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I Feel People and They Feel Me: The Blessing and Curse of Feeling Deeply

girl-fetal-position1I witnessed a lot of pain this week. The kind where people curl up fetally and ache deeply. The kind where they cry until they are numb and limp.

People are fragile. Physically, mentally and spiritually. True, people are strong and endure magnificently as well, but this week was about fragility.

This week was exhausting.

I’d never heard the phrase emotionally exhausted until my guitar teacher used it five or six years ago. I remember thinking, I know exactly how that feels. I know how emotions swell and fill our beings. I know how tears take every bit of energy out of our bodies. I know the malaise that follows emotional flooding.

Here let me hold that for you

I not only feel my own emotions but I feel those of others as well. As my insightful writing coach, Lauren Sapala, says, INFPs take on the sadness of the world. My Myers Briggs type preference of INFP is especially empathetic. Because we feel so deeply, we tend to harbor intense compassion for others. I always root for and protect the underdog. I cannot stand mean comments or cutting criticism. I feel them viscerally whether directed at me or someone else.

People are drawn to my type because of our soft safe hearts. We’re like the big bright lights at ball fields, the ones that all the moths collect around. We’re warm and offer a way out of the dark.bogongmoths_wideweb__430x286

One day last week, five people sought me out for non-judgmental listening and loving encouragement. They know their vulnerability will be honored and protected by me. They know I will receive their darkness and reflect back their light. I feel bad when I don’t have a  quick resolution to their suffering but quite often they just want to be sweetly heard and positively seen. I can do that…until I can’t.

Burned out on negativity

When my senses and spirit are full of emotions they either drown or dance. It depends on what I’ve absorbed.

I am sensitive.

I absorb negative energy quickly and deeply. It seems to know the short cut to my nervous system, whereas positive bright energy, while just as deeply absorbed, takes longer to reach me inside. Like most people, I need large quantities of happy energy in order to believe it. It takes mountains of happy energy to quash an ant hill of hurtful energy.

If I am around acerbic and negative people who never have a kind or productive word to offer, I wilt. They profoundly empty me. My energy is involuntarily withdrawn and there isn’t much I can do about it except remove myself from their presence.

Too much time immersed in antagonism and criticism and I don’t have much to give. I remove myself from their presence by cocooning my psyche in reservedness. I forever want to listen to and soothe souls but it becomes difficult to do through the thick and comforting cover of detachedness I knit for myself. I withdraw my availability in order to save myself.

Three ways to unload the heaviness

(besides deep restorative sleep)

1. Solitude: Space and time to myself replenishe my well of good vibes and wishes. Away from people I am responsibility free. I don’t have to care for, carry or tolerate anyone else’s feelings. I am only responsible for my own inner harmony. It’s liberating and energizing. It’s where I put together solutions for broken hearts and broken spirits, because I want to. In solitude I come back to me in order to reach out to others.

2. Intimacy: The opposite of solitude, this is where I seek like-hearted companions for nourishing connecting. This is where I am filled up by meaningful stories and healing touches. In the company of safety and calm, I unfold, unload and renew.This weekend I will attend a writing retreat with a sacred tribe (enlightened women friends). There I will release the weight of the week onto the page and into the universe, which brings me to the third way to weightlessness…

3. Creating: All of the heaviness of the world (sorrow, negativity, frustration) can be expressed creatively and constructively. Creativity alchemizes pain into beauty. During this week of high skirtdanceremotions I also viewed exquisite dance performances set to brilliant music (So You Think You Can Dance, seriously recommend this show for sensitives) and a deeply touching film (The Fault In Our Stars, also a big thumbs up). They both made me cry but in the cathartic, intensely moving way. Writing, dancing, playing music, welding, teaching… The list is endless for art that lightens pain by sharing it beautifully and vulnerably.

How do you release the heaviness?  When was the last time you felt highly emotional? When was the last time you felt weightless? 

