We need to talk about a gap in the healing path for creative healing types, and the resulting lack of kindness that arises.
As many of you know, I often describe and identify myself as a highly creative person, as ‘spiritual but not religious,’ as a highly sensitive person (HSP) and as an empath.
Claiming these labels and identities over the past 10 years (and especially over the past 5) has been a deeply healing experience for me, because although I was blessed to grow up in a family that understood creativity and was filled with creative people, we weren’t particularly religious (besides the Catholic guilt that motivated my mom to enrol us in Catholic school), and although both my parents were on spiritual paths, somehow we didn’t talk about this as a family.
And even though my family was creative and supported creativity, my culture and society wasn’t and didn’t.
I also grew up in a family and culture that didn’t understand what being a highly sensitive person and an empath entailed.
This means that I grew up being told, often, at school, with my friends and at home, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, that what I was noticing was not true, that I was imagining things, and that I was just waaaaaay too sensitive.
These experiences led to crushing self-doubt, insecurity, a sense of being a perpetual outsider, not-belonging, and a deep reluctance to share my inner life with anyone for fear of being judged, condemned or excluded.
These are, unfortunately, common experiences for sensitive creative empaths, and this is also why finding a label for and descriptions of our experiences is often deeply empowering, and liberating. It becomes clear, finally, that it’s NOT all in our heads. That what we are is a ‘thing!’ Hallelujah!
However, I don’t tell this story or describe myself for pity or commiseration. I tell it to set the scene for what I really have to say. Which is that I’m entirely sick of people like me.
I’ve had one too many experiences with people like me – people who are driven to be of service, people who are committed to their healing journeys, people who invest a great deal of money, time and energy into their spiritual paths (in whatever form it takes, whether that’s Buddhism, yoga, a connection with Jesus, paganism, witchcraft, etcetera) and into taking workshops and trainings in order to bring transformation, healing and shift – who haven’t been able to offer the simplest kindness, even as they offer pretty words about ‘honouring where you’re at’ and ‘being present’ and ‘helping.’
God help the helpers.
Really, I mean it.
Goddess! Help the helpers.
Because we need it.
What I have experienced, and what I am witnessing in so many of my peers, the ones I resonate with, the ones I want to be friends with (yet someone have never clicked with), the ones who are so keen to help and serve their community, is a deep and heart-rending lack of empathy and kindness.
Here’s what I’m seeing. On this path of healing that so many of my tender hearted souls step onto (and me too), we seem to founder and stall out at the stage of discovering that we’re:
- highly sensitive people (HSPs)
- somewhat psychic
- deeply spiritual
- super creative
- highly attuned
We stumble across these terms, and we read the descriptions, and we discover ourselves in those pages. Elated, thrilled and relieved, we seek out books, talks and podcasts, healers and healings, and then we step onto admirable paths, start healing deep internal challenges and become greatly inspired to bring that healing and insight to others.
But somehow, we stop halfway there and think we’re done.
- we stop at the label and affix it to our chest
- we learn as much as possible about what it is that we are
- then we learn about why these qualities are denied and ignored and suppressed in our cultures
- then we learn about how to claim these names and qualities as our own
- then we learn that self-care is important and boundaries are necessary
- and we grasp at techniques willy-nilly and start claiming our voice and our ‘no’
- and we think we’re done.
Yet, as people with all of these qualities we’ve dropped the ball.
We still haven’t learned how to really take care of ourselves and set healthy boundaries that aren’t too porous, or too rigid, we haven’t claimed ourselves as autonomous people because we still somehow identify as ‘different’ and not-belonging, and we somehow, still, are grasping at traditions from all over the place, but haven’t inquired into our own lineages and ancestry and that’s a problem.
After self-labeling and seeking healing we dive into offering healing to others but somehow, there’s a coldness. A lack of kindness. An inability to still sit with ourselves and others. And even if we’ve convinced ourselves otherwise, it’s true. We’ve dropped the ball. We’re halfway there.
Because what’s missing is a wholehearted presence and an abiding and steady kindness.
So, yes. I’m a very very sensitive person. And I’m a creative artist and empath and I’m driven to help and be of service and this is all very noble.
But it’s not enough. Because I’ve experienced just a few too many acts of deep unkindness, of deep coldness, coming from people like me, to feel good about the state of where we’re at.
So I’ve started stopping. Stopping my attention from automatically going to all the subtle things I’m tuned into. I’ve started listening, instead, to the person in front of me. Saying Hi. How are you? Then letting things unspool from there. It’s quite an amazing thing, practicing sitting with myself and someone else, and resisting all attempts to explain, understand or change the present moment and person.
The trouble with being an empath and a highly sensitive person, is that we’re often the LEAST empathetic people.
We’ve got a compassion deficit that comes from overwhelm.
As sensitive empathic people we feel SO much that often our primary focus, when we’re dysregulated and ungrounded (and I’ll argue that most people are, but in particular, most HSPs and empaths are, in our current industrialized societies) is oriented around relieving the pain and discomfort that arises from feeling, sensing and knowing too much about other people.
When we become motivated to ‘help’ in order to relieve the discomfort in ourselves that arises from this subtle knowledge, we’re not being kind. We’re not being empathetic. We’re just not.
It boils down to this. All the skills, all the self-knowledge, all the psychic abilities and all the ‘knowing’ we have about anyone else in our sphere – it’s all useless if we can’t bring in the kindness that starts with “Hi. How are you, really?” and continues with a commitment to sitting and listening to that person, without doing a damn thing about it. Just listening.
Not avoiding. Not fixing. Not pathologizing. Not labeling, or judging, or avoiding or helping.
