You sit in the tub watching the now lukewarm water draining beneath you and you wish for a second that you’d go down with it into some abyss where there are no problems outside of wondering where the end of the pipe will take you.
The stereotypical depressed person is always in the dark maybe with ugly, forlorn, black, mascara streaks painting her cheeks or maybe with staring with bloodshot, red eyes from popping vessels while sobbing. And they sit alone, still in the dark, with that unnecessary war paint, contemplating how much better the world would be without them. And even though that’s a stereotype, sometimes that monster comes in rearing it’s nasty head and messes everything up.
As terrible as the extreme depression, the scary feeling of doom that exists, more often than not, it’s a different monster. And it’s a monster that doesn’t exist in the crazy highs or lows and because of that; it isn’t as easy to spot. It hangs out in the corners undetected just waiting until it can latch on and never let go.
Depression sometimes is a feeling of utter desolation, but what about when it isn’t?
It’s seeing all of the crayons laid out in front of you, the entire 120-count Crayola box you always coveted in grade school, every single color you could possibly imagine. It’s seeing them and having the ability to pick any color, but only being able to force yourself back to the same broken grey crayon day after day after day.
It’s watching people promote asinine things like “drinking more tea” and “running for the endorphins” and thinking, “Fine. I’ll give it a fucking shot.” But then your bladder is bursting from your 18th cup of chamomile and your shins are aching from running for hours, but even after heeding all of this naturopathic bullshit you still just want to sit on the kitchen floor and eventually blend into your surroundings, ceasing to be you because being you is getting exhausting.
It’s hearing about how Prozac changed someone’s life and how therapy is their everything, so you keep popping open the little orange bottle and talking about your ex-bestfriend and your fears every Thursday. You do all of the things you’re supposed to do but nothing’s different. It’s researching at 4 AM for any possible answer but still not wanting to smile at jokes on Instagram or text anyone back because you just suck. And if you know it they must know it too.
It’s feeling like the same bland, sad, murky version of yourself day after day and just wondering if this is how the rest of your life will be.
So even though you got up this morning and you felt the like nothing was different, you feel like you’ve accepted that you will never have highs again, you still feel like you’re looking through fogged up glasses, and you’re simply going through the motions, there’s one thing to keep in mind.
You did get up.
And even though your world right now is that broken grey, your vision is clouded, you homesickness has not been relieved, and your choking down more fucking tea to try and “naturally cure yourself”, one day it won’t feel that way. It might not be tomorrow, or next month, but eventually it will be one day. That day your eyes will be clear, your heart won’t be heavy, and you’ll find yourself reaching for an orange or a green while you order a coffee because why not.
There are many moments in my life when I’d just stare into space and think about how my life would be so different if I didn’t have depression or anxiety. How I’d take more chances. How I’d stand up for myself when I need to the most. How I’d be more secure, more decisive, and just happier.
I wouldn’t think about the thousands of ways I could possibly die. I wouldn’t be afraid to make drastic changes for my health, sanity, and overall well-being. I wouldn’t keep self-sabotaging. I wouldn’t let the most excruciating pain of the past drag me even further behind. I wouldn’t isolate myself from others. I wouldn’t let my irrational fear of scarcity control the way I think or force me to accept a fate that keeps me wandering off to dead end after dead end.
Instead, I would live a life that’s closer to the one I envision for myself instead of surrendering to all the constraints of a harsh reality that keeps me paralyzed and fearful of uncertainty. I would take better care of myself and do more of what’s valuable to me and cut out any thought that’s extraneous to my future, irrelevant to my true self, and toxic to my mental health.
I often wonder how my life would turn out differently if I didn’t have depression or anxiety. But what I wonder about more often is how I can start to act upon the best interests of my future self, moving and taking control as if I didn’t suffer from severe depression or crippling anxiety. These are all the things I’d do:
Network with people
I’ll be honest here – I view networking as disingenuous and sleazy. I always stop myself from reaching out to people because I somehow equate advocating myself with “using other people for my own selfish gain.” Which is why I don’t do it at all and don’t even talk about the skills I have. My insecurities keep telling me that I have none – they tell me it’s because I’m worthless, I’m irrelevant, and I don’t deserve to ask for anything better in life, since I haven’t proven myself worthy yet. But recently, I’ve gotten so fed up with keeping myself stifled, silent, and small that I can’t move on with my life to greater things because of my irrational fear of being judged as incompetent and unqualified. If I didn’t have these thoughts of the worst possible outcome or feelings of worthlessness, I’d network my butt off. I’d tell people what I can do, even when I may not be a master at anything yet, because I have to start somewhere. I have to believe in myself and stand up for myself because otherwise, I’d be stuck in the pitiful stage of paying my dues for a lifetime.
