Being an empath- Illness, boundaries and the dark side…

I am an Empath. I am also a Highly Sensitive Person, and an Introvert. I had never heard of these terms growing up, and in this time now where labels and identity seem to have taken on much larger importance than ever, I was at first reluctant about calling myself what I am.

As though by labeling it, it either implies my essential nature is a like a disease, or that I am being self-important by implying I am a ‘victim’ of my spiritual gifts- thanks to how some people throw the term ‘empath’ around, it can sound like sort of a spiritual ego kind of label. Something that justifies me feeling sorry for myself because I attract selfish narcissists and there’s nothing to do about it but wallow in my lonely little room, crying for myself and for the world. Whatever.

Being me is none of those things, although having a cryfest every now and then is super healthy and I recommend it. And I have attracted people with narcissistic or selfish tendencies, but I have learned a lot from them. They are my greatest teachers. More on them later.

From my experience being sensitive, empathic, emotional, introverted and intuitive in a patriarchal society that values extroversion, superficiality, facts and rationality, emotional dissociation and competitive individualism, its hard for folks like us to feel like we belong, or have a place in this world.

My ‘gifts’ can also make me sick. Living in a big city, sometimes just taking public transit can sap every last bit of energy and sanity I have left. All it takes is one fight between strangers or being wedged in on a streetcar during rush hour on a hot summer day, picking up on all the emotions, thoughts, and smells around me to give me a headache, nausea or backache.

I have also had anger, jealousy and energetic vampirism all directed towards me by other people—and physical symptoms often arise shortly after.

20181019_140937It is hard being an empath, a highly sensitive person, and an introvert. It really is. Not only can it be hard to be accepted or function in society, we struggle on a daily basis carrying much more than our share of the emotional and energetic pain load- silently, invisibly. Some of us may even struggle with chronic pain, or our own trauma history, and never be quite sure if the pain we are carrying is ours, others’ or the collective’s. Perhaps its all three. 

I know that when in the throes of severe endometriosis pain I have had strong feelings of rage and grief stemming from what felt like hundreds of thousands of women through the generations, all over the world. Images of dead babies, women being raped and beaten, and of war came up, all trapped, living inside of me, begging to be heard. I could feel all of this inter-generational pain, anguish, grief, all this painful blood, inside of me– in a womb that’s had enough, that’s so done, yet screams because there isn’t enough screaming going on. Talk about overwhelm on all levels..

Being an empath can be hard but we are not victims! Being this way comes with responsibility- learning how to use it constructively rather than letting it destroy us.

We are gifted with a 6th sense- other than just feeling what others feel and knowing what they need- we can also get intuitive impressions of who wants to hurt us, and why. We can sense danger way ahead of time and avoid it.

I can feel when someone is angry with me. I also feel and ‘see’ their old childhood wound it stems from- I feel them and their pain- it’s crystal clear.  I find compassion for this person, for their wounds, and forgive. The next step then is to LET GO. That last part is the hardest for me- because the energy may have latched onto one of my existing wounds, or a physical weak spot. And shaking it requires some extra effort after forgiving and mentally letting go. Suggestions on this, to come..

The point is: We don’t need to carry others’ pain load on top of our own. Even if their stuff reminds us of our own, we must recognize that it’s not.  Just because I empathize with them does not mean I need to carry their troubles for them.

That’s right- we don’t need to rescue. Just because we can sense what someone needs, doesn’t mean we always need to fulfill those needs. We are only responsible for ourselves. We are responsible for creating our own life to the best of our ability. 

Sometimes the most kind, loving and helpful thing to do is to allow people to deal with 23632498_10159431570100212_3594777028949179900_otheir own issues. That’s their path of growth. We need to focus on our own stuff. That’s why I appreciate the ‘selfish’ people I’ve attracted in my life. They showed me that I needed to be a bit more like them. That my energy is my own and I choose how I want to spend it in this one precious life. Narcissists are ill and hurtful but they reflect back to us that if we focus on ourselves once in a while we can avoid being weighed down by others’ pain. And then, we will have more energy to pursue our dreams, passions and help people in more effective ways.

