10 Areas of Self-Awareness You Should Understand

-Mike Bundrant

If you lack self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are won’t get very far.
~ Daniel Goleman

Why is self-awareness so vital? Because distressing emotions, limiting beliefs, and self-sabotage are a natural part of being born and growing up. If you aren’t self-aware, you cannot solve mental and emotional problems that can otherwise be resolved.

Lacking self-awareness, yet desiring inner peace, is like taking your broken-down car to a yogurt shop and expecting the staff to tell you what went wrong and then fix it. Nothing against yogurt shop staff:) They just aren’t trained as auto mechanics.

In this post, I’ll mention ten important areas of self-awareness, then refer you to a free online quiz that tests your level of self-awareness in each area.

FYI, the following self-awareness categories are of my own design, based on my 25 years working as a counselor and coach. These are not areas of clinical assessment or diagnostic in any way.

10 Areas of Self-Awareness You Should Understand

Self-awareness is taking an honest look at your life without any attachment to it being right or wrong, good or bad.
~ Debbie Ford

1. Inner Self – Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic (VAK)

This is the seeing, hearing, and feeling model that comes from neuro-linguistic programming. The VAK model recognizes that we process information within, primarily through three of the five senses: seeing, hearing and feeling. Further, our processing is redundant. In other words, seeing an internal image will inspire feelings about the image and sounds either related to the image or our own inner commentary. Seeing, hearing and feeling all work together.

How self-aware are you of the inner images, sounds, and feelings in your mind and body? Most people have at least one area of the VAK model where they are not as strongly aware as others. Discovering where you are less aware can lead to an opportunity to expand your self-awareness.

2. Personal Paradigm: What’s Your Worldview?

A personal paradigm is a worldview. It typically answers questions about how life exists and why we’re here. Is there a God? Or not? Why are people on earth? What’s our nature: good, evil, spiritual, animal or what?  And so forth.

What’s your personal paradigm? Knowing where you stand in relation to these questions brings clarity to your life and informs your life purpose. Of course, it is not necessary to claim to know the objective truth about the universe in order to hold a personal paradigm, which consists of beliefs.

3. Personal Beliefs Related to Yourself

Personal beliefs are perspectives about what is true (for you). In the self-awareness test at the iNLP Center, we focus on your beliefs related to who you are and what you’re capable of accomplishing in the world. Naturally, some of our self-related beliefs are positive and some are negative. We’re all a mixed bag. Still, your personal beliefs shape your world and often determine what you’re willing to do in life. This is an important area to explore.

4. Life Values: What is Most Important to You?

Life values are indications of what’s important to you in life. You can trust that a value is important to you (or congruent) when it successfully guides your choices and behavior. If health is important to you, then you will make healthy decisions. If success is important to you, then you’ll make decisions and spend your time in ways that lead to greater success.

Being aware of your life values is like having a reliable guide for every important decision. Making decisions in line with your values is a sure path toward fulfillment.

5. Inner Conflict: How Are You Divided?

Inner conflict may be universal. It can happen when our beliefs or values conflict with each other. For example, you may believe you are capable of healing your emotional issues. At the same time, you may harbor serious doubts. This is a sign of inner conflict.

You may also have values that conflict. You may value security because it helps you feel safe. At the same time, you may love freedom. These two values may lead to conflicting desires and difficult decisions.

Inner conflict is one of the more complex issues to diagnose, but when we’re aware, we can begin the internal negotiation process necessary to heal the divide. Self-awareness is the first step!

6. Stress and Negativity Triggers

Triggers are those things that automatically bring on a negative, frustrating state. A classic example is someone running their fingernails down a chalkboard (although chalkboards aren’t so common anymore:). This can automatically make you cringe.

Throughout each day, when you find yourself in a negative state, there is always a trigger – something (on the inside or outside) that prompted the bad emotional reaction. A particular tone of voice or seeing a specific object (dirty socks left on the floor) might trigger you, for example.

When you know your specific stress and negativity triggers, you can begin to deprogram them – to create a different response.

7. Inner Parents: How Are You a Reflection of Your Parents?

The influence of parents or primary caregivers is pervasive. Nobody leaves childhood without taking their parents with them in some form on the inside. Beliefs, values, behaviors and personal paradigms are all heavily influenced by parents during our formative years. How are you carrying your parental influence?

