As an Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) coach specializing in supporting Highly Sensitive Persons (HSPs) and empaths, I've been on a profound journey of self-discovery and understanding the intricacies of emotional sensitivity and empathy. In a previous blog, we explored the hidden effects that being an HSP or empath can have on our daily lives. Today, I want to delve deeper into another aspect that some of us may encounter along this path: the rejection or blocking of our emotional sensitivity and empathy. Having personally experienced this issue, I found that working through it was crucial in discovering my true self, establishing deeper connections with myself and others, and living a more fulfilling life.
Recognizing the signs of rejecting emotional sensitivity and empathy
From my own experiences and while helping others, I've noticed that HSPs and empaths can embrace or reject their emotional sensitivity and empathy to varying degrees. Those who wholeheartedly embrace these qualities tend to openly express kindness, compassion, and emotional sensitivity. They wear their hearts on their sleeves and generously give love to others in their personal and professional lives.
However, there are instances where some HSPs and empaths reject certain aspects of their emotional sensitivity and empathy due to the challenges they faced. This may lead them to become detached, aloof, or guarded. Even if they remain kind and giving, they may do so more carefully and selectively.
It's important to recognize that there's no right or wrong way to be an HSP or empath. In my journey, I once found myself leaning towards the latter category. But at a certain point in my life, I realized that I had built a protective wall around myself, which made it difficult to experience the full range of emotions. While this shielded me from certain unpleasant emotions, even enabling me to be productive in high stress situations, it also left me feeling disconnected and unable to fully experience joy. An underlying anxiety persisted, and it was only much later that I uncovered its cause. Eventually, I understood that this protective wall also kept me from being fully loving towards others. In doing so, I denied an essential part of who I am as an HSP and empath, creating uncertainty about my identity and purpose in life.
Understanding why we reject our emotional sensitivity and empathy
Do you recall a time in your life when you were perhaps more sensitive, empathic, and giving? And do you remember when that changed?
Numerous reasons can lead us to reject our sensitivity and empathy. Often, we learn that these qualities don't serve us in specific environments. For example:
We may have been judged or didn't fit in with others because of our emotional sensitivity and empathy.
We may have judged others for their emotions, particularly if their feelings led to behavior that harmed us.
Having certain emotions or empathy may have felt too painful, hindering our ability to function or succeed in certain settings or situations.
We may have experienced being penalized or taken advantage of because of our kindness and compassion.
Such painful experiences can create fear and judgment around our emotional sensitivity and empathy. We may end up believing that if we rejected these qualities about ourselves, life would be easier and we would feel better about ourselves.
But it's crucial to recognize that when we reject these qualities — which are such an essential part of who we are — we're ultimately judging and rejecting ourselves. If you're continually suffering from anxiety, self-doubt, or low self-confidence, could that be because you're continually judging yourself? If you ever feel like something is missing in your life, is it possible that what you're missing is a connection to yourself?
Moving beyond fear and judgment of our emotions, emotional sensitivity, and empathy
Learning to acknowledge and accept our emotions
Before addressing the rejection of emotional sensitivity, it's essential to acknowledge that most people tend to reject certain emotions to some degree. Society often teaches us that having, feeling, or expressing unpleasant emotions is unacceptable.
Many of us live in busy environments, in which getting things done takes priority over taking time to feel and process our emotions. We habitually disconnect from our emotions on a daily basis to move on to the next thing we have to do.
In addition, it may have been rare for us to have been among family members, teachers, or peers, who were able to simply hold space for us when we had unpleasant experiences and emotions. For example, "toxic positivity" — a term used to describe and challenge the culture of only having and showing positive emotions — has recently become popularized. But for many of us, this is the culture in which we grew up. Instead of being allowed to be sad, we were likely told to cheer up. Conversations with people outside our inner circle tend to be positive and superficial. There are few places and situations where we feel safe enough to truly feel and openly share our unpleasant emotions and where we feel heard and accepted.
In addition to sadness, society has also taught us to judge other "negative" emotions such as fear, anger, jealousy, and shame. Consequently, we may try to suppress them with the hopes of being a "better" human being.
However, I gently invite you to consider a few points:
These emotions may feel unpleasant, but they're not inherently bad. Sometimes we may have associated unpleasant emotions with harmful behavior, but they are two separate things. For example, it's okay for us to feel angry; it's not okay to use that anger to abuse someone.
If we want to move out of these unpleasant emotional states, self-judgment isn't the solution; it only exacerbates the issue. For example, if we find ourselves angry and then become judgmental about being angry (by feeling angry, guilty, shameful, etc.), we've just added fuel to the fire.