If I Feel People… hit home with you then you may also like: 

Introverts Explained: Why We Love You But Need to Get Away From You

How to Protect and Liberate Your Energy:A Guide for Introverts and Anyone Who Feels Drained

Introvert Rising: More Secrets to Staving Off Overwhelming Emotions and Shifting Your Whole Experience

How to Remedy Anxiety and Stress When You’re an Introverted Feeling Type

Why You Are Anxious All the Time (Philosopher’s Mail)

The Eight Basic Salves for Burn-Out  (elephant journal)

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40 Comments

  1. Rian February 11, 2016 at 6:07 am - Reply

    Hi ,

    If you want, you could give me your astrology information and I’d be really interested to check it out. Otherwise it doesn’t really matter.

  2. MEGAN May 17, 2015 at 1:33 pm - Reply

    This is a huge. Huge daily struggle for me. I have a very negative 17 year old and she complains all day long, every single day. She is never happy. It is impossible to even have a conversation with her; she talks in a snotty tone and I cannot stand to be around her. I am constantly drained and so tired of everyone, my husband included, to just brush it off. Ignore her. Don’t let it get to you. If I could, I would! But I cant! So every day I am recovering from her bad attitude sucking the life out of me. Currently I am not working and have health problems do I have NO outlet. How do I cope with this? I keep hoping her mood will lighten up, but it has only gotten worse. I am absolutely drained.

    • MEGAN May 17, 2015 at 1:56 pm - Reply

      I failed to mention that she has been homeschooled for the past 3 years, she does all of her own work, I don’t do any teaching, thank god, but she is home ALL ThE TIME! My husband works at home 80% of the time….I have very little time to myself and when I do, I hide out in my bedroom. I find myself doing what I can to avoid my daughter. She’s like a grenade waiting to go off.

      • Amanda May 21, 2015 at 10:32 am - Reply

        I am sorry to hear that Megan but glad she does her own schooling 😉
        -when was the last time you two did something fun together?
        -Amazon has some great mp3 on mindfulness for teens to resolve the issues inside her.
        -google detach with love 😉

      • Megan May 23, 2015 at 6:16 pm - Reply

        Her attitude is so harsh that having fun together is impossible 🙁 it has come to the point where i don’t want to spend time with her – it ends in a fight, with her speaking meanly to me and I’m tired of crying every single day because she is so nasty. I will look into the ideas you suggested. Everyone keeps telling me I need to change myself to adapt to her being home, but how does one change their core being? I’m almost 50 years old! I can’t change the fast I am an HSP and introverted. Thank you for responding.

        • Brenda Knowles May 24, 2015 at 6:59 am - Reply

          Megan I was in a similar situation with one of my children. I can only tell you what I’ve learned but once I started being less emotional and more humorous and light things got better. My child could not handle my emotions. They didn’t know how to process or be comfortable with me being upset. It took one of my good friends to explain that to me. I was like you and thought it was on my child to not be mean and nasty and it is to a degree. No one should be repeatedly rude or mean but it was also up to me to self-sooth. It was too much for my child to feel responsible for my emotions. Just my latest lesson learned. I’m sending you the strength to not let your daughter’s reactions define you.

      • Megan May 24, 2015 at 4:40 pm - Reply

        Brenda….thank you so much for your response. You’ve made a very, very good point about the fact I let my daughter’s reactions define me. I understand she may not know how to handle my emotions, just like I don’t know how to handle her terrible behavior. My emotions are a reaction to her behavior and the snotty way she talks to me…what am I supposed to do with my emotions? I can’t just keep them bottled up inside me because she is not able to handle them. It is such a hopeless situation

        • Amanda May 24, 2015 at 7:44 pm - Reply

          When was the last time you did something fun and reconnected? Maybe she doesn’t trust herself to open up to who you are or who she is.

        • Amanda May 24, 2015 at 7:46 pm - Reply

          Whoops, I finally got these msgs on this thread.