I spent my entire life carrying other people’s pain because I thought it was somehow my job, my responsibility, something I did since I was young to survive. Self-sacrifice is highly valued on my catholic side of the family. It is a virtue to be lovingly resentful. You’ll go to heaven if you suffer for others. Feel perpetually guilty and you’re a good person.

Truthfully, thanks to colonization, our society is built on these old, oppressive religious values. But, even the modern and ‘woke’ among us can fall into a judgmental, pontificating trap- if you aren’t vegan, eco-conscious, politically correct 100% of the time and super ethical, shame on you. You are a bad person. If you bottle-feed, raise your voice, or go to work all day, then you’re a bad mom.

The path of ‘compassion’ has a dark side. Caring deeply is fine, but carrying pain hurts and can make you resentful. Perhaps you want others to suffer along with you. You may wish to pull others down when they are happy, or judge and punish those who, in your eyes, have too much good or appear to live ‘selfishly’. But that’s not responsible or kind. It creates a negative spiral, and perpetuates pain. But pain can feel more comfortable than taking care of ourselves and being happy.

There’s someone suffering more than you, so how dare you be happy?

Look out for this underlying message- in your own mind, or in your environment.

For empaths, and for many moms, we often don’t need to be more ‘informed’ to feel the pains of the world. We feel the pain of the world deeply and self-sacrifice on a daily basis. We need to focus on healing our own wounds and protecting ourselves, so that we can give more to our family, and create a richer, happier life for our loved ones, friends, and clients without resentment.

For a long time I’d prefer to carry extra pain than to stand up for myself and draw boundaries, because that was way too scary. I feared total rejection and exile. Then slowly, since about age 30, I awakened to reality. My physical pain was getting terrible and emotionally I was very low.

I started asking myself: Why do I carry this resentment? Does this kindness and generosity go both ways? What am I getting out of this relationship? Where does this ‘need to be needed’ stem from? How come I feel drained after helping people, and how can I be a healer and mother without resentment?


In this culture that doesn’t value emotional awareness, maturity, or self regulation, and rewards women for being self-sacrificing, those of us with the empathy tend to take on too much. Because we can. Because others sense that we can and are willing to. But we don’t have to suffer, we can choose not to take stuff on.

We can be happy and free while still being our genuine, sensitive selves. It just takes some work. And we will have to confront our fears about setting boundaries- remember, it’s often the kinder thing to do for others as well as yourself. When you are happy, you make it more possible for others to be.  

Here’s some stuff that helps me deal:

Be honest about how you feel with others, and set boundaries. Practice ahead of time how you will say ‘no’. This takes time and patience. Reward and encourage yourself when you face your fears and stand up for yourself. It is hard when you are the caretaker in a relationship. The other may get pissed off. But if they are meant to stick around, they will get over it, understand and respect you. If not, they never cared about you to begin with and aren’t worth the energy.

Invest in reciprocal, balanced relationships. Cut out or transmute unbalanced ones. Your energy is precious, don’t waste it.

Time alone in your own space– I do this daily to help me process and unwind.

Salt baths and showers– I find water very therapeutic. I add intention and visualization of all the gunk that isn’t mine being washed away and going down the drain.

Smudging/smoke clearing. I burn sage mostly, but other herbs such as juniper, rosemary or Palo Santo wood. Smoke clearing can help remove excess energy and static picked up from your environment. I have my own prayers that I do along with this.

Visualization: This can be used for cleansing and protection.

For cleansing: I often imagine standing in a flowing stream or river under a full moon. The light flows down through my head all the way to my feet and the water takes it away.

For protection: I like to imagine a bubble of light surrounding me. The color varies- sometimes I imagine black swirls of smoke to ward off really negative vibes. Some people may resonate with a wall, or stronger boundary.

Wearing protective crystal& symbols – such as smoky quartz, jet, a quartz programmed for protection, or any other crystal you resonate with as protective to you. You may also resonate with other symbols of strength and power, such as a sword, arrowhead, hammer, shell, shield, anchor, pentacle, Eye of Horus, Hamsa hand or spiritual symbol you resonate with.

-Cultivate and prioritize your own spiritual practice

Creative expression– write, draw, sing, dance, channel all those feelings!

