THE EMPATH’S GUIDE TO MANAGING FEELINGS

When you’re an empath, feelings, even other people’s feelings, can be so powerful they become overwhelming.

Empaths are notorious for feeling ALL THE THINGS. Which is both a blessing and a curse. For some, emotions can get so overwhelming that they become frightening. When negative feelings show up, there’s often a fear of going out of a control and feeling that way forever. When loved ones are in pain, there’s this need to fix it because you’re feeling it, too. Trying to fix things for people gets exhausting and can eventually lead to really restrictive ways of interacting with people. Emotions you perceive as negative, both within yourself and others, become intolerable. You might try to control your feelings, and maybe even other people’s feelings. You try to block out the bad and embrace the good. Unfortunately, you can’t banish pain and get only joy. So with this avoidance of the bad feelings, you tend to lose the full impact of the good feelings, too. And so the tension builds. Your shoulders get tight. Your stomach hurts. Your head aches. You might be able to express your emotions when you paint, write, or sing, but you find it hard to be truly vulnerable with those you love.

Think about a time, probably when you were a kid, when you felt you could express yourself freely. Remember how loose you were? How easily you could move between utter devastation and vibrating joy? How you could ache with someone else and then move on to gleefully play with another? You just naturally knew that feelings were nothing to be afraid of because feelings were temporary.

As you got older, you started to learn that adults had to “keep it under control” or “suck it up”. You got messages about certain feelings being appropriate only at certain times. Or maybe you saw first hand how destructive anger, sadness, or fear can be when they aren’t handled well. Maybe you’ve been stuck in your own depression or anxiety before and you’re terrified of going back there. So you try to move away from the bad feelings and try to make sure others don’t have bad feelings either.

But here’s the irony of it all: Feelings only become dangerous if we try to change or deny them. 

Sadness, anger, and fear are not inherently bad and in fact, are necessary to our wellbeing. Pain tells us when we need to take care of ourselves. Or when we need to change something. We prolong our suffering when we avoid our pain.

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You can learn to feel negative feelings without letting them take over your life.

You already have many, many times. You really can handle the full range of emotions from yourself and from those around you. Here are a few tips to help you through the process:

1. When a negative feeling arises, take a deep breath, feel it, and allow yourself to just be. If you get scared or anxious that you might get stuck there or go off the deep end, tell yourself, “This is only temporary.”

2. Empaths in particular tend to have a lot of guilt around feelings like anger and frustration. You can see the other person’s perspective, so you know why they’re being the way they are. But just because someone has been hurt before or has learned to cope in a certain way, doesn’t mean they have a right to treat you badly. If you feel guilty, remind yourself that you have the right to feel whatever it is you feel. Try to remove the judgment and self-talk about what you should be feeling. Instead, think about how you can take care of yourself. Do you need 10 deep breaths? Do you need to talk a walk? Do you need to engage in your art? Do you need to call a friend for support? Sharing your guilt over your feelings to the right friend can help alleviate the pressure.

3. When you have trouble knowing what’s your feeling and what isn’t, take a moment, breathe, and assess. Ask yourself, “Is this mine?” If you find that you’re feeling something that isn’t yours, remind yourself, “I am not responsible for other people’s feelings.” Then do something physical. Go for a walk or run or do some yoga. One trick I like is to rub my hands on my arms and legs in a sweeping motion, like I’m dusting the bad feelings off of me. Like this!

Feelings are fleeting. Thoughts are temporary. If you get anxious about something, it doesn’t make you an anxious person. If you get angry at someone, it doesn’t make you an angry person. If you’re sad, you’re not automatically a depressed person. The same goes for the people around you. It’s ok to feel however you feel at this moment. It’s what you do with your feelings that matters.

 

YOU’LL NEVER BE READY

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“I’m not ready.”

I hear this often when people talk about why they haven’t started to pursue their passions. “I haven’t learned enough. I need more supplies. I need more time. I haven’t practiced enough.”

My response:

“How will you know when you’re ready?”

99% of the time the answer is, “I have no idea.”

Being ready to pursue creative work is tough. Often there is no certificate, no graduation, no significant marker that says, “Ok, now you’re ready. Go create.” But the truth is there’s no amount of preparation that will ever make you feel completely ready. Did I feel completely ready to be a therapist when I got out of grad school? Hell no! But I had to start. Because the only way you can know whether or not you’re ready to do something is to actually do it.

How many times have you heard a success story about someone who just jumped into a profession without really knowing what they were doing? Stories like that are SO annoying! We often jealously chalk stories like that up to coincidence and luck. But the main difference between that person and the rest of us, is that that person had the humility to accept that didn’t know what they were doing and the courage to just dive in and learn as they went.

