As a child I swam in a disorienting sea of emotions, not all of which were mine. At times I found myself weeping or frightened for no reason I could understand. I often felt other peoples' anger simmering under their apparently calm exteriors, and would be confused when they denied their fury, wondering if I'd imagined what I sensed. I was in my twenties before I really understood how people can lie about their feelings.
I was in my mid thirties before I heard the term "empath" and began to understand what was happening to me. An empath is, simply put, someone who can feel the emotions of other people, often as if they are her own feelings. (If you aren't sure whether or not you are experiencing the emotions of others, here are several other Signs that You're an Empath.)
It wasn't until my late thirties that I came to trust my empathy and listen to what it was telling me.
Empathy is not an easy gift. The untrained empath feels raw and exhausted after dealing with people for even a short amount of time. I was lucky enough to have several years when I worked for myself, and got a blessed break from the onslaught of other people's feelings.
When I had to return to work after years of relative solitude, I was overwhelmed by the energies and emotions constantly battering at me. Every day I would drag myself home, so tired I wanted to cry, barely able to get through feeding myself dinner and keeping up with my laundry.
I tried visualizations and shielding but nothing quite worked. Most of the exercises I found were a variation of the bubble of colored light method, and somehow I just couldn't relate to it. And--this is my own flawed thinking, not the fault of those who suggested the exercise--I understood the exercises as being designed to protect me from harm of the accidents-and-random-shooting variety, or maybe even from people being mean to me. I rarely remembered to shield myself, and when I did it was successful in that I managed to avoid car accidents and gunshot, but I still felt anywhere from tired and irritable to downright traumatized after any time around other people.
Recently during periods of reflection and meditation, I came to understand why the typical shielding exercises I've read about don't work for me.
1. The imagery is wrong. I'm not a white light, ethereal energies kind of witch. I don't waft around in flowing dresses like some willowy angelic being. I'm a hands in the dirt, trudging forest paths kind of witch. I need personally relevant imagery.
2. I wasn't focusing on protecting myself from the most troublesome things--other people's energy and emotions.
I was given the following visualization in a flash of insight during a spirit journey. I thought it might be helpful for other greenwitches and tree huggers who happen to be empaths.
Begin by taking a moment to catch your breath and clear your thoughts. In time, and with practice, this visualization will become second nature and you will be able to do it whenever and wherever you need to. But you should practice it at first when you are in a place where you feel safe and can truly focus--even if it's the shower or your car.
Next, visualize vines or branches rising up slowly from the ground and winding into a living sphere around you, the leaves moving softly in a gentle breeze. Focus on the loving protection coming from this plant or tree: feel how the protective sphere around you is alive and connected to the earth.
Speak these words, or similar: "Green spirits, please wrap me in your loving energy. Please protect me from the negative energies of others, both intentional and unintentional. Please protect me from the emotions of others, and allow me to feel only my own emotions until I am in a safe place again. So be it."
This exercise has transformed my daily life. I do it every morning before I go to work, and I find myself far less drained and raw at the end of the day. And with this shield in place, if I need to, I can still sense what others are feeling--but I don't have to experience those emotions as if they are my own.
If this visualization doesn't work for you, don't give up. There are many articles available to help the empath control her abilities and overcome those feelings of being completely overwhelmed. Here are a few that I've found useful: