Our words and our story affect us and those around us. In a previous post, “You are the writer of your own story” I shared the importance of being the editor of our story. Today I want to share ways to protect yourself from the impact that both our own story and the stories of others can have on our own emotions and energy.
We’ve all been in a moment where someone is sharing with us. It may be in an outburst, in excitement or joy, in frustration and anger. Either way, their emotion has an impact on us. In my recent situation, someone was sharing something incredibly personal and painful. Their pain visible with every quiver of the lip, in every shiver I felt hearing their words. At this moment their need to let it out or talk about it is something to be honored with gratitude for the trust it brings. But that doesn’t mean I have to take what they need to release onto myself. The lesson I’m working on is protecting yourself, and I wanted to share it with you.
In this circumstance this person meant no harm to me, they were simply sharing their experience of supporting a friend in grief. They didn’t know my experiences or know me enough to know I was placed in a trauma state as they told their story. As I stood and listened as my body tightened, my digestion went into a state of fight or flight and the tears welled up.
But why did I stand there? Why didn’t I say something? Why didn’t I excuse myself from the conversation?
Seeing the impact
We’ve all had experiences in our lives that shape our fears, perspective, values, and beliefs. They are often so ingrained that we don’t even recognize their pattern when they show up. For me, it is to be what others need without a thought to the personal impact or how to support myself. It continues to show up for me and each time I learn a little more.
In this situation, I found many excuses for not protecting myself. “It would be rude to interrupt”, “saying something about my experience would appear to be making it about myself” etc. It simply doesn’t occur to me at the moment that I can choose to not be there for the person.
What inevitably occurs is the need for a time of reset for myself. In this case, I was up all night with tears and pain in my abdomen as my body relived my own trauma. My experience reminded in this moment of a quote from Gandhi, “I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet”.
And here is an interesting addition, it isn’t necessarily about the person intent it’s understanding the impact on me. Because let’s face it even someone’s joy can have a negative impact. Maybe they are celebrating having something you have faced a loss from.
In the end, we really have no control over the intent of others, their actions are theirs. All you can really do is understand how it shows up for you. The emotions, the resistance, the patterned responses and protect yourself. And then, decide how will you respond, what support will you need and how will you remind yourself that it is okay to honor that.
6 Things to Protect Yourself
1. “Does this emotion belong to me?”
This is a very powerful question, you see it allows me to either detach from the ownership or accept it as my own. It helps me to create awareness of the effect and of my choices such as; this isn’t my emotion and I can have empathy for this person without attaching it to my own experience. Maybe the emotion is mine to own, it could be my reaction or resistance, this knowledge allows me to focus on my own self-awareness. Or, maybe I need to not share this emotion, maybe it is just not right for me and I need to honor our relationship by being honest and saying I simply don’t have the capacity to be helpful. In my last post about “Managing the pain of grief and stress” I talked about some tips to help.
2. Do I need space?
This is a friendly reminder that I am in control of how close I want to be. I can even test it, excuse myself to the bathroom or to get a drink. If I feel relief or like I’m missing something important at that moment can be a powerful indicator.
3. How am I breathing?
Such a powerful question! Our breathing can tell is a lot about our state. When the breath is short and shallow this indicates my body being in a fight or flight response. When my breath is relaxed and steady this indicates that I feel calm and safe and that my body is in rest and digest. By taking a moment to connect to my breath I have an easy way to cut through all my possible emotions to see how my body is responding.
4. What is my body feeling?
For me, it’s my gut that responds first as I feel fear and deep emotion. As I shared in this most recent experience my stomach was quick to respond. By taking a moment to listen to it I could have made another choice for myself.
5. What would make me feel safe or calm at this moment?
This question allows me to visualize what I need. By shifting into a visual mode I move into a creative state while also allowing self-awareness to kick in. It may be a hug, a walk in the park or some self-care. Whatever comes forward opens up choices I can lean into. It can also be helpful to visualize a white light surrounding us as a shield of protection that can block negativity or physical discomfort while also allowing the positive in.
6. What gratitude can be found here?
This allows me to connect with the lesson, the love, and light of the moment. No matter what I’m facing I can shift my state by connecting to the positive. It may be a positive person or energy, the lessen available or any number of positive forces.
How do you re-find your balance? Share in the comments below.