Suppression also doesn't make the emotion disappear; the emotion is still being held in your body. To understand this, simply recall a moment when you tried suppressing an emotion. Most likely you'll still feel the energy of that emotion somewhere within you.
What then, do we do about these unpleasant emotional states? Taking a mindful and intentional approach to be okay with having these emotions is actually the first and crucial step towards non-judgment. In fact, by allowing ourselves to acknowledge and have self-compassion for having an unpleasant emotion, this can give some relaxation and relief to our mind and body that allow the emotion to begin to move through us instead of being stuck in us.
One of the most common challenges that I see HSPs and empaths have when they're trying to work through their struggles is their resistance to feeling the emotion of anger towards other individuals. Because there is such an innate desire to be good and kind to other people, there's a tendency to suppress anger with noble intentions, for example, to practice forgiveness and compassion or to preserve social harmony. If the anger is related to family members, it can be even more challenging. If you find yourself in this position, consider the following:
Achieving true forgiveness and compassion for others often involves extending these feelings to ourselves and allowing the processing of our own emotions, including anger.
If you're seeking social agreement and harmony, it's worth considering whether you genuinely feel comfortable prioritizing others' emotional needs over your own.
Feeling anger towards someone for a specific action doesn't diminish other feelings we hold for them, such as love.
Remember, it's essential to strike a balance between being compassionate towards others and nurturing self-compassion. When we can have self-compassion, we stop fighting with our emotions. This process is actually one part of EFT that allows emotional transformation to begin to occur.
Understanding the roots of our negative beliefs about our emotions, emotional sensitivity, and empathy
But what if you're overtaken by such strong feelings of fear and judgment towards your emotions that they simply can't be overcome by an intention to acknowledge and accept them? Similarly, what if you have strong feelings of fear and judgment towards your emotional sensitivity and empathy? Underlying these strong feelings is a deep-rooted belief that it's unsafe or wrong to be emotional, sensitive, or empathic.
At times, some HSPs and empaths can be critical of the intensity of their emotional sensitivity. For example, imagine that there's an emotional sensitivity scale that ranges from 0 to 20. If they fully felt and expressed their emotions, their sensitivity could be at a 20. But they prefer not to, so they try to suppress their emotions so they're at a 0. As I discussed in my earlier blog, I believe that HSPs and empaths have an innate emotional sensitivity. However, certain emotional reactions to specific situations might stem from past traumas that are triggered. This presents an opportunity for introspection and healing. But taking personal accountability to change our reactivity to specific situations can be done without beating ourselves up about how we currently are. Instead, we can have self-compassion, fostering understanding and empathy toward ourselves. As we address these prior wounds with compassion, our reactivity and emotional intensity diminishes, paving the way for us to be more comfortable with our innate sensitivity — possibly being closer to 10 on the sensitivity scale.
What else could lead you to develop strong negative beliefs about your emotions and sensitivity? For example, maybe you had experiences of expressing your emotions, but you didn't feel heard, supported, or accepted. Or perhaps you resonated with some of the four experiences listed earlier that could have led you to feel hurt or ashamed about your emotional sensitivity and empathy and to consequently reject them.
Sometimes, it may be necessary to work through the emotional pain from these types of experiences to undo the hold that the resulting negative beliefs have on us. But there's one thing that also needs to be recognized about these experiences: they happened with specific people and in specific environments.
Rather than attributing these unpleasant experiences to being in the wrong company or environment, we often hold ourselves accountable for the "problem" of being sensitive and empathic. We were led to believe that we were "too sensitive," "too empathic," or "too kind," and that we needed to adapt to fit in. But could it be that we were just among certain people and environments that didn't fit with us?
If you're still surrounded by the same types of people or in environments that lead you to reject or suppress your emotions, sensitivity, and empathy, it's worth considering if you still want to interact with those individuals in the same way or stay in those kinds of environments. Imagine what it would be like to spend more time with people and in places where you can just be yourself.
Determining which emotional reactions to be personally accountable for and change vs. assigning accountability to others so you can honor who you are as you are can be challenging. This process often requires deep exploration, and having the guidance of a coach, therapist, or other adviser can be helpful.
The benefits of embracing our true nature
When these challenges are worked through so we're no longer in fear and judgment of our emotions, sensitivity, and empathy, we begin to understand that they serve a beneficial purpose in our life. The more that you understand and embrace your innate sensitivity, the clearer this purpose becomes. The clearer your purpose becomes.
This in turn will have a profound impact on your sense of self and how you experience life each day. By embracing your true nature, it will lead you to find a deeper connection with yourself, inner harmony, greater self-confidence, and to be able to live life with this newfound sense of purpose.