[dc]I[/dc]’m sitting in my therapist’s office talking about the challenges of being a sensitive sponge in a hectic world.
“How do you protect your sensitivity?” she asks.
“Well, it depends on the situation. Like, when I’m in the grocery store, I go in with a mission (i.e. my list), grab a cart, and go. Head down, eyes on list, only looking up to find the products I need. I essentially shut down physically to not pick up on the energy of all those around me.”
“Say more about ‘picking up on other people’s energy’.”
“Oh, I’m super empathic, so I can often feel what’s going on for people around me. I drive Melissa crazy when we’re out to eat sometimes because my eyes are darting to all the other tables as if I’m being pulled and I’m not very present for our meal. I sense joy in other diners. Sadness. Stress. Unless the booth backs are high. Then they act like my shield.”
“Hmmm,” she says, tapping her pen to her mouth while looking up. I know something’s coming…
“Let’s take the grocery store example,” she says. “Could it be possible that by going into the store with a defensive posture, you’re creating a negative experience for yourself?”
I tilt my head, scrunch my forehead, and purse my lips.
“I guess that could be.”
I agree to try a different stance when I go shopping the next day.
Hey, she might be onto something here. So far, this experience is much better! Well, how about that? I can actually protect my energy by opening up and standing tall instead of shrinking inward. Pretty cool. And all along I thought by opening up my body language, I was opening myself up for attack. Silly me.
I bet you don’t often think about your body language. Check in right now. How are you sitting? Legs crossed or open? Arms folded or by your side? Are you huddled up or spread out? Head up or down? Of course some of this will be skewed since you’re reading on your computer, but humor me.
Starting today, make a point to stand more powerfully as you go about your day. The effects of doing so go deeper than you know. A client recently recommended a great TED (Technology, Education, Design) talk by Amy Cuddy. She’s a social scientist who has studied body language, revealing that not only can we change other people’s perceptions, but also our own body chemistry! How cool is that? You’ll find the 20-minute video at the end of this post.
Shrinking inward like described above in my old shopping behavior is a form of protection and can also be a way to disappear. If you find yourself trying your best to be invisible, consider digging into the possible reasons why. What feels so scary about being seen – in every sense of that word? What are the feared consequences of living out loud?
An example: Perhaps you don’t have great boundaries in your life now. A natural concern would then be that people will walk all over you, challenge your success, ask the dreaded “Who do you think you are?” question, expect or want more from you, etc. A way to address that fear is to implement some low-risk boundaries. For instance, let’s say someone cuts in front of you in line, you can simply say, “Excuse me. I was waiting.” Boom. Boundary. By “low-risk” I mean setting them with people who you don’t fear losing.
When you subscribed to my newsletter, you received a free gift – my past teleclass on Setting Boundaries. If you haven’t yet, take a listen and challenge yourself to start practicing. If you’re reading this on my website and aren’t subscribed to my newsletter, well, hop to! Look over there → to the right where the orange starburst is and sign up.
If you find you carry yourself in a powerless position, remember that you are simply trying to protect that sweet, younger, vulnerable part of you. However, instead of cowering to the world, think of some ways you can show that inner child that there’s no need to be afraid. It’s in those situations that she needs you to remind her that you’re the grown-up here; and that you have her back.
So how do you protect your sensitivity? What is your body language saying about you? Please join the conversation by posting in the comments section below. That’s where things can get really juicy!
Trouble seeing the video? Click here to view it on the TED website.
P.S. For another great resource on body language, check out my college friend, Janine Driver, CEO of the Body Language Institute. She was a lie detection expert for the FBI, ATF, and DEA, and has appeared on numerous television shows about her “lyin’ tamer” tactics.