        • Brenda Knowles May 25, 2015 at 7:40 am - Reply

          I was in a very similar situation and it felt hopeless as well. All I can say is the best thing I did was make myself happy and confident outside of my relationship with my child. When I got myself ‘together’ my child started being more positive around me. It was not easy and our relationship was strained for over a year, maybe two. When I was able to be content despite his comments and reactions things started to change. I know that seems like a big undertaking and not easy to do but if you get some space from your daughter, physically and mentally, it is easier. Big hug to you! I know the despair and frustration.

      • Megan May 24, 2015 at 8:57 pm - Reply

        Amanda……I don’t know why I can’t reply directly to your comment….we are way past the stage of being able to go do something fun…sadly, we simply cannot hang out together. It will take A LOT for us to reconnect. She is 17 and thinks she knows everything. I would love to go to therapy, but she won’t go.

      • Megan May 26, 2015 at 1:24 pm - Reply

        BRENDA: thank you SO much! Your advice is exactly what I need to do. I am amazed how much you “get” me after only exchanging a few messages! I (unsuccessfully) tried to find a way to respond privately to you, as I didn’t think it was appropriate to take up so much space on your blog….I apologize for that. Again, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You’ve helped me more than a year of therapy sessions!

  3. […] I Feel People and They Feel Me: The Blessing and Curse of Feeling Deeply […]

  4. kaycers November 2, 2014 at 11:28 pm - Reply

    I SO appreciate the 3 steps you lined out. I too regain my energy from solitude, intimacy and creativity…I just never really thought about it that clearly. Reading this was truly eye opening. THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart. Namaste, Kay

    • Brenda Knowles November 3, 2014 at 8:09 am - Reply

      It’s a cycle of necessary ingredients — solitude, intimacy, creativity. I’m thrilled I could make it clearer for you. As I write, it all becomes clearer to me as well.;) Therapeutic. Namaste, Brenda

  5. […] I Feel People and They Feel Me: The Blessing and Curse of Feeling Deeply […]

  6. […] I Feel People and They Feel Me: The Blessing and Curse of Feeling Deeply […]

  7. […] ← I Feel People and They Feel Me: The Blessing and Curse of Feeling Deeply […]

  8. Lobster June 15, 2014 at 2:04 am - Reply

    Lovely post. It is so important to acknowledge when you are about to crash and try to soften the fall, or preferably protect from it happening in the first place. But sometimes it just creeps up. I too find I get get very (privately) ‘feely’ for a non outwardly feeling person (INTP). The elderly person with what looks like heavy shopping bags walking slowly down the road with their head to the ground. Is that just a moment, lost in private thought, or are they alone and burdened? The child trailing after his parents as they stride on ahead seemingly oblivious. Is he cared for and just dawdling, or does he struggle to be noticed and loved? The offhand comment from a spouse that no one else seems to notice but I can see the hurt in the eyes of the receiver. I know circumstances can’t be judged in an instant, with the perspective of an outsider. But still I feel, and sometimes to the point where it causes me pain.

    • Brenda Knowles June 15, 2014 at 7:43 pm - Reply

      You’re beautifully sensitive too. The cool part is how connected we are with humanity. A very rich existence indeed if we free ourselves of the heaviness every once in a while. 😉

  9. Brett June 14, 2014 at 12:01 am - Reply

    Yikes. This week, the acerbic, negative, antagonistic critic is my spouse…

    So, you know, if anyone’s looking for me, I’ll be in my cacoon.

    • Brenda Knowles June 14, 2014 at 7:02 am - Reply

      I deeply understand. It’s difficult to remove yourself from immediate family. May your cocoon shelter and restore you or may you find some other light-filled individuals to lift you up.

      • Brett June 15, 2014 at 12:36 am - Reply

        Thanks, a bit of both, I think… and also thanks for your article… because that paragraph above that I referenced really hit home and inspired me later when I finally put my foot down… right after looking up how to say “acerbic” in French.

