Sunday, September 21, 2014

On Being an Empath

On Being an Empath

According to Google, an empath is: "(chiefly in science fiction) a person with the paranormal ability to apprehend the mental or emotional state of another individual."

To me, an empath simply is a person with an especially strong sense of empathy and emotion in general. I identify as an empath and a number of my friends do as well. Based on what I know about MBTI personality types, empaths tend to score high in the areas of intuition and feeling, as opposed to sensing and thinking, respectively.

For me, being an empath impacts my emotions, relationships, and life in a number of ways. Sentimentality in regards to people, places, and things; emotional investment in work; and emotional sensitivity in relationships. In the past, I have thought of these characteristics as separate personality traits or quirks, but more recently, I have come to conceptualize all of these aspects as falling under the umbrella of my identity as an empath.

Sentimentality for People
I miss people. A lot. I miss people that probably haven't given me a second thought. I miss people who I have known only briefly or met only once, or even only know online through mutual friends. Perhaps missing is not the right word. I believe that everyone has impacted my life in some way and have intended to write extensively on this topic because of it's significance in my life. With this belief, and with my empath personality, I feel a deep emotional connection to everyone I know or have known. This is incredibly clear to me through how I write about my interactions with others and in the vivid memories I have of people, even of the briefest connections. I miss people I knew from my first job, I miss people I knew in high school, I miss people from college, I miss people from grad school, I miss others I have known more briefly, and someday I will miss you too.

Sentimentality for Places
I have multiple places I call home, for different reasons. Each place I identify as home was formative in some way. I feel a tug when I visit these places and I become homesick when I leave them. I was homesick after after a recent visit to where I went to grad school. I became homesick after spending a lot of time thinking about where I grew up. I will become homesick next month. after I visit where I went to college. Places are tied to experiences and experiences are tied to emotions.

Sentimentality for Things
Similar to people and places, things are also tied to experiences, which are tied to emotions. I also carry the hoarder gene, which makes this worse.

Emotional Investment in Work
I believe that empaths are more likely to work in helping professions, such as counseling, nursing, social work, and so on. In helping professions, helpers are likely to take work home with them because of emotional investment in their work. As an empath, this is even more likely. Anyone in a helping profession will tell you about the importance of self-care and preventing burnout. I believe that burnout is even more likely for those who identify as empaths.

Emotional Sensitivity in Relationships
The main trait of an empath is sensing the emotions of others with intensity. For empaths in relationships, this can cause strain because the empath deeply feels his or her partner's emotions and can get stuck in them with his or her partner. You're sad? I'm sad. I'm not only sad that you're sad, I'm also sad because I truly feel that you're sad. Sometimes, both people in a relationship identify as empaths, which makes this process even more continuous. You're sad? I'm sad because you're sad AND I'm sad because I truly feel that you're sad AND now you're more sad because you truly feel that I'm sad. And so forth.

These can be the difficulties of being an empath, but they are also the blessings of it. I am deeply thankful for the people I have known, the places I have been, and the things I have had. I am deeply thankful for the people I know, the places I am, and the things I have. I love my job. I love building connections with clients at my job. I love being invested in clients at my job. And, even though dating an empath can complicate both of our feelings, it also greatly increases our communication skills and overall understanding of one another.

Would I trade being an empath if I could? No.

Would you?

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Geography of My Soul

Some of my friends know that my favorite color is more than my favorite color; it is the color of my soul. I am drawn to it in any context - clothing, household items, paint, anything.

Recently, I have discovered the geography of my soul, although it seems this has been knowledge beyond my awareness for quite sometime.

When I was about ten, my family and I vacationed in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. We explored Dollywood, attended The Dixie Stampede, and went horseback riding. After returning home to PA after this trip, I told my mom that I wanted to go to college in that area because of the mountains.

When I was about fifteen, my family and I vacationed in Bayse, Virginia. We hiked, toured the Blue Ridge Parkway, and discovered that Virginia has stations sold beer. Haha. After returning home to PA after this trip, I told my mom that I wanted to go to college in that area because of the mountains.

I did attend college within that second set of mountains, about an hour south of Bayse. That was home for three years.

When looking into graduate schools, I chose a school in a more southern part of that same mountain region and called East Tennessee home for two more years.

Now, having recently moved to western North Carolina for my first job as a working professional, I have realized that I have wandered back to the mountains of Pigeon Forge and that these mountains are the geography of my soul.

During college, surrounded by farmland, I always remembered that I was in the valley. I went for drives often enough to always be reminded of the mountains. I could see the tops of them after a short stroll.

During graduate school, it was much easier to forget about the mountains. There was a less distinct valley and the tops were not noticeable. I really only remembered when I commuted on the highway or biked.

Now, it is impossible to forget. I can see mountains from my house in every direction. I see mountains in every direction no matter where I go.

I felt drawn to these mountains as a child and I was right.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Blending Roles and The Art of Practice

I grew up with roles being defined by the notion of "multiple hats." I had my daughter hat, my sister hat, my student hat, my friend hat, and so on. As I got older, my hat closet expanded. I had my employee hat, my coworker hat, my tutor hat, my roommate hat, my researcher hat, my band member hat. Graduate school has added even more hats. My primary hats now include a counselor hat, an instructor hat, a peer hat, a group leader hat, a friend hat, a supervisor hat, and an interviewer hat.

Last semester, it began to appear that this hat metaphor was lacking. This semester, this realization has become increasingly clear.