Write more, even when depression makes me abnormally exhausted
I’m tired of keeping myself stuck with writing. I’m tired of holding in the thoughts that I still have yet to share – thoughts that have the potential to turn into thousands of articles, essays, and poems if I allowed myself to be even more vulnerable, resolute, and honest with myself. But my mind is a never-ending war zone, and every time I self-sabotage, my mental exhaustion manifests itself physically, and I shut down before I have a chance to express myself and share more of what’s on my mind. If depression didn’t affect me this way, I’d definitely write more and write my way to the freedom I’ve always craved – the ultimate freedom from my treacherous enemies that keep making their home in my mind.
Create more solutions to recurring problems
If I didn’t have depression or anxiety, I’d create more solutions to problems that always recur in my life: I’m too shy. I don’t stand up for myself. I let myself be a doormat. I let people make me feel grossly inferior and wallow in self-pity because of it. I avoid confrontation, even when confrontation is the only way to solve the problem of me not advocating for myself when I need to. I’d act in spite of the overwhelming feelings of inferiority, which tells me that I’m never going to be good enough to get what I deserve. I’d be a more solution-oriented thinker instead of a problem escapee and work my way out of my problems.
Love myself as I am, regardless of how others are doing “better”
I’d be bolder and claim that I am worthy, I am healing, I am evolving, and I am capable of freeing myself from what hurts me the most – the past, the deep-rooted terrors that control me, and agonizing self-hatred. I’d love myself for who I am and not beat myself up for lagging behind others who seem to be more outwardly successful and have what society considers as “better lives.” And the truth is, my life isn’t worse than someone else’s, but if people evaluate me harshly for it, I shouldn’t give their opinions any weight because my life is mine, and I will not spend the rest of my life hating myself or contorting myself just to fit into someone else’s agenda. If I didn’t have anxiety over how poorly I’m fitting in and if I didn’t get easily depressed about how worthless I seem on the outside compared to other people, I’d love the hell out of myself first and foremost, and then I’d build a life upon this abundance of love and settle for nothing less than that.
But now, it’s no longer a matter of what I would do.
She’s strong, because she’s in a constant battle with her anxiety. It’s telling her that she’s weak. That she shouldn’t speak up. That she shouldn’t get out of bed.
Some days, she listens to everything that voice tells her. But other days, she somewhat finds the power & strength to ignore it. She finds the strength to leave her room. To socialize. To smile.
She’s strong, because she shows up, even when she’s shaking. She speaks, even when it’s with a cracked voice. She keeps breathing, even when those breaths are shaky.
It would be easy for her to cancel plans with her friends, turn down dates, skip class, call in sick from work — and sometimes, she does. Sometimes, the idea of being around people is too much for her to handle.
But most of the time, she does what she has to do. She switches off her alarm. She showers. She dresses. And then she gets shit done.
Of course, she gets distracted throughout the day. The tiniest thing can send her mind spinning. A text from someone she didn’t expect to hear from. An email she isn’t quite sure how to answer. A strange look from one of her coworkers or crushes.
She suffers from constant self-consciousness, but she pushes past it. She ignores the way she thinks everyone is looking at her, judging her, and she forces herself to be productive. She forces herself to focus on what’s important.
She refuses to let anxiety control her life. She won’t let her dark thoughts eclipse the positive ones. She’s motivated to be the best person she can be.
At times, her anxiety makes her feel weak. Lesser. Like she doesn’t deserve to be in the same room as people that can talk to strangers as if they’ve known each other for years.
But even though she feels inferior, that’s far from the truth. She’s a warrior. A badass. Why can’t she see that?
She tries so hard. She puts in so much effort. And she’s gotten so far.