If we can’t step out of a self-centred desire to help, we’re not useful, helpful, or kind.
My new mantra has become this: What is most kind in this situation? And how can I be so and do so wholeheartedly?
Let me be clear about something: being kind doesn’t mean being soft and yielding and a pushover.
Being kind means asking yourself this: Can I enter this situation in a wholehearted manner? And if the answer is yes, Can I do so and wholeheartedly engage with people, without rushing to ‘fix’ and without rushing to retreat?
If the answer is no, then ask this: Can I express that decision in a kind way? Meaning, with radical responsibility. Without blaming or shaming myself or the other, but owning that if I can’t engage wholeheartedly, I need to tune into myself and discover what is necessary for me to return to a state of wholeheartedness.
Being kind means saying no a hell of a lot more often. Instead of avoiding, or retreating, or pretending, or shutting down.
Being kind means saying yes with a full-throated full-bodied upswell of joy. Or not at all.
Being kind means accepting who you are, and working more responsibly with those qualities. When you have skills that require a great deal of attention and high needs for replenishment, you accept it, you’re kind to yourself. And then you drop the special badge that tells everyone that as a highly sensitive, empathic and psychic you’re entitled to special treatment.
Being kind means dropping everything you ‘know’ in order to simply say ‘hi.’ To simply ask the person you’re engaging with about them. Their day. Their loved ones. And to listen in.
So what?! So what if you’re so highly tuned in that your psychic predictions are 80% accurate!?!? They’re not always. And even if they are, it doesn’t mean a damn thing if you can’t connect with the person you’re about to drop that information on, and pause to find out HOW they are actually doing.
Chances are, the questions they’ve arrived convinced they need answers for aren’t all that important. Often, they (and we) are simply seeking a person who is willing to sit with them (us), in all of their (our) pain, misery and joy, and BE.
Why this essay? Why this topic? Why now?
Far too often over the past few years I’ve experienced, in myself and in many other HSP/empath/spiritual/healer types, a disconcerting rush to either fix, ignore, predict and diagnose, masked by highly sophisticated healing-type languaging, without a corresponding commitment to being with the pain, allowing someone’s process to happen, and dropping any sense of ‘knowing.’
Yes we know plenty. And so what!?! Who cares?! It just doesn’t matter without kindness and presence.
So now what? What do we do about this? Here I am lecturing and claiming to ‘know better.’ Yes, I am. It may be hypocritical, but bear with me. This is the question I’ve been chewing on over the past few weeks.
As people who are creative, spiritual, highly sensitive empaths, how do we pull ourselves out of the mudbog on our path and move from the rigid boundaried edges of self-protective self-labeled states into a still-sensitive but resilient state of wholehearted kindness?
I believe this transition requires a few things:
Radical responsibility. By taking ownership of our sensitivities and doing more than just claiming our labels and skills, but learning how to hum and shimmer and thrive within those states. By really learning how to be as we are without needing to distance, shut down, fix or retreat in the face of our heightened sensitivity to others’ pain and distress.
Radical responsibility requires tuning into our embodied ‘no’ and listening and attending to ourselves, then really tuning into our wholehearted yes and diving in. Not holding back and dropping the fear of overwhelm.
By claiming a sense of belonging. It requires letting go of any thoughts or feelings of being the outsider (even if you have highly attuned and invaluable outsider perspectives.) It means you finally, 100% accept that you belong here. To mother earth. To your body. To yourself. To your communities. That you truly do belong, and that no one can take away from you. That even if and when people say it, you know in your bones it’s not true. Claiming a sense of belonging is crucial.
The path to that is by re-regulating our nervous systems. By learning the tools and skills of self-care that ACTUALLY nourish us and replenish us, so that we can engage with the world, our people and our clients/colleagues/loved ones without overwhelm, despair and self-isolating (skills which are found by people trained in Somatic Experiencing, Self-Regulation Therapy, Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy, and other such related trauma and nervous system focused therapies, btw.)
By finding and accessing our joy and pleasure. The more we commit to having and inviting joyful and pleasurable experiences into our lives (in whatever forms they may be), the less permeable and overwhelmed we become, the more resilient, playful, grounded and kind we become (there is no downside to this.)
By turning not only inwards, but downwards and backwards, and re-learning our ancestral, cultural and spiritual lineage. In impoverished amnesiac cultures we grasp onto traditions that have either not been appropriately taught to us and/or are also not ours (aka cultural appropriation). Or, in some cases, they are ours, but there is still no grounding in history, story and culture. So we turn towards our own lineages, and we reclaim them. We rediscover them. We uncover and connect with the roots that ground and nourish our highly attuned branches.
By practicing kindness. By catching ourselves when our sensitive overly-empathic tendencies send us into the dark side of coldness, shutdown, ‘fixing’ and unkindness. Because I know I certainly don’t want to return to a healer who, in my moment of deepest need (for a simple connecting presence) gives the chilly response of a dysregulated overwhelmed empath whose fear of feeling my pain causes her to shut me down and shut me up, all while ‘keeping up appearances’ of being kind, interested, friendly/mystical and helpful.
I don’t need that kind of response. You don’t need it. No one needs it.
So I’m making the case for kindness. Clarity. Presence. And radical responsibility.
Which means I’m making the case for people like me to get sick of themselves too, and start pulling themselves out of this boggy stuck spot, and putting themselves back onto the path of kindness, clarity, presence and radical responsibility.
Because then we’ll be getting somewhere!
Is this resonating? Has it, perhaps, struck an uncomfortable chord? Great! I can help.
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