This may be a hard one to see or admit, especially if you’re resentful toward your parents. Who wants to know he acts like just his father when he hates his father? Still, this level of self-awareness will allow you to change how you act, which makes the most sense of all if you are resentful.

8. Personal Limitations or Abilities

We all have limitations. Some of these are self-imposed, usually due to limiting beliefs. Others are legitimate limitations to our intelligence and natural skills. For example, I know I do not have the intellectual capacity to formulate physics theories like Einstein. I know I can’t beat Roger Federer in tennis. In this case, the word can’t is not a negative term. It’s simply the truth about the limits of my skills or natural gifts.

Knowing your real-world limitations could be experienced as a huge relief. When you’re clear about what you can and can’t do, you no longer need to pretend otherwise or take on inappropriate commitments. Most of all, you can bring expectations of yourself in life with reality – another relief.

9. Self-Sabotage: How Do You Get in Your Own Way?

Getting in our own way is another universal tendency. Do you know why you sometimes sabotage your own success? And do you know how – or understand the intention behind doing so?

Self-sabotage may be the most perplexing issue of all. Why would anyone harm herself? Still, we all do in one way or another. Worse, self-sabotage is difficult to see because we tend to look outside ourselves and place blame instead of looking within for the cause of our angst.

Again, self-awareness is the solution. You’ve got to see a problem before you can take any proactive steps to resolve it.

10. Your Future: Got Goals?

Human beings are naturally goal-oriented. We move toward what we want. Consciously setting goals is one way to be intentional about your future. This section of the self-awareness test at the iNLP Center will help you learn where you stand in this area.

The Self-Awareness Test

The iNLP Center self-awareness test addresses the above ten areas of self-awareness. Again, this is not a clinical test – it’s a free, online quiz intended for educational purposes only. It’s a non-commercial, no-obligation exploration of self-awareness. No email address required. You will be forwarded to your results immediately.

26 Questions To Help You Know Yourself Better

-Sharon Martin, LCSW

Do you have a clear sense of who you are?

Developmentally, we wrestle with “finding ourselves” as teens and young adults. Then we often revisit these questions in middle age. It’s both normal and essential to seek self-understanding. In order to accept ourselves and establish a sense of belonging, we need to understand who we are. A strong sense of self helps us navigate life and brings meaning to our experiences. Without it, we feel “lost.”

Why do we experience a loss of identity?

  1. We put everyone else’s needs before our own. When we focus on others and neglect ourselves, we fail to recognize and value ourselves and our needs. We minimize who we are and what we need.
  2. We’re disconnected from our thoughts and feelings. We commonly keep ourselves so distracted and numb with alcohol, food, and electronics that we miss important information about who we are. How often do you reach for your phone or a snack whenever you get even slightly uncomfortable? These things keep us from knowing ourselves because we don’t allow ourselves to be curious and ask ourselves how we’re really feeling.
  3. We experience life transitions and changes in our roles. Experience like a divorce, retirement, job loss, death of a loved one, or other traumatic events can also result in losing our sense of self, especially the parts associated with our roles.
  4. We feel ashamed and unworthy, and consequently bury parts of ourselves. We were told that we’re bad, strange, ugly, stupid, or unworthy. We were criticized or teased. Maybe you loved to play chess as a kid, but were told that it’s not cool to join the chess club. So you quit. Or perhaps you were shamed for your sexual orientation and tried to deny it. We’re told we have to fit a certain mold if we’re to fit in. So, we squish our square peg selves into round holes and try to be something we’re not. After years of doing this, we lose track of who we really are.

I’ve created some questions and journaling prompts that will help you rediscover yourself.

Questions to help you know yourself better:

  1. What are my strengths?
  2. What are my short-term goals? Long-term goals?
  3. Who matters most to me? Who are my support people?
  4. What am I ashamed of?
  5. What do I like to do for fun?
  6. What new activities am I interested in or willing to try?
  7. What am I worried about?
  8. What are my values? What do I believe in? (consider politics, religion, social issues)
  9. If I could have one wish, it would be ___________
  10. Where do I feel safest?
  11. What or who gives me comfort?
  12. If I wasn’t afraid, I would ___________
  13. What is my proudest accomplishment?
  14. What is my biggest failure?
  15. Am I a night owl or an early bird? How can I arrange my life to better suit this part of my nature?
  16. What do I like about my job? What do I dislike?
  17. What does my inner critic tell me?
  18. What do I do to show myself self-compassion and self-care?
  19. Am I an introvert or an extrovert? Am I energized being around others or being by myself?
  20. What am I passionate about?
  21. What is my happiest memory?
  22. What do my dreams tell me?
  23. What is my favorite book? Movie? Band? Food? Color? Animal?
  24. What am I grateful for?
  25. When I’m feeling down I like to ___________________
  26. I know I’m stressed when I ______________________

I’ve given you a lot of questions. I suggest answering only one or two per day so you can explore them in depth. Work at your own pace. Perhaps one per week is more realistic for you. There is no judgment and this isn’t a race. Rediscovering yourself is a process. It will take thinking, talking, writing, and doing.