        Anyway, she’s clearing away the Kryptonite, and I’m feeling strong and determined in my red cape, again.

        • Brenda Knowles June 15, 2014 at 7:40 pm - Reply

          Awesome!! I love that you translate your message into French.:) Be strong! Wear red capes.;)

      • Brett June 17, 2014 at 1:59 pm - Reply

        Mais, oui.

  10. sheketechad June 13, 2014 at 7:26 pm - Reply

    For most of my life, I have been the keeper of other people’s secrets, their ‘safe place’. One of my close friends calls me ‘an empath of the highest order’ (she’s a leeetle dramatic, an E,lol!) But I have learned that if I do not step back, and put a barrier between me and other people, I will crash and crash hard. I can barely move from the weight of others at times, mentally. I am far more selective these days; in fact, literally cutting off drainers who kept me around to unload into. Some of course, are related, and you can’t deal with them so neatly and quickly.

    Lately, to get out from under the heaviness, I read, especially something cathartic, that allows me to emote through a character and peel those other people’s skins off of me. Also, I write, privately, in addition to what I write publicly.

    I’ve been highly emotional lately, due to writing about painful things as my own method of catharsis. Emotion is something I try to keep reigned in, as I tend to overwhelm others. It’s one of the most common descriptions of me, overwhelming, that I’ve heard in the last few years, along with ‘intimidating’ – not very empathetic sounding, eh? But I think most of this is due to the recent shallowness that has developed in our culture from over-exposure to too much intimacy: FB, reality television, perhaps even blogging to some extent. People now skitter away from true intimacy in shock, as if being actually face-to-face with it is alarming – many seem to need that barrier of screen of some type between them and authenticity.

    The last time I felt weightlessness? In the woods, back In March of this year during my primitive camping trip! And possibly last month, when I danced all night at a friend’s birthday party. Or that may have been intoxication, not sure 😉

    I hope you find some time to recuperate, and someone to give back to you. The draining times seem to get more difficult to recover from as we age; or perhaps it is just being alone that makes it more difficult for me these days, even though that is my current preference.

    Stay well Brenda!

    ~S

    • Brenda Knowles June 14, 2014 at 9:38 pm - Reply

      Oh S! I so wish we lived near each other. I think we would have lovely authentic conversations in each other’s kitchens.:) I promise I would honor your need for space.;)
      Reading is an amazing escape. It transports us away from the cling-ons and weighty worries of reality.
      I’m sure going through your recall of painful memories has caused a lot of emotions to erupt. Those wounds are so close to the surface and yet so deeply placed. I understand what you said about intimacy being exploited in reality shows and fb status updates. Face to face intimacy is too intense for most anymore. That’s the new word that I have been called in the last year – intense. I think because I do go deep with my thinking and I am overtly emotional.
      I’m so glad you have your primitive camping excursions. What a beautiful way to unload.:)
      I did find perfect catharsis today. I attended a Wild Woman Writing Retreat at one of my favorite friend’s house. 10 women authentically sharing. Incredibly cleansing although I do still feel like the tears are right there just waiting for the tiniest trigger to release them. I think part of it is PMS.;) The tribe of women who are my support system are such a gift. They make me feel not so alone. Take care of yourself S. You’re so incredible.

      • sheketechad June 15, 2014 at 8:28 am - Reply

        I am so glad to hear that you had a good day of recharge. You need to be fueled, as you give a lot both in person, to your family and in your multiple endeavors.

        Crying is cleansing, and some limited science points to the possibility that it releases toxins and identifies specific hormones found in emotionally-based tears that ease pain and reduce stress.

        That kitchen yakking sounds like it would be fantastic! Perhaps some day in the future we can at least get together over a tea or coffee or such – Maybe even a good Pinot Noir 😉

        Here’s to a new week, and recharges for all! Thank you for your kind words.