Honor your uniqueness. Don’t feel guilty about being who you are, even though you are in the minority in a world that doesn’t celebrate you, see you, or understand you. You aren’t alone, and you have a well of inspiration, beauty and love inside you that is worth nurturing, and creatively manifesting. Don’t give up and keep doing you!

If you are not an empath yourself, but have a friend or loved one who seems to be, who listens intently to all your stories- show this person gratitude. Hold space for them to share with you, and make sure to reciprocate.

It may take time, and gentle prodding to get them to open up to you because they are so used to listening and may feel extra vulnerable when sharing. But they wish to be heard too. Be patient, and let them know you care, won’t judge and their words are safe with you.

Be well, and stay true my sensitive friends!







It’s Ok to Sit This One Out. Choosing Your Battles..

For Type A’s, and those with chronic illness or mental health struggles: It’s ok to sit this one out. It’s ok to just walk away sometimes.

We don’t have to be all out, all the time. We don’t have to fight every battle we are invited to. We don’t have to prove ourselves to everyone who demands it, especially our own shadow. Sometimes we just need to be with our pain for a bit, or let it go. Do what we need to take care of our self.  

One of the most repeated lessons that comes up for me, is knowing when to fight and when to put down the sword.  Sometimes, we have no choice- for some people, especially those more oppressed and marginalised, battle is necessary for survival on a daily basis. And that can be exhausting. For some people, maybe the more Type B personality, or relatively healthy people who struggle with procrastination and lethargy-  good kick in the pants is the right thing.

But, often for those with chronic illness or mental health struggles- self-care is a matter of conserving much needed energy- and sometimes choosing not to fight is the best option.

It may not even be a fight or a battle- just something that requires a lot of our energy- and we need to check whether it is worth it or not. In the last few years, probably thanks to my chronic pain, and innate perfectionist, Type A nature, I am much more keenly aware of how I am spending my energy and whether it is worth it. My body usually tells me the answer through pain, fatigue, or just feeling ‘not myself’. For someone like me- who likes to be active, participate, experience life in as many ways possible, having chronic pain is a real bummer. And so is being an introvert, and a Highly Sensitive Person. Different parts of me are often at cross-purposes, and I need to make a lot of quick micro decisions to keep myself healthy and well. I am sure some of you can relate.

Asian woman with samurai sword on the nature

I find as I get older and wiser about myself, I note the things that use up a lot of energy, and the things that aren’t worth it. Perhaps you’ve heard of the ‘Spoon Theory‘…

The ‘Spoon Theory’ is an analogy those with chronic illness and mental health struggles use to describe to others the limited energy they have, and how going through the motions of simple daily tasks may exhaust and deplete them compared to an average person. It’s pretty simple- ‘spoons’ are a measurement of energy. Some people have more spoons than others. Each task throughout the day requires a certain number of spoons. Some of us run out earlier than others. Some tasks require more spoons for us than others. For one person, taking a shower and going grocery shopping takes up half the day’s spoons. For someone else, it barely makes a dent in the number of spoons for the day. They have plenty more spoons to spare.

Another example, someone may find 6 hours of sleep a night enough to replenish all their spoons. Often those of us with chronic illness/mental health struggles need at least 8 and often more.

Even if we don’t have a chronic illness, I think it is wise to be aware of where our energy goes on a regular basis and honor our own limitations. For instance, lately I have been paying more attention to the nature of my thoughts- I notice my mind has been very busy running around in all directions and how draining that is on my energy. I notice that when I dwell on negative thoughts- past, present or future oriented- it takes up a lot of spoons. So, I am experimenting with catching those negative/fearful thoughts early on- and if they are unproductive for me, I try to move that energy into a productive course of expression. I might do a breathing exercise or do calming visualisations if I am in public.  if I am home, beat my drum, write it out on paper. I also like to use aromatherapy or physical exercise to calm and ground myself. Often, I find my spoons get saved by doing these things.

What about political/social/spiritual/interpersonal conflicts? What about those battles we fight- for ourselves, for loved ones, for those people and causes we care about? Sometimes, it can be extremely draining to try to explain or educate someone on your point of view when you don’t have many spoons left. Especially if that person is highly unlikely to see things from a point of view other than their own and/or simply wants to fight with you for some personal reason. It can also be very depleting if something someone says triggers us, and we go into a deeply wounded place inside of us or have trauma flashbacks.