When we say we’re not ready, what we’re really saying is that we’re afraid. Probably afraid of screwing up, being seen, or being judged and criticized. We’re afraid of what it will do to us when we get right up close to our dreams. It’s scary to pursue a dream. What if you fail? What if it turns out you don’t like it? Then what?

It’s scary to show people your art. It puts you in a very vulnerable spot. You open yourself up to SO much. Think about all the hating and judging you see from your friends on social media every day. We live in a culture of constant criticism. So that fear you feel? Totally valid. 

But it’s not an excuse to limit yourself.

I know you’re afraid. I know you don’t feel ready. But I also know you’ve got something amazing and uniquely you to share with the world. Someone out there is waiting for it. They want to read it, see it, hear it, smell it, taste it. Someone is ready to be thrilled, moved, and inspired by you. Gather your courage, balls, ovaries, chutzpah, whatever you want to call it, and start now.

And when you get afraid of what people will say when you show them what you’ve got, keep this incredible quote from Theodore Roosevelt in mind:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly.”

I’m ready to see YOU. 

I challenge you to do something courageous today. Share something you’ve made, something you’re working on, or even just the start of your creative journey on Instagram with the hashtag #courageouscreatives and tag me @empoweringcreatives. I may even repost what you have to share.

Or share your work, links, images, writings, thoughts, ramblings, whatever you’d like in the comments below.

You’ll never be truly ready, so you might as well start now.

5 WAYS TO STOP CARING WHAT PEOPLE THINK

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I talk to myself. All the time. If you see me walking down the street alone, you’ll probably see me talking to myself. It’s how I plan and process ideas. If it stays in my head and doesn’t come out of my mouth, it’s not tangible to me. It’s just the way I work.

I know I look crazy, but it’s not really something I can stop doing.

I also run into things and fall. All the time. I’ve had many a friend laugh at my stumbles over the years. I’ve actually got great balance, just no spatial awareness. The other day, I twisted my ankle walking down unfamiliar steps because I was reading my email. I fell, cursed, checked my ankle (it was fine), and then looked around immediately to see if anyone saw me. No signs of life. Hooray! Just then a security guard walked up and said, “Are you ok, Ma’am?” I laughed and said, “Oh, I’m just learning the lesson: Don’t look at your phone while walking down stairs.” He laughed, too and we went our separate ways.

Now, I could walk around for the rest of the day thinking about this incident. I could be mortified and beat myself up about how dumb it was, how much of an idiot I am, and how I should pay better attention, damnit! Or I can learn the lesson, laugh at myself, acknowledge that I’m a human being who makes mistakes (that security guard is human, too, by the way), and move on with my life. I choose the latter.

Because it’s a choice.

But the choice isn’t, “Care or don’t care about what other people think.” The choice is really, “Love and trust myself or don’t.”

I know I’m not crazy. I know I’m not an idiot. So why would I care if someone else thinks I am because of some momentary interaction?

Is this choice always easy? HELL NO. It takes a lot of time and practice. This is especially true if you’ve spent most of your life valuing external opinions and devaluing your own, relentlessly chiding yourself when you make a mistake, are in a bad mood, or fail at something. In the therapeutic world, we call this “negative self-talk” and in my opinion it’s one of the best places to begin when you want to stop caring so much about what others think.

So, how do you get rid of negative self-talk? I’ve got some suggestions…

1. Look at the actual evidence

Are you really an idiot who can’t get anything done? Or are you a person who screws something up every once in awhile? When we’ve done something wrong, get embarrassed, or someone criticizes us we often feel shame. Not guilt, but shame. As the researcher Brené Brown has noted, guilt tells us “I’ve done something bad”, while shame says, “I am bad.” Big difference there. That voice saying, “You’re stupid! What were you thinking! They’re all gonna laugh at you!” is shame. Give shame a reality check. Are you really dumb? Nope. Are they really all gonna laugh you? Nah. (Unless you’re a comedian and you want them to. But even then, not everyone is gonna laugh. Sorry.) When you look at the evidence, you’ll probably find that much of it is contrary to that nasty negative self-talk. If you have trouble finding that better evidence, keep digging. It’s there. I know it.

