One of the most popular questions empathic or highly sensitive people ask me is, “How do I protect myself from picking up other people’s stuff?”
“How do I not take on other people’s emotions, suffering, anger, grief, sadness, inner processes, and the everyday rumble of their lives? How do I not ingest it and not take it home as a big, heavy cloud over my whole being?”
And then the question goes deeper: “How do I protect and care for my well being, happiness, and positive state when I support others?”
Picking up other people’s stuff is not fun. Most empathic or sensitive people know the experience well. It’s a source of deep frustration, anger, despair and even sometimes hatred of being sensitive.
I have worked with hundreds of people who felt this experience was ruining their lives.
It’s often easier to see that you have picked up someone else’s stuff when you’ve been feeling good. The shift in mood or state when you pick up someone else’s stuff is obvious.
For example, it’s a beautiful, sparkling autumn day, like today here in Melbourne. You go for a walk feeling equally sparkly yourself, lovingly open, and connected with nature and beauty. Then you run into a neighbor who is having a difficult time. Whether or not they openly share their emotional or energetic status, you leave the conversation feeling heavy, moody, or down. Your sparkly connection to life is lost.
You have picked up their stuff, and you are left with a light, or sometimes heavy dose of their mood or suffering.
Such experiences where you have sudden or unexplained shifts of mood can be a strong insight into the effects of this energetic connection.
Learning to clear other people’s stuff from your system can be equally empowering and confidence-building.
You can clear this energy in a variety of ways, such as prayer and intention, grounding, flower essences, inner work, or simply unhooking someone’s energy field from yours, which is often the most effective.
Determining the best way for you to clear someone’s suffering from your system depends on the reasons you picked it up in the first place. This is highly personal and worth exploring.
If this is an ongoing difficulty in your life, my best advice is to have a two-pronged approach to dealing with the issue.
1. Explore and understand the reasons you are picking up other people’s stuff. What is going on in your system to lead you into this predicament? Then find strategies and solutions for these underlying problems and reasons.
2. Have the little internal self-care kit of strategies ready to use when an energy exchange occurs. Then you can clear it quickly and return to your natural state of well being.
The more effective and efficient you are in clearing or shedding other’s suffering, the more empowered and free you will feel as a sensitive person.
This clarification is paramount, so read it slowly: Being free from carrying other people’s suffering does not mean you don’t care or that you don’t seek to support them.
Instead, it allows you to be centered, loving, and present. It makes you more available to those you love and care about. It allows you to have a better experience of being yourself while being there for others.
So, why do you find yourself picking up other people’s stuff? Here are eight possibilities.
1. Being ungrounded
When we are well grounded, our energetic boundaries work most effectively. Thus, we can remain clear and centered in ourselves and separate from others energetically.
2. Poor boundaries
Poor boundaries on any level—physical, mental, emotional, energetic and spiritual—can contribute to us being vulnerable to merging or absorbing another’s suffering.
3. Poor energy habits, such as merging
Many empathic or sensitive people have biased energy habits of merging into the world and with others. We can feel more comfortable energetically connecting with others and the world and less comfortable holding a healthy sense of separateness. This can often mean a person’s partial or entire energy field can be entangled or enmeshed with another person or group.
Merging can feel wonderful when you are in love or merged with nature’s expansive beauty, but it can be excruciating if what you connect to has an energy of great suffering.
4. Belief systems about taking on other’s suffering
It’s ubiquitous in our culture to believe that taking on another’s pain can be helpful to the other person. And there are times in life, especially urgent situations, where that is useful.
But in the general, everyday process of relating, absorbing another’s pain is not helpful. For one, it disallows that other person to learn and grow for themselves. And it isn’t helpful to the person choosing to bear the suffering, often causing dire consequences to their well being and health.
The belief that one should take on another’s suffering is cultural, ancestral, or unconscious. It’s particularly challenging for women who have often been encouraged into this behavior in a sacrificial way.
5. Trauma and survival patterns
In particular, children who have suffered chronic abuse, trauma, or bullying (or were simply very sensitive to the intense suffering or abuse of others) often adopt survival strategies in relation to their family member’s suffering.
These habits can include a lack of self-protection from the aggression and strong emotions of others, taking on the troubles of parents and allowing others to drain their energy and inner resources.
These habits were often essential to survival during childhood. But as adults, such habits can be painful, debilitating, and no longer relevant to their present lives.
6. Ill health
It’s very difficult to have strong auric boundaries when we are not well. Thus, it’s important to take on extra self-care for your energetic wellbeing when you’re out in the world.
You can support your auric boundaries with flower essences, grounding practices, energetic protection, and continuing to support your health in the best ways possible.
7. Unconscious empathy
Highly sensitive people are often very empathic; they can connect with the inner life and energetic nature of other people easily and deeply. This is an excellent gift when owned, understood, and used well.
Otherwise, sensitive empaths can find themselves unconsciously picking up the suffering of others, or even the world, as if they’re a multi-band radio that’s always switched on and picking up overwhelming signals from a multitude of channels all at once.
This can be distressing, confusing, and painful. It can make you feel crazy with all of this information overload, making it difficult to determine what is yours and what belongs to others.
8. Kundalini and the awakening process
These two processes, Kundalini and awakening, can make you painfully sensitive. They can keep your aura and energetic systems in a constant state of flux and intense transformation, thereby reducing your natural ability to protect yourself from what surrounds you.
Even if you have been feeling resilient prior to the Kundalini activation, you can find yourself overwhelmed and vulnerable around others once awakening begins. But don’t worry. This intense vulnerability settles down as the awakening process completes and integrates. Then you’ll become increasingly robust and strong.
These eight scenarios are the most crucial reasons to explain why you might be connecting in unhelpful ways with others.
I’ve suffered through all of these issues listed above. I went through all levels of frustration but also of insights. Ultimately, it all led me to a greater understanding of myself. I was able to resolve my unconscious tendencies and find enduring solutions.
Now I know deep within myself the pain of being too open to the suffering in the world and the joyous liberation of resolving this torment in balanced and powerful ways.
From this awareness, you can create a personal, powerful self-care kit of strategies and techniques to protect and enhance your wellbeing. You can show up for others without losing yourself in the process.