This can happen anytime, with anyone. It an happen in person with family or friends, or with friends or strangers online. Online is where things can get dicey- because we don’t have the nuances of face to face contact. For me, online conversations take way more spoons than face to face conversations. Because, trying to convey a thing in writing, in a way that is clear, takes more energy for me- and I value the physical and emotional impressions and connection that we glean in person or even through a phone conversation.

With family and loved ones, there are deeper, older strands of emotional baggage to move through, and that can take a whole day of spoons if we don’t know where our line is.

So, I try to check in and see if this activity or battle is worth engaging in. We can ask ourselves:

How many spoons do I have left right now?

Is this battle/activity worth it?

Is it a productive use of my energy?

Will saving some spoons now leave me more for a future time when I can deal with this more effectively?

Is now the best time to handle this?

Is there another option here I haven’t considered?

What would happen if this time I just walked away?

What would happen if I said that while I care deeply about this issue, or this person, right now I just don’t have the energy and that’s ok?

Give yourself permission to be strong yet passive. To care, but rest. To take care of it all by doing nothing.

To hide so you can replenish and emerge anew.

We don’t have to be all out, all the time. We don’t have to fight every battle we are invited to. We don’t have to prove ourselves to everyone who demands it, especially our own shadow. Sometimes we just need to be with our pain for a bit, or let it go. Do what we need to take care of our self.  

My mantra is to be kind to myself. Its simple but it saves me spoons.

Dancing with Issues in our Tissues- Embodiment, Pleasure & Pain

We all struggle living in our body- at least from time to time. I’d be willing to say that most of us, if not all of us find this ‘meat suit’ we carry around at odds with our human desires at many points throughout our day.

The topic of embodiment (consciousness & body as one) is endlessly interesting and personal to me. Living with chronic pain as a mover & dancer, having an uneasy relationship with my own sexuality due to sexual assault & harassment, societal messages, inter-generational trauma, being in a female body in this world- all ad up to a complex relationship with body. What am I embodying, exactly? If it is my soul, or the Sacred Feminine, and my body is flawed, my womb is flawed, how can I embody the vastness and beauty I feel inside?

Our minds are powerful. We can separate our consciousness from our body by placing it solely into our mind and imagination. We can choose to focus on one important task at the expense of all others. We can astral travel, we can meditate, we can focus all our will into actions that are at odds with our bodily needs to help us achieve specific goals through our day. It may be what distinguishes us from animals, but I am not sure where that line really is. Perhaps it is a uniquely human thing to dissociate from our body willfully?

We can slip into more serious forms of dissociation as a protective survival mechanism against trauma. It is a way to escape the full impact of our feelings, enabling us to survive. For example, we may develop addictions or other coping mechanisms to help us live life after trauma. Sometimes our coping mechanisms outlive their purpose and can be destructive.

Many of us are familiar with common manifestations of not being embodied: Repetitive strain, athletic injury, dissociation, addiction, bad dietary habits, lack of sleep, overwork, stress/burnout, etc. Some of us may also have experience with slightly less common manifestations such as eating disorders, body dysmorphia, gender dysphoria, cutting, suicide.

Living in a body is hard. Harder for some of us than others. Yet, we can distinguish an aspect of ourselves as separate from the body, an essence that inhabits it. We have a saying that we are ‘Spiritual beings having a human experience’ and all religions have some form of belief that we have a soul or spirit that is living in our body. When we refer to ‘embodiment’ in the holistic health community and the conscious dance community, we are speaking about the tangible body and intangible spirit harmonising into this deeply present, grounded and yet transcendent state of being. It can feel truly ecstatic, euphoric, natural and grounded, yet blissfully otherworldly all at the same time.

When it comes to these sort of what I’ll call ‘embodiment practices’, such as conscious dance, pagan rituals, tantra, hatha yoga- practices that bring us into our body, we may find they also tend to bring us into our pain, into our limitations, because when Spirit meets body, it goes through layers of complexity- emotional, mental, psychological.