  11. introvertdear June 13, 2014 at 5:47 pm - Reply

    Your words are beautiful! I’ve always had people seek me out to talk about their problems, too, because, as you said, we provide compassion and a non-judgmental ear. I wish there were more INFPs in the world!

    • Brenda Knowles June 14, 2014 at 6:56 am - Reply

      INFPs are so tenderhearted. It might help if there were more of us. We could find strength in that and spread kindness and love!! Hippie world.;) I know INFJs are very similar. We should band together. 🙂

  12. Lauren Sapala June 13, 2014 at 4:39 pm - Reply

    So much of this post resonated with me. I really do believe that intuitive introverts are much more sensitive to negative energy, and we are also much more highly sought out by others when they need someone to help or hold them close with love.

    And I love that picture of the light with all the moths coming to it! Really made me smile! 🙂

    • Brenda Knowles June 13, 2014 at 5:43 pm - Reply

      Our talk on Thursday brought about much of this post’s substance, as I’m sure you can see.:) Thank you!

  13. jujujubee2002 June 13, 2014 at 4:27 pm - Reply

    Gosh it was a rough two weeks here, too – I feel you angel O:) and I was watching, cheering and crying to “So You Think You Can Dance” right along with you! OMG it’s so therapeutic! Thx for the soothing post & validation : )

    • Brenda Knowles June 13, 2014 at 5:45 pm - Reply

      I’m just finishing your book Julie so I feel like I’ve been breathing and experiencing with you for weeks! Ha ha:) I hope things are smoothing out for you so you can get back to center. Love SYTYCD!! My dance friend says she loves it so much it makes her go coo coo!;)

  14. Mema June 13, 2014 at 3:48 pm - Reply

    The world appears to be at a crossroads. On the one hand people are growing, evolving, accepting. On the other, people are harder, over – conservative, hypocritical. I am the former. I’ve recently discovered that something I’ve experienced for years (that I always self-labeled as “weird”) has a name: Auditory Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR). Like your introversion and sensitivity, it is an oft misunderstood sense much like the ones we already use to define our surroundings. I feel “weightless” when I acknowledge these differences and work toward living my life creatively and stress-free. I personally believe that the acknowledgment alone is a form of Evolution. That being said, others who are life-suckers, Debbie Downers, or just inadvertently sources of negativity often don’t realize it. That’s why mindfulness is so important. Recognizing your limits and saying, “I can’t do this right now” takes strong will and is a measure of individual, independent thought that can give people on the outside false impressions…but as long as you’re happy, you know “you’re doing it right”. If that person is meant to join you on that evolved cloud they’ll begin to wonder why you are so dang happy (instead of judge)! If not, just keep doing what feeds your soul. Your life. Your joy.

    • Brenda Knowles June 14, 2014 at 6:52 am - Reply

      The critical negative people can be very vocal.;) I feel like I have to be louder than them (exhausting) or walk away. Some people (family members) you can’t walk away from. I’m learning how to steel my resolve to honor my way of being (harmonious loving, positive). I have to or I get trampled or weighed down. I admit it’s difficult for me to constantly be vigilant about my needs and nature. I just want to rest, enjoy and be comfortable with others or be alone. I guess the ones that test us are our greatest teachers. I know I’v learned a lot about myself through this struggle. As you said, evolution.:)

      • Mema June 14, 2014 at 8:10 am - Reply

        I’m having a bit of trouble w/ family as well. Mine draw on their intimate knowledge of me…they know my triggers. But I’ve come to realize that I need to learn how to maintain my peace while with them and to set specific boundaries when I feel slighted or hurt. I’m still working on it. I hope that you find your own balance as well. Your blog seems to be helping you. 😉

        • Brenda Knowles June 15, 2014 at 7:32 pm - Reply

          Yes, my blog is my therapy, my one thing that I create and direct without consulting others.:) I hope you have a beautiful outlet.
          Boundaries…sigh. Mine are mushy but I’m steeling them a little every day.

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