Emotional Sponge

There's one trait that has been constant throughout every stage of my rather inconsistent life. It's probably the parent of all of my worst traits & it's the one that makes my already changeable personality most difficult to predict or understand. I am an emotional sponge.

I'm the sort of person that, for better or worse, does a lot of research online. I don't self diagnose or use it as the first point of contact when ever something seems a bit amiss in my life, but I do use it as a crutch for trying to understand more about something or to feel less alone.

When I googled "emotional sponge" I read a lot of articles telling me how not to be or how to recognise if I was but never anything written first hand by somebody who is an "empath". So here I am, baring my soul, typing about the one thing I dislike most myself & hoping that I might be able able to help at least one of you feel less alone; just like so many other people have done for me in other areas of my life. I'm not a professional & I'm not trying to pretend that I know everything about being an empath but I do want to share some of my ups & my downs as well as how to deal with them & how not to.

One of my favourite articles about being an emotional sponge is actually on WikiHow & it's titled "how to stop absorbing other people's emotions". I think it's hilarious. All the little cartoon pictures make light of everything that's written & it's a good one to read if you're trying to quickly understand what an emotional sponge is. The first point talks about identifying whether you are susceptible & every single one of them is me or has been me. To sum-up you're probably an empath if you can identify with these points:
  1. You can feel other peoples emotions (mostly negative) & you can't help but be affected by them.
  2. You can feel drained in crowds & can sometimes "home-in" on the one person that is miserable & without meaning to that can make you miserable too.
  3. Noise, smells, and excessive talking can set off your nerves and anxiety.
  4. You need to be alone to recharge your energy.
  5. You're less likely to intellectualize what you're feeling. Your feelings are easily hurt.
  6. You're naturally giving, generous, spiritually inclined, and a good listener.
  7. You tend to ensure that you've got an escape plan, so that you can get away fast, such as bringing your own car to events, etc.
  8. The intimacy of close relationships can feel like suffocation or loss of your own self.
It's difficult for me to ignore that only point 6 is a positive & even then it's tinged with negativity because, as an empath, the reality can be that when you care so much about someone it may ultimately lead to you being even more affected by their emotions. Which goes hand in hand with point 8. The closer that you get to someone the more you care & the more likely you are to loose a bit of yourself to the emotions that you take from that other person.

The way I deal with this reality is to be very choosy about the people that I associate myself with. I am no longer friendly with individuals who are angry, or self-destructive because those are the traits that I am personally most susceptible to "soaking up". But it took a huge wake up call before I understood how important this life decision is.

A few years ago, at my lowest, I became very unwell & wasn't often able to leave my home at all without suffering a panic attack. I became a recluse & steadily became unable to function in normal situations. I couldn't visit friends, I couldn't go to work, I couldn't go shopping & eventually the only thing I really did was get driven to therapy.

I have a past that isn't all roses & my therapist insisted on revisiting these events in our sessions blaming them on my newly acquired anxiety & depression. She played around with the idea that I might have post traumatic stress disorder but it never made any sense to me why my mind would decide that I was no longer able to cope with these events & it's only now, in hindsight, that I can actually understand that it was my choice of friend & flatmate that made me so vulnerable.

We met & became close friends very quickly. He was funny & doting but utterly damaged. My caring personality drew him to me unquestionably. I had never met anyone with so much heartache & so much hurt in their past & I wanted to help him more than help myself & eventually that's what happened. He moved in to help me with my rent & I took on even more of his hurt, became more him than me & my health deteriorated. I became self destructive & a shell of myself.

No one said it at the time but I know now that it would not have been possible for me to get "better" if it wasn't for cutting that bond with him. He's not a bad person, in fact he was lovely, & I sometimes feel guilty for pushing him away & occasionally wonder how he's doing but he was my lesson that, no matter how nice a person, it's easier to say goodbye to them than let their hurt consume you.

Obviously there will always be times when you have no real control over who you are around, for instance: In school, work, or in a crowded environment. In times like this I feel that I have 3 options: To avoid these situations entirely, to accept that you will be emotionally "full" at the end & find a way to get rid of those emotions (for instance: With exercise), or to build up a "shield".

I personally find the shield to be most affective & I generally live each day happy (if a little exhausted) but it does mean that I can sometimes come off as aloof & it also means that when I'm under a lot of stress, am particularly hormonal, or if I let my guard down I can "snap".

Fortunately these episodes have become less frequent but unfortunately when they do happen I have a habit of pushing the people closest to me away (see point 4). Now, most of the time & for most of the people in my life I can just politely ask for a time-out but sometimes a "snap" can creep up on me when I'm around someone & that can turn into explosive anger at that person & sometimes implosive anger at myself which can result in panic attacks.

When I'm at home my fail-safe is to sit on the shower floor & let the water run for as long as it takes to get my breathing back to normal. There's something about the sound & the inclosed feeling from the water that makes me feel safe & helps me distract from the thoughts in my head that are causing my panic or anger. When I'm out & about I've tried everything from breathing into a bag to listening to happy music but honestly for me the biggest comfort is knowing that I can get to my "safe place" if I need to (point 7).

A big mistake that I made when I was so unwell a few years ago was making my flat my "safe place". If I could give one piece of advice, other than choosing your friends wisely, it would be to make your "safe place" portable. Yes, mostly mine is still my home but it's really the "feeling" of home that is my safe place now. It's not feeling crowded & being in a place that I know I won't be disturbed. At a family members house it might be the room that we're staying in, or even the bathroom. On holiday it will be our hotel room. It might be a scent that you associate with comfort or it might be a song that you can close your eyes & listen to. Whatever it is: Try to make it portable or you might find that it holds you back more than comforts you.

It may all sound doom & gloom but truthfully, most of the time, I'm better than fine & even though sometimes my family treat me like a ticking time bomb, most people would have no idea that I'm making a calculated decision about how much I'm going to "let them in" & every day is easier.

Regardless of whether you are an empath or not I would always say to surround yourself with people who are a positive influence in your life. Remember that your friends are a reflection of yourself & if you surround yourself with happy & helpful people you can be a happy & helpful influence to others around you.

If you are an emotional sponge & you're struggling at the moment remember that you're not alone, there are people that you can talk to & try to find the source of what's bringing you down. It might be that you have to distance yourself from them for a while or indefinitely. Find your safe place & remember the people who are an important positive influence in your life. Things will get easier.

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