Some people rarely venture outside of their comfort zone — but she’s outside of her comfort zone every damn day. She’s either worried about what to say or what to wear or where to park. She’s never relaxed. She’s always on edge.
That’s why she’s always learning. Always growing. Every second of every day.
Sure, there are times when she suffers from setbacks. When she doesn’t say a single word for hours. When she stays in her pajamas and puts off showering.
But there are other times when she finds the courage to speak her mind. When she surprises herself with how brave she can be.
She probably doesn’t realize it yet, but girls with anxiety are the strongest girls in the world, because they never have a minute of peace. Because they’re always struggling — and yet they’re always winning.
Overthinking. It’s the nights you spend not sleeping as mistakes you’ve made in the past act as a plague to your mind. It’s worrying about things that might never happen as you dwell over the things that have.
It’s every fear you have that paralyzes you. And as you think more you hold back tears.
It’s failure becoming your worst reality in your mind. Failing class. Failing at a job. Failing in relationships.
People who overthink tend to strive for unrealistic expectations which lead to success.
But the cost is exhaustion maintaining it.
It’s being both physically and emotionally exhausted from a brain that never slows down or shuts off.
Overthinking is that pause between texts as you wonder how they interrupt what you said. It’s typing and deleting and sending yet another because your mind is playing tricks on you.
It’s the constant need for answers and responses just to keep your mind at bay and calm.
Overthinking is the voice of criticism that is trying to destroy you as it doubts everyone and everything around you. Then it makes you doubt yourself and second guess everything. You never follow your first instinct when you overthink things.
It’s following the destructive path your mind leads you down and you can’t make it stop if you want.
Overthinking is like some fire you can’t control and it just destroys everything in its path including you.
It’s the critical voice that clings to mistakes only to bring them up later.
Overthinking feels like you’re constantly waiting for something but you don’t actually know what it is you’re waiting for.
Waiting for something to change.
Waiting for something to go wrong.
Waiting for someone to get mad.
Waiting for something to end dramatically and it is your fault.
Overthinking come bearing apologizes you didn’t need to say in the first place but you’re sorry for questioning them and thinking the worst. It leads you thinking every worst scenario will be a reality.
Overthinking leads you to be overly cautious with everything.
Overthinking is like tiptoeing around everything like there are shards of broken glass below your feet and any wrong move will lead to pain.
It’s the fear of relationships because you need so much in a partner you wonder if you are better off alone.
Because how do you even explain to someone it isn’t you I’m doubting or don’t trust my mind is leading me to be so cautious? How do you explain to someone you’re interested in that you need to hear certain phrases over and over again like, “it’s okay” or “we are okay” or “I’m not leaving you.”
Overthinking in relationships is accepting you aren’t going to be the strong and confident one ever. It’s needing that reassurance for every doubt. It’s needing someone, to be honest, all the time and explain things very thoroughly. It’s the conversations that might be awkward but the person needs to be able to communicate. Tell you when something is wrong. Tell you when you are mad. Tell you exactly what they are thinking. It’s the fights you want solutions to immediately because if you don’t your mind will create ten more problems.
It’s listening to scenarios that are very real in your mind even though to a ‘normal’ person it’s so out there.
Overthinking is caring too much and no matter how much someone else’s opinion shouldn’t matter or that ignored text shouldn’t even impact you, under the surface, you are wondering what have I done wrong? And what can I do to fix it?
The root of overthinking is just wanting people to accept you and be happy with you because you are still learning how to be happy with yourself.
It’s choosing words so carefully because you never want to intentionally hurt someone.
Overthinking are the relationships that end and you always think it’s you that to blame.
Overthinking are the solutions you want to fix to something that isn’t even a problem.
Overthinking is the want and need to control things because it feels like this thing in your life controls you.
But you know you learn to adapt to this thing that hurts to live with but you don’t even remember what it was like to live without it.
And as you navigate through ramped thoughts you’ll find comfort in others who love you through this flaw and they learn to adapt to having someone like you a part of their life and they are the ones who help you through it constantly reminding you they won’t leave.
If you find being in pain has left you feeling stressed, anxious, depressed, or a little grumpy, you aren’t alone. These emotions are very common among people living with ongoing pain.