How to Start Loving Yourself (Even When You Think There’s Nothing to Love)

-Sharon Martin, LCSW

We talk to ourselves all day long. We comment, critique, and chastise our every move. From the big to the small – every decision and action gets scrutinized by our inner critic. For most of us, it’s harsh. Much harsher than what we say to anyone else.

Where does this negative self talk come from? Sometimes people tell me it’s very clearly their mother’s or father’s voice internalized. Other times it’s less clear. It might be a compilation of negative messages that you’ve heard — a dance teacher who called you fat, a boss who made fun of you when he thought you were out of earshot, a teacher who returned every essay completely covered in red corrections, your father who never gave a damn about you, or your grandma who blamed you for her anxiety.

We hear these messages as: There’s something wrong with me. People don’t like me. I don’t fit in. I suck. I’m stupid. I’m fat. I’m simply not good enough. Everyone else is succeeding and happy and I’m not. Obviously, I’m the problem. I’m the one that can’t keep up or live up to expectations.

There are plenty of ways to show yourself some love. In fact, I wrote a popular list of 22 ways to love yourself more. Often, the challenge is getting started. When you don’t feel lovable or good enough, how are you going to write yourself a love letter or forgive your mistakes? Before you can do any of those things, you have to find just one tiny little piece of you that’s worthwhile.

This means you have to muck through all the garbage people (including yourself) have been telling you, sort through it, come to your own conclusions about who you are, and throw out the false beliefs, inaccurate conclusions, and other toxic waste.

Start by noticing when this beast, that we like to call the inner critic, is rising up. Tell it to shut up. Go ahead and say it out loud, say it to yourself, tell a friend, write it down. This belittling beastly voice isn’t your pet cat. Stop letting it out and feeding it. It will eventually grow weak, shrink, and die. Don’t lose hope. It takes time to starve a giant beast.

You need to be firm and direct.  You need to vigilantly watch for attempted escapes. This alone takes practice. Notice when the belittling beastly voice is out. Tell it you’re done with its lying, conniving ways. Lock it back up. Repeat. And repeat again and again.

At the same time that you’re starving out the belittling beastly voice, I want you to do four things for yourself every day.

  1. Ask yourself: “What do I really think?”

It’s time to start thinking for yourself instead of believing what others have told you. Absorbing and believing negative messages about yourself started when you were young, which is why you don’t question them or realize many are simply false. These beliefs also have a tendency to become self-fulfilling. When you’re told you’re stupid, you unconsciously act in ways to make this your reality. It doesn’t have to be this way. Positive beliefs about yourself can be self-fulfilling in exactly the same way.

It helps to slow down, so you can turn inward and explore what you’re really thinking and feeling. If you’re not used to doing this, it can feel quite strange. You may find “negative” feelings that are hard to deal with or you may initially find no feelings at all. Keep looking. A good therapist can help you differentiate your feelings/thoughts from those of your parents (or others).

The point is that you get to decide how you feel about yourself. You no longer have to take the labels that have been thrown at you. Be selective. Really challenge those old stories that continue to tell you that you’re stupid, weak, troubled, or the cause of other people’s problems.

  1. Write down one thing that you did right today, that you’re proud of, that you like about yourself. One thing every single day. If this is hard, start small – I took a shower so I didn’t offend my coworkers with my b.o., or I put in a solid 20 minutes of work before I started surfing the web. Just start somewhere. If you’re stuck, think of something nice that a friend has said. If you do this consistently every day, you’ll start to notice things that really matter. Focus on the things that you like about yourself. Work on improving the parts of yourself that you don’t like.
  1. Keep negative people at a distance. This is challenging for sure. But it’s actually easier than tackling your own negative self-talk. If others refuse to treat you with respect, you can choose to separate yourself. But you have to learn to respect and love yourself. Of course, the challenge is that it’s hard to leave unhealthy relationships when your self-esteem is in the toilet and you think you just may deserve this lousy treatment from others. This is why you have to work on both the inner and outer critics at the same time.
  1. Forgive yourself. Yes, do it every day for the big things and the little things. Make it a practice because self-forgiveness is the opposite of self-criticism. It can be as simple as saying, “I forgive myself for ___________. I’m doing the best I can. I don’t have to be perfect to be lovable.” You can be happily imperfect.

