The last two weeks could in part go under the headline “The Revenge of the Empaths”. It’s not really like any empaths had revenge on me, but I think my empathic “abilities” did, and further they knocked me down the slippery slope of wondering whether these are sort of telepathic abilities. Please take this with a grain of salt; as an example of how extreme empathic sensitivity can create unexpected and seemingly un-untangle-able problems.
1) I got into an unreasonable fight about b-s (kind of about nothing) with a person who for some reason was triggering me out of my mind, even though I felt in my heart clearly that in their heart they are not only well-meaning, but also warm. Luckily the fight was online this time, and “solved” by staying offline.
However, whenever I got online and was tempted to log into the relevant communication channel, I felt not just my blood pressure rising, my heart pounding, and my body trembling through a generalised panic reaction, but I also noticed my mind suddenly making up hundreds of possible ways that each of my moves might be criticised, or just directly criticising me for every breath I took. It’s like I suddenly grew a massive inner critic that was hell-bent on inner-rejecting every blink of my eyelashes, and convincing me I have bad intentions, too. And it went on for hours, obsessing, and I couldn’t make it stop except by completely mentally disconnecting from said person, basically pretending they don’t exist and promising myself I won’t communicate for a looong time, before having digested this at least (and even that wasn’t really effective in stopping it, still took some time).
So, if you read my blog or know me, you might notice that among the 100 mental problems I have complained of on here and in the general public, this is one that I haven’t mentioned before – because honestly I think it’s one I don’t have, for a change.
When I noticed that, it’s a bit like lightning struck me: a) my brain really normally doesn’t behave that way b) all the normal ways I have of fixing my own inner loop issues don’t work here, and sorry but – these ways are pretty effective by now. But on the other hand heck, actually there’s plenty of evidence (and yesterday I just got another piece) that this brutal rejection sensitivity precisely might be a problem that the other person has to a painfully high degree.
Of course I might be lying to myself here, and that’s why I’m writing this blog post as a kind of self-therapeutic help in untangling this mess. When I had a conversation with a trusted and reasonable friend on why I might be looping and obsessing and unable to get my mind off this relatively minor fight, and specifically, off feeling constantly attacked, rejected, judged and pre-emptively self-critiquing – which really doesn’t seem to be one of my personal traumas – she kind of suggested the obvious, that it’s some kind of shadow-projection issue. I see some rejected part of myself in the other, and that’s why I can’t just disengage or calm down and argue it out as constructively / assertively / respectfully as I’d like to – cause it’s not so much the other that itches me, but the aspects of myself that I see in them, and those I can’t get rid of by disengaging the person. That’s I would say kind of a standard psychological explanation.
It didn’t really help me that much though – sure, I could see that the other (in my eyes) was kind of an oversensitive, offended-by-anything jerk and yes – that is certainly some feedback I have gotten on my own behaviours in the past, whether justly or not (I still hold to the latter). But I was pretty clear on that and accepting of it from the beginning, and kind of feeling compassion for the person based on it (yeah, it really sucks to be perceived as a jerk if you’re just a well-meaning person with a trauma history – it really hurts). Like, if it’s in so much in plain sight, where’s the shadow part?
I can feel their pain from the situation (literally, I do it as I write and think back of it), and I’m (I think) pretty aware of having overreacted many times in my life, so it’s not like I believe any generally good person who overreacts deserves eternal contempt. I still keep scrutinising myself of whether I’m lying to myself here, but this being (purely) due to a shadow projection thing … doesn’t speak to me. Although yes, again, I’m aware that there is a part of me that I’m reminded of by the person’s behaviour – and I feel grieving compassion for both, actually, as I write this. It’s an extremely wounded part.
So let’s call this layer 1, the layer of shadow projection, from which some self-awareness and healing can probably actually be milked. But I think this is not all.
2. The emotional flashback bit – I’m reading Pete Walker‘s book on C-PTSD (based on a recommendation found in Sam Dylan Finch’s article on the “Fawn” trauma response) and he has decent criteria and examples for recognising emotional flashbacks. My second approach was, does this minor conflict kick me out of all physiological orbits for a couple of days because I’m re-living paralysing states of my childhood mind? This sometimes happens, but again I’ve become relatively adept at recognising it and … it doesn’t engender that kind of enduring state of confusion [anymore].
