Monday, June 24, 2013

Touch-Starvation, Emotions, and Empaths

I was a weekender at #PaganSpiritGathering this year--my first year--and it was fantastic.  There's a lot to say and write about the time I had there, even though I was only there for two nights.  I don't know how much I actually will write about.  But I'm going to start with the thing that touched me the most because that's fresh on my mind.

I only went to two workshops because it rained all Friday and there weren't any on Sunday.  The one that touched me the most was an empath workshop.  An empath is somebody who has a psychic gift enabling them to experience the emotions of other people as if they are their own.  Most people have at least some empathy.  It's a huge part of the survival of the human species, regardless of whether you believe in psychic energies or not.  When somebody refers to themselves or another as an "empath" it usually refers to somebody with an extreme level of empathy, sometimes interfering with a person's life.

My own story starts... well, forever ago, figuratively speaking.  I have always been empathetic.  It's ironic because people tend to characterize me as being cold and distant.  This is in many ways a survival response because being an empath actually really sucks sometimes.  I wind up bogged down and drained, I have a hard time looking people in the eyes, I cry over things that I don't understand (or sometimes even care about), and it's difficult to touch people.  After a while it's hard to experience emotion for yourself and it can even be difficult to distinguish between your own feelings and other peoples'.  I've also been in several relationships with people who were very adept at draining my energy because I'd be there trying to help them with emotions I was also feeling only to have them entirely ignore me if I needed the same or if they couldn't get anything else out of me.

I didn't start using the word "empath" until the first public, largish Pagan gathering I went to, and even then not so much because I've always been worried another empath will try to dispute that fact and I will get embarrassed.  It was an Ostara ritual in either 2004 or 2005 that was being put on as an educational experience at my college.  An older woman approached me, smiling widely, and exclaimed, "You have the gift!"

Which was really fucking weird.  I had no idea what she was talking about.  I was a mediocre Tarot reader, I didn't cast that many spells, and I was not particularly adept at much of anything as my primary practice was worshipful and not practical.  So my first thought was "wow listen to this ridiculous new age hippie."

She pulled closer and said, "When you feel like crying, just wiggle your toes and count back from three and that'll make you feel better."  Now, you might be thinking "That's also really fucking weird."  And it is.  But just a couple days earlier I had been having heebie-jeebie feelings because I was on my way to the cafeteria and had the serious urge to start crying.  As I was holding back the confusing tears, the guy in front of me hung up his cell phone and told his friend that he just learned a loved one of his died.  I wound up having to go to a bathroom stall and get it out of my system.

Most of this went away with  hormones and giving up vegetarianism.  The first year of T in particular I was relatively narcissistic and in turn very good at blocking other peoples' feelings.  The dampering of that empathy was nice.  I missed it in some cases, but mostly it was nice.  Over the past several months, though, it's been creeping back at me and is now very close to peak force.  I went to the workshop because I'm having a slightly different time dealing with it, and being at PSG was surging me with a great deal of emotions, not all of which were mine.

So there I was with this group of people, mostly self-described empaths but some who were curious or had other (good) motives for being there.  The touching part was that when people told their stories they were so similar to mine... it was explained that most empaths dislike being touched, which is something I had never heard but which was confirmed by most of the people in attendance.  Many had also been told by strange people at Pagan gatherings the same things I had been.  And I could tell from looking around that many had the same difficulty holding back tears that I was having (a few didn't hold them back at all).

Anyway, the workshop ended with a guided meditation to cut cords between ourselves and people we should not need to be connected to as well as creating a shield.  My shield doesn't work yet.  I'm going to have to find a physical shield because I have a hard time making things I create in the meditative world transfer to the mundane world.

We also shared tips for releasing that emotion and there were some traits and interesting facts shared by the person running the workshop as well.
  • There was an interesting bit about touch-starvation.  Empaths who don't like touch avoid it because we get too much information or uncomfortable information from it.  But people who rarely let other people touch them are prone to health problems from it; one person insisted that we can die if we get too little touch.  I honestly think the assertion that if you don't touch other people it will lead to a fatal condition is rather hyperbolic (there are people who practically never touch who are just fine), but I can see that there is truth here.  Personally, when I go for very long periods without touch I get backaches and joint and muscle pain that almost immediately goes away with a short hug.  That's one of the reasons--among many--that I am likely to give a hug if somebody is either a close friend or actually asks first.  I just need that preparation first so that I can shield a bit.
  • One of the ways I deal with the back pain is by having my dog lay against my back.  I have long considered dogs to be master energy workers because of this phenomenon.  This may just be because I have an affinity with dogs, though.
  • The main advice given was to ground and shield, which is pretty standard.  We were advised to make a non-reflective shield because otherwise rather than just blocking peoples' emotions we reflect them back and people get mad at us.  I've never had that problem.  But it's an interesting thing to think about.
  • Visualizations with cold water, earth, and fire were suggested.  Physical use of water was also encouraged, which I did do later by swimming in the pond.
  • One person suggested blowing bubbles, which is a creative and interesting release.
  • The statement we were given to cut cords between ourselves and others is "I release all emotions that are not mine."
  • A lot of people have been told by strange people at Pagan gatherings that they were empaths.  So, well, we have that one in common too.