I started writing this post several weeks ago, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to post it. I worried it would come off as negative at a time when the world needs more positivity. Plus, it left me feeling a bit vulnerable and exposed, as it shares painful details of my past.
I awoke this morning with a new perspective. Today is the full moon in Aries – a powerful time for release and the completion of old cycles. Its potent energy can help us banish beliefs that don’t serve us well.
As a sensitive empath, who feels emotions deeply, two very common societal and spiritual beliefs have caused me great harm. By recently dismantling these false beliefs, I have been able to protect my energy, regain my self-worth, and fill my life with more love and joy. I hope these new perspectives will help you too.
#False Belief 1 – People Can’t Make You Feel Anything
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
The first time I read the quote above I felt a sense of freedom. As I thought about it more, however, feelings of guilt and shame arose.
The notion that I was the root cause of all my feelings of insecurity or self-doubt was both liberating and nauseating. If that were true, then supposedly I had the power to be confident, happy, and in control of my circumstances, all the time.
You mean to tell me that all the years of unreasonable, hypocritical standards, criticism, and unwarranted blame that I have experienced in my career and personal relationships were all my fault? I have been sad, anxious, and hurt without any reason at all?
Anyone with even a modicum of empathy for the human condition can recognize that’s absurd. People can and do make us feel. ALL. THE. TIME. It’s called bullying and manipulation and it’s insidious in our culture. Narcissists, sociopaths, and others with personality disorders are masters at these tactics. They lack empathy and morals, which means they are playing by a completely different set of rules from most empathic and sensitive people. Caitlin Johnstone sums this up well, “Manipulators would love you to think that it’s your fault for allowing yourself to be manipulated, but that’s just another manipulation isn’t it?” [article]
Roosevelt’s quote may have made sense in her time, when more people embraced the Golden Rule. However, we don’t live in that world anymore. The sooner sensitive, conscientious people recognize that, the healthier we will be.
The only way I have finally been able to reclaim my self-esteem and what little power I have, has been to fully accept that there are people who don’t have my best interest at heart and never will. They will attempt to hurt me regardless of my consent.
Empaths* – those who feel others’ energy – have an added level of challenge. Feelings and energy attach to us like a sponge. Empaths don’t always have consent over what comes our way, not at first at least. That is actually one of the core aspects of being an empath. We’re often knocked out energetically by the negative feelings, thoughts, and emotions of those around us without even realizing it. The last thing an empath needs is to be shamed or judged for our feelings when a large percentage of them aren’t even ours!
False Belief #2 – People Aren’t Toxic
“Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure that you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assholes.” ― William Gibson
For a long time I was truly surrounded by assholes. This quote from Gibson was a source of support amidst the platitudes that “people are not toxic” and that it is unkind and unspiritual to maintain that belief. My previous belief that people are inherently good and never intentionally harm others kept me tethered to abusive relationships for decades.
In my 20s and 30s, I had a lot of what I would call “frenemies.” They were people who pretended to be my friends, smiling in my face as they dug a knife deeply into my back. Sadly, I was married to one of those people. He often put me down or belittled my beliefs. Even worse, when someone would say or do something to me that was cruel, he would jump to their defense and say that I was overreacting. He repeatedly told me I was too sensitive and that all the problems in our marriage were my fault.
Shortly after we were married, I went to marriage therapy – by myself. For over a year, I spilled my heart out to a family therapist telling her story after story of all the hurtful things that the people around me said to, or about, me. There were the surface petty insults like “skinny bitch,” “you should eat a sandwich,” or “your hair is so frizzy, you really should cut it.” Or, the more biting comments like, “what a control freak” or “you’re selfish,” when I dared make choices that were in my best interest. I even had a manager chastise me for intimidating her. When I asked her what she meant and how I could fix it, she admitted that my mere presence irked her because I was thin and the other managers valued my opinion. She proceeded to take credit for my work and put me down regularly in meetings.
I felt incredibly powerless and used self-deprecation as a way to make people feel more comfortable around me. This made me an even easier target. My therapist heard all of this and reminded me that I was a good person, and that I couldn’t let anyone else’s jealousy or insecurities get to me. She looked at me one day and said, “Michelle you are self-aware and intelligent. There is nothing wrong with you. I don’t know how to help you.” She was a lovely woman, but her advice was basically, Roosevelt’s, that I had to stop consenting to all the abuse.
She never advised divorce. She never told me that perhaps I needed to take a good hard look at the people who were hurting me and avoid them at all costs. I think that like me, she believed that people were inherently good and not necessarily harming me intentionally.
That naïve belief literally ate away at me. My autoimmune conditions worsened as I developed crippling anxiety that flared when I was around certain people and situations. After an unbelievably insensitive and unsupportive reaction to my father’s death, and a failed attempt at marriage counseling, I couldn’t take it anymore.
With much trepidation, but a true sense that I had no choice (and I didn’t), I completely imploded my life, asking for a divorce, and walking away from it all so that I could regain myself. Once I was alone in my tiny rented townhouse, the anxiety stopped. The weight of the emotional abuse I had been enduring for 17 years finally became clear.
I can’t say that I have been completely asshole-free ever since. There have still been narcissists and manipulators in my life. However, whereas before I refused to believe those people meant me harm, now I have no doubts that they are in fact trying to abuse my kindness.
George Simon, Ph.D., the author of “In Sheep’s Clothing,” [paid link] is one of the first people to warn about this harsh reality. He has decades of experience with disordered personality types, many of whom are criminals. In his firsthand experience, he affirms that toxic, insecure people do exist and they know exactly what they’re doing when they harm others.** Sensitive people must embrace this fact, as narcissism is on the rise in the world. Protect yourself, and walk away from the toxic people in your life.
Good Advice Can Go Bad
I think much of the advice we are given tends to be far too general to apply to everyone. It focuses on being good vs. bad. But, few things are ever that clear. Life is filled with shades of gray. People themselves are shaded – not all bad or good.
We must question whether what we believe really serves our highest good. If someone or something makes you feel bad – trust that feeling. While we often aren’t able to give consent before painful feelings wash over us, we do get to decide what to do about those feelings.
I hope on this powerful full moon you release all that doesn’t serve you and welcome in positive energy that leaves you feeling happy and healthy! Namastė.
*If you want to know more about the characteristics of an empath, see Dr. Judith Orloff’s self-assessment test, “Are You an Empath?”
**Learn more about Dr. Simon’s work in this powerful interview with Meredith Miller, Understanding & Dealing with Manipulative People [Video]
Michelle Gibeault Traub is a health writer, compassionate coach, and the author of Online Dating for Sensitive Women. Her mission is to help women be their best in body, mind & spirit.
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