So, might be an aspect. Still, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced my mind extensively and aggressively criticising me to the ground as part of a flashback. Depression, general self-hate and self-loathing, sure – but active verbal criticism about weird things – not really, not that I remember. (I just didn’t have critical parents or any of the other experiences that would induce that, I think.)
3. So I finally surmised, or more had an “aha” moment of thinking it might be, heck, a variant of the “empath” thing again – just this time me not just experiencing the other person’s sensations as my own, but their freaking thoughts (at least in their style and spirit … I don’t claim my mind mirrors the literal thoughts, tho frankly I wouldn’t be surprised even at that :D). I thought about it a lot, and even though most people I’d suggest this to would regard me as crazy, I suppose, I actually think it might be a thing.
Because one thing I’ve learnt about emotions that I “catch” from other people (and mistakenly assume are my own) is this same weird persistence – not responding to any of my usual ways to interact with emotions – and the same weird out-of-context quality. In other words, 1) the emotion makes no sense in context, and 2) the emotion doesn’t lessen when I do appropriate actions that would otherwise lessen it (e.g. if it’s my own depression, resting often helps, but if I’m tuning into someone else’s state the sensation won’t go away if I rest – probably only if they rest or do whatever they need to do; if it’s my own anger, expressing and clarifying its subject helps, but if I’ve just copied the state of another person – well, trying to clarify what I’m angry about is a pointless cul-de-sac because it’s them needing to clarify, express, defend, assert etc.). [Side note: the same seems to go for post-traumatic residue emotions. If they’re mine, it often becomes relatively clear what needs to be healed inside. If I just copied someone else’s state involuntarily, carrying out the healing actions on me won’t help – has to be done on them, or, in a weird way, on both together.]
So ya, while this is already strange probably for people who haven’t dealt with it for years, in the last period I’ve increasingly started suspecting that this doesn’t just happen with to me with emotions (like, walking through a crowd and coming out with random peoples’ glued all over to me) but in cases like this odd fight, it might happen with thoughts on some level too.
I think it might be that I pick up and “echo” other people’s obsessive, persistent, emotionally intense thoughts. I do think that the person I had an issue with in all likelihood has the massive, loud type of inner critic that I was experiencing on and off whenever I came near a message from them (and only then, in my whole life). It was massively unsettling, and confusing.
Because just like in the case of emotions, I experienced these thoughts as my own – I suddenly started to criticise myself like crazy, rather than just witnessing them criticising themselves like crazy (not openly, but can be inferred) “from the side”. Accordingly, my reaction was complete freakout (at my mind suddenly acting like this) and confusion leading to panic and irritation – whereas just witnessing someone else criticising themselves mercilessly wouldn’t destroy my ability to think clearly normally (in various other cases it didn’t). It might mildly irritate me too, but not send me in a tailspin.
4) I thought back of a few other cases, specifically two moments in my life, when I had the impression something like this also happened in a marked way. When I had a strong, deep resonance with a person – then strong, intense, sudden thoughts formed and I thought they’re mine – I thought I’m thinking them about my life context – but looking back, heck, they were actually strong, emotionally dominant motives in the other person’s life. Which I only learnt much later.
One case was a woman (the one from this old story) I met and after the first meeting it was a bit like I suddenly “heard a voice” from the sky or whatever saying something like “You must / are predestined / doomed to love this person” (don’t remember the exact words, just the energy). It was weird. It was actually in the shower. I was confused because the sensation was unusual (I don’t hear voices typically, though I do get intuitive images). But hearing the thought, it being in my head, I concluded it must be directed at me, and perhaps this is the love of my life or sth. Didn’t turn out that way at all though, the relationship gave no indications of being a major one and ended before it started, basically. However, in the short time that I knew this person, I learnt that the last couple of years of her life had been defined by a tragic, unfulfilled love story – she had madly and persistently fallen in love with someone who was both married and her uni professor and not even loving her back (or sth. like that), but not been able to let go and fallen into deep depression and a (physical) heart disease over it. Looking back on this, I thought it’s kind of funny – it’s like this first weird, intuitive voice-thought I got maybe wasn’t my thought about her – it was her thought, a thought that had been pivotal to her life story recently.