There isn’t a quick fix for building self-esteem, self-worth, or self-love. It’s a daily practice. The more you work at, the better you’ll feel about yourself.

How You Can Tell that Deep Down, Solitude Is Your Thing

What does it mean if you crave a lot of time alone?

If you are someone who likes having time to yourself and space to yourself, and just never felt in tune with all the relentless matrimania (the over-the-top hyping of marriage and weddings and coupling), there have always been other people like you. But now, more than ever before, those people are speaking out and getting heard. What’s more, what they have to say sometimes, in an instant, becomes wildly popular.

An example is an article first posted by John Warwick at EliteDaily in March of 2015, “Alone isn’t lonely: 10 signs you’re perfectly happy with solitude.” It has been shared more than 69,000 times. More than 2,300,000 people have Liked it.

I, too, appreciate Warwick’s 10 signs. I relate to many of them and I like how some of them dovetail with what I’ve learned about people who are single at heart. So I’ll share them first. But then I will share my reservations, not with the signs but with Warwick’s framing of what this says about the people who read the 10 signs and realize that yes, I am someone who is perfectly happy with solitude.

Here are the 10 signs that you are perfectly happy with solitude. (For Warwick’s discussion of each, take a look at the original article.)

  1. You love free weekends.
  2. You’ll go to the movies on your own.
  3. You’re comfortable with eating out by yourself.
  4. You prefer drinking on your own.
  5. You travel the world solo.
  6. You hate sharing beds.
  7. You find driving alone calming.
  8. You neglect your phone, a lot.
  9. You can be socially MIA for long periods of time.
  10. You see “clingy” as an unattractive trait.

A good example of the single-at-heart sensibility of some of these signs is what Warwick says about traveling alone: “The idea of discovering the world on your own doesn’t scare you – it exhilarates you.” Stereotypes of single people insist that they are alone and lonely, cowering in their apartments, too fearful to face the world. In real life, many singles fit Warwick’s description: they are exhilarated even by experiences that other people find intimidating.

Warwick’s discussion of #10 also resonates with the single-at-heart in important ways. For example, he notes: “You need that space to be alone, physically and mentally.” The “need” word is important here. People who vastly prefer living with other people and being with people a great deal of the time just don’t get it about how wanting to be alone can feel more like a need than a mere preference. But it can.

Also in the discussion of #10 is this: “Your decisions are wholeheartedly your decisions, and you love that.” There is research to support the significance of this preference for handling things on your own. In my preliminary research on people who are single at heart, I’ve found that they differ from people who are not single-at-heart by their desire to make their own decisions. And in a study of people who were 40 or older and had been single all their lives, the trait of self-sufficiency served them in a way that it did not serve comparable people who were married. For the always-single, the more self-sufficient they were, the less likely they were to experience negative emotions. For the married people, the more self-sufficient their personalities, the more likely they were to experience negative feelings.

Now for my reservations. Speaking of people who are perfectly happy with solitude, Warwick says that “there are a select few who don’t feel relationships are their top priority.” In fact, though, we have no idea how many people feel this way. No one has ever done the relevant research. And even if researchers were to approach a big, nationally representative sample of adults and ask them about such things, there would still be a huge impediment. Because craving time on your own is so rarely acknowledged or appreciated in our cultural conversations, because matrimania is rampant, and because wanting to be in romantic relationships is portrayed as normal and maybe even inevitable, it is difficult for people who love their solitude to own that. Too many of them are wondering whether they don’t really like their time alone, they just haven’t me the right person. Or maybe they have internalized the cultural narrative that if they are not goo-goo over romance and coupling, there’s something wrong with them. So I’m not sure how many people who really do love their solitude more than they love romantic relationships would say so to a researcher – or even to themselves.

