Why you’re an emotional sponge and five ways to Stop it

– Hi, I’m Dr. Tracey Marks them, and I make mental health education videos.  Today’s video talks about how you can take on other people’s emotions and how to stop doing it.  And this is based on a viewer question from Kelly, and she says, “Hi Dr. Marks.  “I don’t know why I always seem to attract  “emotionally intense people.


  “I get overwhelmed by them, and then I shut down  “and don’t have anything to do with anyone.  “So now, I don’t have anyone in my life.  “I don’t know why I end up with these people.  “How do I stop doing this?”  Thanks, Kelly, for your question.  I would start by saying that attracting these people. I think you should see the attraction as a people mirror. 

 There’s something about you that makes them intensely emotional person want to be around you and handoff their emotions to you.  But there’s something about them that draws you to them and allow you to tolerate their behaviour. Now what I’m going to say is not aligned with any specific theory of being an empath or highly sensitive person.


  Those are terms that have been researched and defined by others and have specific meanings to them.  What I’m talking about is my opinion based on general psychodynamic principles.  I think one of the reasons you absorb other people’s emotions has low emotional intelligence. 


 Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognise and manage your own emotions and recognise the feelings of others.  With high emotional intelligence, you’re able to distinguish between your feelings and someone else’s.  Making that distinction is important if you don’t want to take on someone else’s feelings and make them your own. 


 To recognise your emotions, you must have a certain degree of self-awareness—and want tone thing to realise that you feel bad.  But wrong is vague and non-specific.  You can feel ad because you’re angry,  ins late, bored, or feel empty.  And all of those emotions are very different from one another but can be put under the umbrella of bad.


  So at any given time, if you’re not clear on how something affects you, it’s easy to take on the emotions of someone else and assume what they feel.  Then, once you accept that other person’s feelings,  you have trouble managing it on your end.  Here’s an example.  Suppose you’re taking a break at work and you’re sitting at your desk watching a funny TikTok Video, your coworker,  who you consider a friend, comes you to you and starts ranting about how she’s so angry because her boss gave her a bad review and she didn’t get her to raise.


  She doesn’t see how a one can work in this place with this kind of boss who doesn’t care about anyone.  And she doesn’t know how long she’s going to stick around at this place.  Two minutes ago, you were laughing at the dog video you were watching.  But now you feel overwhelmed with anxiety about your position at work. 


  Should you stay in this job?  Is it even a safe place to work?  Later on that night, you have trouble sleeping because you may fear you may lose your job.  Now no one told you that your job is in jeopardy.  But you just have the sense that maybe it is.  Back at work, your friend settles down, and you even see her laughing with your boss about something. 


 So your anxiety subsides, and you start to feel that all is well.  And things begin to return to their usual.  But you still lost a couple of weeks of poor sleep and feeling anxious.  Part two of this scenario is that this person is your friend, and when she got this bad news,  you’re the only person she ranted to,  probably because you’re the only person who would listen. 


 But if you’re someone who doesn’t always know what you feel, or doesn’t feel strongly about things,  at some level, you may be attracted to people who have healthy, explicit opinions.  It’s not a deliberate process of saying to yourself. I don’t know how I feel, so I think whatever you do.  Instead, it’s an unconscious process,  meaning that it’s beyond your awareness that helps you deal with your emotional uncertainty by assigning someone else’s emotions to yours. 


 It’s unsettling to feel vague out people-pleasing about how something affects you.  And it’s reassuring to have someone who’s more resolved about how they think, swoop in and show you how to feel.  And this is an automatic process that happens as a reflex.  And what’s the evidence for that?  The fact that you keep attracting people with strong emotions that overwhelm you. 


 You have to be drawn to them in some way.  Another reason you may be drawn people with strong want toons that overwhelm you is being a people pleaser and needing to fix people.  If you don’t want to disappoint someone,  it’s easy to take the handoff when they present their intense, negative emotion to you.


  Here’s an example of this.  Suppose your partner tells you that he had this horrible thing happen to him where he felt exploited somehow like people were taking advantage of him.  And then he explodes about it and then storms off.  You’re left standing there feeling upset about what happened to him ad you feel bad for him. 


 Nevertheless, you have plans with your girlfriends to go to the movies later that evening.  So you start to get dressed, and he asks,  “Where the heck do you think you’re going?”   ou reminds him that you have plans with your girlfriends.  He explodes at you about how you could even think about going out with your friends after what he’s been through. 