2. Talk to yourself like you would talk to a friend

I say this one all the time, but it bears repeating. If you really can’t seem to talk to yourself in a helpful, loving way then think about how you would talk to a friend who was in your situation. Would you say hateful, mean things to your friend, calling them stupid over and over again and dwelling on their mistakes? Or would you try to comfort them, contradict their shame, and offer to help out? My guess is you’d choose the second option (if you’d do the first, I doubt you’d be reading this blog). So why do you deserve any different? Because you know better? Because you just should be perfect all the time? Nonsense. Why should you be perfect when everyone else gets to make mistakes? Talk to yourself in that same comforting, reasonable voice you talk to your friends with. You might not believe it at first. It’ll probably feel weird. Do it anyway. Just try it a few times and see what happens.

3. Forgive yourself

YOU ARE A HUMAN BEING. I’m sorry, but you’re not a robot. Not yet… You are imperfect and you always will be. None of us are perfect. What even is a perfect person, anyway? If you think about it, the opinions on perfection vary pretty widely. So how can you possibly live up to anyone’s expectations? Be you and when you screw up, and you will, forgive yourself. Sometimes that even means forgiving yourself for talking to yourself badly.

My father died in May after a long battle with Alzheimer’s. This last year, I was just not myself a lot of the time. It was hard to function normally. I made some mistakes in that time and I’ve worked hard on forgiving myself for them. Recently my energy healer (yes, I’ve got one of those) said, “You might need to forgive yourself for judging yourself.” That was hard to wrap my head around. But really, it’s about forgiving myself for that negative self-talk. Because sometimes when we catch ourselves talking to ourselves badly, we can then get down on ourselves for getting down on ourselves! Isn’t that ridiculous? Just writing that sentence feels ridiculous. So, when you hear that negative self-talk, shut it down and try not to judge yourself for judging yourself. Forgive yourself. It’s ok. You’re human.

4. Find the lessons

Talking nice to yourself doesn’t mean you get to get away with not learning anything. Life is trial and error. When you make a mistake, think about how the mistake was made, and then decide whether you want to make it again. Error is useful, but you get no use out of focusing on the error and freaking out about it. Stop, look at what happened, learn the lesson, and try again. I like to think of my computer engineer brother who essentially figures out how errors occur for a living. Understanding how something happened is useful, but you can’t learn if you’re stuck in a shame sprial. Like I said when I fell down those stairs, “Whelp, that’s why you don’t walk and stare at your phone at the same time.” It’s a lesson – a funny one – and that’s all it has to be.

5. Remember: No one really cares what you do

It’s a paradox: People are watching and they aren’t. Most people are so wrapped up in their own lives that they really aren’t paying much attention to what you’re doing. But when they do notice and say something, it’s helpful to trust and love yourself, so it’s easier to brush it off. Because…

When you’re more centered within yourself, you’re less likely to get thrown around by the opinions and actions of others.

Now I want to hear from YOU! How does negative self-talk affect your opinion of yourself? What helps you let go of how others think of you? How can you apply these steps to your creative work? Leave a comment or question and I’ll be so happy to answer.

WANNA GET PAID? SET CLEAR BOUNDARIES

Oh, gee, thank you for this change. I can buy a hot dog today!

For some reason in our culture, and others, it’s been decided that artists somehow only work for fun and that creative work is worthless unless it’s high-brow or for corporate gain. Isn’t it strange how artists are told their work is worthless and yet they’re called deadbeats for not making money?

If you’re fed up with being expected to do things for free, I’m here to say: It begins with you.

Through my experiences with my own work, and with my friends and clients in various creative settings, I’ve learned that setting your own personal boundaries can help tremendously when you’re trying to get paid.

How do you do that? Start with these four simple ways to help you get paid for your creative work.

Set your prices

This might seem like an obvious point, but many artists who complain about not getting paid for their work don’t seem to know how to value their work. So ask yourself – What does my work cost? How much is my time worth?  Think about the cost of materials and the time spent creating. Go out and look at what other people charge for similar work. Don’t undervalue your work out of fear of judgment or self-doubt. 9 times out of 10, creatives think they’re worth a lot less than people are willing to pay. Set a price that’s just a little bit too high for your comfort and stick to it. As more and more people start to pay that price, you’ll get more comfortable with it.

Create contracts

There’s no better way to ensure you won’t get paid than by doing a job without a written agreement. If your work is gig-based, you need clear guidelines regarding what your job is, what you’ll be paid, when you’ll be paid, and who owns the creative work once it’s complete. I know, it feels weird to lay out a contract, especially at the beginning because you’re usually working with people you know. But if you’re gonna get serious about getting paid for your art, you need to do all the serious things that go along with that.

There are several resources online that provide templates for service-based contracts. Check out this one from rocket-lawyer or this one that’s specifically tailored to artists. I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t guarantee the legality of these contracts for you. I suggest contacting a lawyer yourself. Here in Baltimore, you can contact Maryland Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts for inexpensive legal help. They even hold $5 art law clinics about 10 times a year to help artists learn how to protect themselves legally.