Pain can upend every aspect of our lives — from how we move, sleep, think, feel, and interact with others to earning a living and doing the things that we love most. That can be an awful lot to deal with. A field of psychology called pain psychology can help.
To be clear, when we say “pain psychology,” we’re not suggesting that pain is “all in your head” or that “the pain is not real.” Nothing could be further from the truth. This form of psychology acknowledges and addresses both the emotional and physical consequences of pain and aims to help patients get to a better place at a deeper level.
Pain psychology therapies for the treatment of chronic pain have been well-established for decades. Past studies have shown the importance of utilizing psychological-based pain treatments for a whole host of painful conditions, including low back pain, headaches, fibromyalgia, and even arthritis. Most experts don’t view pain psychology treatment as a stand-alone therapy for chronic pain, but rather as one very important and complementary part of a more comprehensive approach. Integrating different types of treatments is sometimes referred to as “multi-modal” or “multidisciplinary,” and it speaks to the complex nature of how pain impacts the human experience.
So what are some examples of pain psychology treatments and how can they help?
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). The most studied and well-established psychological treatment used in multidisciplinary pain care, CBT is a type of psychotherapy that focuses on changing unhealthy thought patterns that may be exacerbating the experience of pain or mood problems like depression and anxiety. The theory behind CBT is that how we feel is influenced by how and what we think. By creating more positive thought processes, we can better manage pain. One of the goals of CBT treatment is to help patients become more effective problem solvers when faced with challenging life situations.
Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). The approach behind ACT is to gain acceptance of one’s inner feelings and deeper emotions, even if they are troubling, and to learn to not let those feelings stand in the way of growing and evolving in a more positive direction. ACT can give patients tools to help them problem-solve and make impactful changes in their lives, no matter how difficult the pain problem may be. ACT differs from CBT in that you are not reframing your thoughts and feelings, but instead simply observing them while still working toward the desired goals.
Mindfulness. Based on ancient meditation practices, Jon Kabat-Zinn is credited with leading the modern mindfulness movement as a tool to alleviate pain, stress, suffering, and depression. Mindfulness training focuses on being in the present moment, as opposed to being distracted or overwhelmed by thoughts about the past or the future. Being non-judgmental while paying attention to our present thoughts and feelings is an important part of practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness seems to help quiet an over-activated nervous system, and studies show promising results for its role in treating chronic pain. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is a formal course developed to help with training and is now available in many communities.
Relaxation training. Any approach that can help calm an over-activated or overly stressed nervous system has the potential to relieve tension and pain in the body. Learning some simple breathing exercises can be a great tool to find relief during a challenging moment. Biofeedback is an example of a more formal relaxation approach, where monitors can provide direct feedback about bodily functions, like heart rate, as a tool to learn to control how the body responds and to then use this control as a way of tamping down the experience of pain.
In case you are wondering if any of this can really help, here are some tips on getting the most out of pain psychology treatment:
Find the experts. Not all psychologists and counselors have a background in treating chronic pain. Seek one who specializes in working with pain patients and is willing to make better pain management the focus. Consider using telehealth resources if you have trouble finding a pain psychologist nearby.
Build a toolbox. Once you start your treatment, start to make a list of the different things you are learning and working on. As you get more confident, make these techniques part of your toolbox, and a trusted resource for navigating all of the challenges and rough patches associated with your pain.
Manage flare-ups. Make sure to put your toolbox to good use on the bad days. Pain flare-ups can be exacerbating, but here is a chance to use pain psychology and relaxation techniques to quiet down these episodes so you can move on with your day again.
Change your communication. Relationships with spouses, family members, and friends can be adversely affected when you are in pain. A good pain psychologist can help you learn communication strategies that will help you better educate others about what you are going through while also getting better connected with them.
Practice self-care. Sometimes the first step in helping others or accomplishing meaningful goals is to take great care of yourself. With levels of stress, depression, anxiety, and substance abuse around the country higher than ever, consider using pain psychology techniques as an important way of not letting your cup get too empty. And if insomnia has set in, remember many of these techniques have been shown to improve sleep, too.
If you have never considered pain psychology before, now might be a great time to make it a valuable part of your pain relief plan.