I guess this is fairly unscientific, but the incident was weird enough – not every day I hear voices in the shower enjoining me to love someone desperately – to really puzzle me. It didn’t fit with anything I knew about the psyche (or my psyche) at that time.
The second perhaps striking example of this was someone who is not a good friend. Literally within the first seconds after I saw her I got some kind of very intense intuitive sensation (this time not a voice, oufff! just an intense, striking thought) saying something about unconditional loyalty, something like “this person is worth complete, unconditional loyalty forever” or sth. like this. It was weird having seen her for about 2 seconds, but my intuition was usually not the worst, and I think I kind of – again – assumed that this was my thought, and it was directed at her. I mean, given that the freaking thought was found in my head, or heart, or mind, or whatever.
This also went pretty wrong – I don’t recommend pleading unconditional loyalty within 2 seconds on getting acquainted. In fact, there was quite some drama and who knows what. It’s a trustworthy and honourable person, but having boundaries works far better. The striking thing though is that unconditional, self-sacrificing loyalty to others turned out to be a major theme in this person’s life, and also one that has shifted since the time we met. It was a plea that she had made to persons in her life, expressly, and with major life-shaping consequences. I should perhaps get back and discuss this, hoping it’s Ok to have anonymously blogged on it.
But heck, I wonder if I should allow space for the possibility that random, out-of-context, extremely intense and glaringly “strong” thoughts upon first meeting someone, or arising whenever I get near someone, might be in some cases me picking up their “thought radio”.
This whole story also makes me wonder about the stereotypical schizophrenic complaining of “implanted thoughts”. Heck, could some people go nuts over this? I can certainly imagine it, if it happens more frequently and the person is even more confused by it.
Because it really is extremely confusing and uncharacteristic – strong, deep, emotionally resonant “thoughts” appearing suddenly (without context or warning, apparently out of the blue) in my mental field, and not making much sense in the context of my life at that moment. Thinking about it, these examples also had a kind of “epiphany” quality, a quality of being basically “different” from my usual thoughts – which is probably the reason I can remember them many years later.
It would be good if my intuition could provide me with the appropriate “quotation marks”, making it clear that this thought isn’t about the other – but that it’s something my intuition somehow infers the other is centrally experiencing (about others). Just like with “empath” emotions.
Just this one seems even trickier and more confusing. I tend to think it could be a thing, though – after all, emotions and thoughts are strongly linked, and the thoughts I “pick up” (if I really do) seem to be the most emotionally charged ones.
Given the impending economic crisis, this makes me think of whether I should go back to stinting as a medium, or something. I’ve spent the last year and a half or so expressly trying to tune down the amount of perceptions I receive from other people – with some decent, informed help from a one or two people who know a little bit about the subject – but moments like theses (plus another thing that happened yesterday) make me think that perhaps this thing is just a hardware feature and it’s better to put it to (some) use rather than working on blocking it out to some degree.
A year and a half working on “boundaries” (whatever they mean by that) and I still can’t keep other people’s thoughts out of my head 😀 – and not in a metaphoric way, I think. I’m not obsessively guessing. Maybe my subconscious is, and is reasonably good at it. But it doesn’t seem to be convinced it’s time to stop …
Yeah, many more thoughts on this (hopefully my own! :D) but this has in general been exhausting, on all levels. Good and informative too, in a way. I guess reality poking forks into the places in my psyche that are still inflamed or full of holes. Shadow, Ok. Projection, Ok. Emotional flashbacks, yes, anytime. Got that, more or less. But this freaking telepathy thing????? I guess a whole new area of skill-building ahead (and by this I don’t mean trying to become psychic, I mean trying to recognise this before it sends me to the moon in confusion, next time.)
And then the perennial questions, what the heck is this, and what function does it rightfully serve, if any?