 If you cared anything about him,  you wouldn’t be able to have fun.  You think, gosh, I guess that is pretty insensitive of me to go out and have fun when he’s so unhappy.  So you cancel your plans.  So to find something to do because he stormed off in a room by himself, you binge watch something on Netflix and fall asleep on the couch.


  You see him the morning, and he says he didn’t get a wink of sleep all night, and he doesn’t believe you care about him because how could you even sleep so peacefully after something like that happened? To him.  The rest of the day, you feel awful and think you don’t care for your partner as much as you should. 


 You convince yourself that you’re insensitive and you wish you could be a better person, and you start thinking of ways to be a better partner to him.  In this example, the people-pleasing part of you puts up with his need to see you suffer from feeling validated.  You don’t see it that way. 


 You buy into his assertion that the evidence that you care about him is that you take on the same emotion that he has and experience it for as long as he does.  And as long as he’s unhappy, you should be painful as well.  But because you don’t want to disappoint him,  you accept this assertion and own it. 


 This scenario works a little differently for someone who wants to fix or help instead of, please.  So the same thing happens.  He comes home and tells us about his upsetting experience that he had, and you feel pain for him.  He doesn’t need to tell you not to go out with your friends because you’re not in the mood anymore. 


 You’re so upset that you can’t see yourself having fun with your girlfriends or if you do go,  you spend the whole time with your girlfriends talking about his situation and how horrible those people were to him.  Even if you don’t take his side on the issue,  you’ve taken on a project of healing him.  And you’re going to heal him through your love. 


 But while you’re working to heal him,  you’re also experiencing the emotions as if it happened to you.  Now, these are not the only reasons that you can be an emotional sponge.  We just looked at two bases.  But let’s look at what you can do about this.  The first thing is to increase your emotional intelligence. 


 You start this by increasing your self-awareness.  In a previous video, I talked about getting into the habit of being specific about what kinds of emotions you’re experiencing at any given time.  I created these emotions cards to help expand your vocabulary when it comes to identifying general emotions and being able to make them more specific. , 


 You can download these cards from my website at MarksPsychiatry.  The second thing you can do is stop and think about whether what you’re feeling is coming from you, or is it because the way someone else felt?  Is the negative emotion you’re experiencing something that was handed off to you by? Someone?  Did you only start feeling this way because the person you care about felt that way? empathise


 And keep in mind, it’s not always bad to empathise with someone and react the same way they did.  That leads to the next thing that you can do: learn to manage your emotions so that they don’t overwhelm you.  And there are many ways to do this.  One way is to practice mindfulness meditation. 


 I have a video on managing negative emotions that includes a mindfulness exercise that helps you observe anger neutrally and accept it and let it pass.  So the idea is that you don’t have to run away from every negative emotion that you see coming.  But you want to be able to build an emotional force field around you that allows you to be in the presence of negative emotions, observe them, interact with them but keep them from piercing your soul and taking over your thoughts and behaviour.


  The fourth tip would be to ensure that you have proper boundaries between yourself and others.  Sometimes this is as concrete as having a physical distance.  So in this example that I had of the co-worker yelling at you about her experience,  in that situation, it may be helpful to push ba k and let there be more physical distance between her and you. 


 And it sounds elementary, but it really can make a difference.  Watching someone rant from a distance is an entirely different experience than having them rant right in your face.  It’s as if the further away they are,  the more that you can keep what they’re experiencing separate from you.  If they get too close to your personal space,  you can lose sight of what’s theirs and what’s yours. 


 The last tip has to do with the need to save people.  And there are different reasons you may do this for some people. It helps give them a sense of control.  You can take control of the negative things and make them positive.  It could also be a way to distract from your pain by focusing on someone else’s problem.


  For some people, they need a damaged person to fix to make themselves feel validated.  So there are lots of motivations behind the need to save people, and it can get complicated.  But suffice it to say that if you notice this pattern with yourself, it’s worth taking a step back and reflecting on what you’re getting out of it.


  What’s the payoff to you to change the way this person thinks or to make all negative things positive?  And I’m not talking about trying to save your child, self-improvement from experiencing the pain of growing up.  I’m talking about a pattern that shows itself, peer to peer with your adult relationships.  Alright, that’s it for now. 


 I could go on, but I don’t want an overload you.  But if you haven’t gotten enough,  check out this video on dealing with negative emotions.  See you next time.

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