Sometimes the Fear You Feel is Not Yours
I woke up with a dream this morning that reminded me of some feelings that I had in elementary school. The primary feeling was fear, but there didn’t seem to be any reason for the fear. I was reluctant to relate to people even though they were friendly, open, and hospitable really wanting me to join them. When I woke up, I thought to myself, “What am I afraid of?”
Then I remembered my first-ever day of school where I felt completely overwhelmed and hesitant to go into the school setting. There wasn’t a lot to be afraid of, but what I was feeling, which at the time was completely unconscious to me, was all the fear and anxiety from everyone else. It was their feelings that I was feeling, but it felt so much like my own feelings. I was absorbing their fear. I am sure this is the case for many people. It could explain why it is so difficult for people to reach out and readily initiate inclusion in the world. In fact it seems to me that it is the people who are less empathetic that seem to be running the world.
Empathy is a positive quality because it informs you of how others feel, but if you have no way of knowing which feelings are yours and which belong to others, then it can be a huge nightmare. Sensitive people, without training, can get totally overwhelmed and wiped out.
What I have learned is that you can sense what others are experiencing and be trained in how to recognize the different states, and then even young children are good at helping others cope with what they are feeling, but to be unconscious of the feelings of others means that you will probably take them on as if they are your own. Once you know that the state belongs to someone else, then you can begin to have a lot of choice about what to do in the environment. You can ignore the situation or help the person with fear, for instance. You can maintain your functional state rather than being overcome by all of the fear.