Last semester, as I began my clinical internship as a counselor, my counselor role and friend role began to compete. I remember visiting home for a weekend and spending time with one of my best friends. As she told me about an area of personal growth she was working through and she asked for my input, I told her that I was having a weird experience of disconnect, where I knew what my counselor brain would say, but my friend brain was unsure whether or not it agreed with my counselor brain. My friend asked to hear what my counselor brain would say in order to evaluate if it matched with her perception of my friend brain. She said that it did. Maybe my hats were not so separate after all.

Also last semester, I remember a meeting my assistant and I had with one of our residents regarding some expressions of discontent. After the meeting, while my assistant and I were processing, he made a comment that he could imagine that my interaction with this resident was similar to my interactions with my client. I agreed. Maybe my hats were not so separate after all.

There is a concept in social work called "the art of practice" or "the art of social work." What this means to me is that social work programs can teach theory and intervention all day long until professors are blue in the face and students are asleep in their seats, but the ability to be in the room, to be fully present with a client, and to find one's own style of practice simply cannot be taught. In my opinion, this is a major philosophical reason behind the emphasis on internship experience in social work programs. Up until recently, "the art of social work" did not mean much more to me than learning to be comfortable being myself with clients to the extent that it is relevant and therapeutically helpful.

This semester, my hats have begun to blend even more.

Two weeks ago, I was given the opportunity to teach a personal development class. Being close in age to the students in my class (and younger than quite a few) made it feel natural to interact as a peer. This peer hat was in competition with my instructor hat. I had had a similar experience during my first semester of graduate school when some of my supervisees were younger than me, but I had since grown accustomed to emphasizing my supervisor hat over my peer hat. Taking on this instructor role reminded me of this.

Recently, my internship supervisor and I have been talking about the benefits of taking more time to establish rapport before jumping into problem-solving and coping strategies and goal-setting. We have discussed how integrating friend-like conversations into the first few sessions with clients can be extremely beneficial to long-term effectiveness because of having a strong therapeutic alliance. I have since been experimenting with bringing more of my friend hat into the room when I am wearing my counselor hat.

All of my current primary roles are similar in terms of leadership and empathy: counselor, instructor, peer, group leader, friend, supervisor, coworker, and interviewer. The hat metaphor is lacking in that there are no times when I need only one of these roles. There is a great deal of overlap and many recent experiences have warranted a blending of roles, such as instructor (with aspects of peer, counselor, group leader, and friend), counselor (with aspects of friend, peer, interviewer, and instructor), and supervisor (with aspects of counselor, peer, group leader, and friend). There is no one role that does not warrant the use of portions of other roles. The hat metaphor is limiting because it precludes us from this blending. If there is one hat on my head, how can there be room for pieces of other roles? There does not need to be conflict between roles. There is no need to leave certain roles at the door when stepping into a certain other role.

This is the art of practice. This is the art of blending roles. This is the art of blurring the lines between professional self and personal self. This is the art of developing an integrated sense of whole self.


Monday, January 6, 2014

Gains and Goals: The Plan

I consider this part three of a blog series about fitness, with the first being Physical Health and Wellness and the second being Living Clean.

Today was my first day of working out in six days. Over my two weeks of Christmas break, I had run a few times and spun once while at home and had run, hiked, and spun while at the beach. All things considered, I took it fairly easy and slept a lot because the last two weeks of the semester had taken a lot out of me and had convinced me that I had mono.

I returned to school four days ago and did not work out due to being on call and feeling obligated to always be available to provide assistance at the drop of a hat. The past four days, I had been feeling fairly subdued, but attributed this to the cold weather, being on call, and transitioning to being back at school. In regards to living clean, I bought a great deal of fresh fruit, yogurt, and eggs three days ago and have been subsisting off of smoothies, hard boiled eggs, cheese, lettuce, and chocolate milk. Again, being a picky eater serves me well in that I am entirely satisfied with a diet of little variety. Also three days ago, I did eat a few cookies at game night, but did not binge-snack nearly as much as I had previously. I reinforced this thought with the thought to only eat the junk food that I pay for. I believe that framing this in a financial way will support the commitment. And, since I don't buy junk food, the commitment should be upheld.

Today, prior to going to the gym, I wrote out a draft weekly workout schedule, with 1-2 long bike rides, 1 swim, 1 yoga class, 2 runs, maybe 1 spin class, and 1 rest day; in addition to floor (sit-ups, lifting, etc.) every day.

Today, I went to the gym and rode the stationary bike for an hour, which was seventeen miles. As I sat on the bike, listening to Ratatat and Deadmau5, in the zone, and considering doing a brick and running after spinning, I had the following thought:

Two years ago, I did nearly nothing physical and now here I am spinning and planning to run a mile after an hour of biking, after having made a weekly workout schedule with one rest day. What has happened to me??!

The short answer is that I've become awesome. I mean...

No, honestly, I don't really have an answer. All I know is that life is great. Cardio is my drug of choice, in addition to my newest obsession of smoothies.

After I got home from the gym, I ate right away (lettuce, eggs, and cheese! and chocolate milk!) to counteract my blood sugar crash and showered later. As I listened to electro-swing on Pandora, dried my hair, and danced around my apartment, I was again reminded that my subdued mood was not due to the reasons listed above. Instead, as I very well should have known, I was missing my cardio high.

So, kids, here's the plan:

Sunday: Yoga and floor
Monday: Spin class OR long bike ride with the group and floor
Tuesday: Run and floor
Wednesday: Rest and floor
Thursday: Swim and floor
Friday: Run and floor
Saturday: Long bike ride with friends and floor

Listen to electro-swing every day.

Eat well.

Live clean.