Be clear and direct

Let people know what you do and what it costs up front. If you’re wishy-washy or unsure, it’ll show and people will take advantage of that. When you want to be paid, ask to be paid. If you choose to volunteer your time or skills, be clear about how much you are willing to give and then only give that much. Resentment often builds when you’ve given away too much. In the end, you only do what you say “yes” to. So be clear about what you’re willing and not willing to do. (Hint: outline that in your contract!) Don’t let someone else (or yourself) push you into saying, “yes” when you really want to say, “no.”

Get ok with saying, “No.”

This can be SO hard for highly empathic creatives. I get it – you want to share the love. And you’ve heard over and over again that you have to “pay your dues” in your industry. But here’s the thing – when you continually work for free, people continue to expect you to work for free. If you’ve been doing your creative work for a couples years and you’re ready to start getting paid, you need to start saying, “No.” It doesn’t require a big explanation, even if the person throws a fit over it. “No” is a perfectly ok thing to say when you really want to say it. Yeah, it’ll be scary at first, but when you put your foot down and show your worth, people will respect and know your worth.

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Bottom line: You don’t owe people free work.

You deserve to get paid for your contribution to the world And the more creatives that stand up and say, “Pay me”, the closer we’ll get to changing the culture around paying for creative work.

What do you think? 

I’d love to hear about your experiences with getting paid and not getting paid for your creative work. When you haven’t been paid, but thought you should have what could you have done to change it? Are there certain situations where it would be right for someone not to be paid for their work? How do you want to help change how creative work is valued?

SOLO ARTISTS AREN’T SO SOLO

soloWe Americans idealize independence. Even the most socialistic, progressive people I know can get down on themselves when they can’t hack it and get things done all alone. It’s a weird thing we’ve all convinced ourselves of. We know deep down in our guts that we need people. Loneliness has a purpose: it tells us that it’s time to reach out to people. But instead of reaching out when we’re feeling down or lonely, we think, “No, I’ve got to do it on my own.” Nonsense!

I KNOW this stuff. I studied couple and family therapy – all about the importance of connection and how people interact and help each other and I STILL hate on myself for not being able to get stuff done when I try to exist in a vacuum. Reprogramming your brain is hard.

I work with people all the time who think they have to do it all on their own. I think a lot of our struggle comes from this belief. I’m always asking my clients who they can reach out to. Whatever it is we’re working on, other people can help. At some point in our work, they often say, “Hey, Lauren. I just realized that when I involve someone else I’m able to really stick to my guns and get stuff done!” I congratulate them and often laugh and say, “Who knew?! Oh wait, that’s what we’re doing right now!”

But that’s the difference between knowing a thing and actually doing a thing. It only gets into your bones when you actually do it. You can say you know you need other people until you’re blue in the face, but when you’re struggling with your creative output do you beat yourself up for not being able to do it alone? Or do you tell someone about your plans and ask for advice?

Here’s how connection helps me creatively:

I haven’t made much solo music in the past year. It’s been a rough year. But being in my bands and having people ask me to compose, arrange, or perform for their events has kept me going. I am SO thankful for them because making music keeps me sane. Plus, being asked to do new and different things inspires me to think differently about my work. I try out new instruments. I write in ways I’ve never written before. It helps me EXPAND. Because believe it or not, I can be really stubborn and boxy about what I like and what I want to create. (I can hear my best friends sarcastically saying “OH REALLY?”) So, when someone asks me to try something new, I try to check in with myself. There are clear YESes and NOs… and then there are the fearful, scoffing NOs. The ones that say, “Oh, I’ve never done that before. Why are they asking ME? That’s SO not a thing I do!” I try to follow the fear and attempt the thing I scoffed at. It might not work out, but I get to do something different and new and stay fresh with my ideas.

It usually does work out, though. Maybe not in the way I expected, but it pays off somehow. With new ideas or recognition. Always with new friends or deeper connections.

So, if you find yourself stuck and saying to yourself ,“WTF, why can’t I ever get anything done on my own?!” Remind yourself that no one does it on their own. Not even writers! (Although you all probably have the least collaborative art.) Even the most hermity creators experienced life with others at some point. They read other people’s books, listened to other people’s music, saw other people’s works and were inspired to make their thing.

Remind yourself of this and then go tell someone about it – preferably another creator. Share your struggle. At the very least you’ll probably get a little commiseration around it. At the most, you’ll get an offer of help or maybe even a new idea.

So what’s your struggle? Share in the comments! Maybe someone will read it and help you out.