If we are accessing Spirit through the body, we are going to have to go through the ‘muck’ of repressed emotions, desires and fears, possibly lifetimes of trauma, karmic imprints, inherited trauma through DNA, environmental toxins, coping mechanisms, societal pressures and expectations and more.

Amazing Yoga

Our issues live in our tissues, as they say. And, naturally we work to transcend them- by working through them, being in relationship with them. Sometimes it seems they don’t really go away- we just learn to live with them instead of fighting them. Sometimes they dissolve. It’s a bit mysterious sometimes. It is ongoing self-awareness, really. Those new levels of self-awareness sometimes lead to freedom, joy and self-acceptance.

Speaking from a chronic pain point of view, I find it extremely inspiring to watch professional dancers, as they move in ways I cannot. Dance is my favourite art form, and I think it is because they seem to have figured it out- how to transcend the limitations of the body while also accepting them. How to push beyond comfort zone after comfort zone, without breaking. How to create something beautiful, something that expresses the freedom of spirit while still in form. I strive to do the same. In my own body, in my own way.

I am one of those people who processes all my emotions (and often, those of others) physically. Its like everything must get funnelled through my tissues. I sometimes wonder if I am making up for lifetimes when I neglected my body. Or, it could just be that my healing path requires that I focus on this relationship with my body as the primary way to feel whole, to feel my Spirit.  It draws me in again and again, so that no matter how hard it feels sometimes, when my body just won’t do what I wish- I must come back into a patient, loving relationship with it, and must face the totality of my emotions.

Chronic pain gives us an opportunity to keep refreshing our relationship with ourselves. We don’t have the luxury of ‘checking out’ as much as others do, as our body screams for our attention like a newborn baby. We must tend to our wounds. Now. Our body often does not do what we ask, when we ask. Its like having a much more ‘spirited’ child who requires special attention. Others with well-behaved children look on, perhaps thinking it is us that is the problem. We need to pick our battles. Accept the wild child we were given and do our best to not compare ourselves to others.


For 17 years, I have been practicing yoga and for 12 years now, I have been bellydancing. And I have gained perhaps a deeper insight into the healing impact of the ripples and sacred shapes we make in the dance that only someone with chronic pelvic pain can appreciate. I may also have more experience with dissociation while dancing than most, due the pleasure/pain combo that comes with it. For me, it is a healing art and mind-body practice, and that is how I teach it, combined with yoga and meditation.

For my path, as a dancer, a mover, ecstatic dancer, yogini- My most favourite feeling in the world is how I feel when I dance, move and stretch. The feeling of not being in pain is blissful. Movement releases endorphins and the circulation helps me feel better. It releases tension and emotions and layers of accumulated energetic gunk. But its more complex than that.

Sometimes, after a fun, vigourous dance class or practice, I’ve been in pain for days after. This is why I was not able to continue in one of my beloved dance troupes. This was the case before my excision surgery. I would feel fine during the dancing itself but afterwards would pay a hefty price. Eventually, I wasn’t able to dance at all. I was restricted to very basic gentle movements prescribed by my pelvic physio. It felt like starting from the bottom all over again, like all my years of mind-body practice went in the garbage. It was incredibly humbling and frustrating. But it was just a hurdle I had to work through. For me, my practice evolves in a circular fashion- one step forward, two steps back, around and around again. But I am moving forward, up a spiral of healing, in my own way.

I am inspired by people who do what they love against the odds. An example that having a physical disability or limitation is not always a red light on living their passion. However, I also understand that sometimes our limitations are a way of showing us new things to engage in and new ways of expressing ourselves. Either way, there are lessons and hard work that should be recognised.

Even though I don’t aspire to anything Hollywood, I am glad to know there are strong, successful women out there with endometriosis, including Whoopi Goldberg, Susan Sarandon, Hilary Clinton, Julianna Hough from Dancing with the Stars and more.

And there are amazing painters who are blind. 

And not just one but several  famous composers who were deaf. 

So, maybe a body with limitations is given to those with the strongest will & passion to accomplish their dreams. Maybe it is a lesson in refinement, patience and self-love.

Either way, embodiment keeps me endlessly inspired and motivated.