My biggest objection, though, is with something else Warwick says about people who are perfectly happy with solitude: “Their focus is satisfying their needs, and their needs only.” But think about people who really need to be with other people. When they spend time with other people, they are satisfying their own need to do so. Are they fulfilling someone else’s similar need in the process? Most likely. But I don’t think that counts as something for which they deserve extra credit. If the other person isn’t fulfilling their needs, they will probably flee. (Unless they stay because they are scared of being alone.) And I think that means that what they are doing really is about their needs, and their needs only.

So who is more attentive to the needs of others: People who put romantic relationships at the center of their lives or those who are more inclined toward solitude? If we take the difference between married and single people as one (imperfect) way of assessing that, then we already know the answer. There are many relevant studies. Single people are more likely than married people to support, stay in touch with, and exchange help with their parents, siblings, neighbors, and friends. They are also more often the ones to provide the long-term intensive care that other people need when they are sick or disabled or elderly. Follow the same people over time as they go from being single to getting married, and you will see the development of insularity. The same people who were caring and connected as single people become focused mostly on their spouse (and children, if they have any) once they marry.

So don’t tell me it is the solitude lovers who are focused solely on their own needs.

-Bella DePaulo, PhD

Stop Numbing Out and Awaken to Your Life

To feel happier and more alive, wake up to the ways you habitually escape life

I used to jokingly describe myself as a hedonist. I wasn’t really joking, actually, as I passionately loved good food, good wine, dance, travel, life and passion itself.  These days, however, I don’t see myself as a hedonist.  I see myself, much more clearly, as an escape artist.

I wouldn’t say that I’ve had a dramatically difficult life, give or take some depression and anxiety and a few hard knocks over the years.  Nonetheless, it appears that I’ve gone through enough difficulty and loss that by my late twenties, like so many other people, I’d developed a chronic level of existential pain and wounding.    I wasn’t really aware of it, but what I was aware of was a constant drive to stimulate my senses, whether through sugar, fat, wine, TV, travel or highly distracting relationships.

Even though I first identified my issues with food (particularly sugar) as an addictive behavior quite early on, I failed to see the myriad of ways I sought to escape the depths of my self and the associated pain.  Can you relate?

I’ve worked on self-awareness, healing and personal growth for many years now.  This year, though, through a powerful program offered through my church, I realized that I am still running from unacknowledged pain (and the pain comes from both old and new sources).  I hadn’t seen some my favorite pastimes as being compulsive routes of escape, but they have been and often still are.

It’s easy to see that eating an entire cake, or drinking wine when stressed or anxious, could be an addictive form of behavior. But watching hours of Netflix? Living for the next vacation? Navigating  yet another stressful, tumultuous relationship? Check, check, check.

It is so very marvelous to wake up.

One of the basics that this program suggested was to intentionally sit with your pain.  Connect with it and acknowledge it instead of numbing it, and see if you can identify the source of it.  Pray for help in facing it and healing it, particularly if you have no idea where it’s coming from.

I started noticing that during certain stressful moments, often while having a conversation with someone, I would get a “pop-up” in my brain that urged me to stop at a bakery on the way home and buy some cake.  Rather than just knee-jerkedly responding to the call for cake, I learned to understand that this was a sign that stress or pain was being triggered in me, even if it wasn’t obvious.

It actually had nothing to do with cake, though cake and other sweet treats had been a way of numbing my discomfort and loss since I was a girl.  Instead of obediently marching to the store, I have learned that the proper response to the “pop-up” is to go home, sit on my sofa, and try to connect with what I’m truly concerned or grieved about.  And pray about it.  Or journal about it.

It’s not about entirely avoiding food or wine or entertainment, but rather to notice when you’re using it as a means to numb out or escape. If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll start to notice this.  In the last couple of years I’ve been going through a particularly stressful situation, and without realizing it had pushed me into habitually using various behaviors as means of escape.  Other than when I was working or actively engaged with key people in my life, it had recently gotten to the point where most of my free time was spent escaping reality in some form or another.

This month, one of my closest friends suggested that we “fast”.  She is fasting social media.  I am fasting Netflix, which had become my favorite way of relaxing and escaping reality.

I feel so awake, so free. Not always comfortable, though.  When a difficult day’s events bring up that familiar ache in my chest, I long to boot up a great movie and escape.  Accountability is a powerful tool, as knowing that I’d let down my friend by caving in is usually what stops me from giving in. I also really don’t want to lose the fresh awareness, and the feeling of participating in real life that I’ve recovered.  I’m quite sure that my escapist patterns have progressively been shutting down my creativity and other gifts, and now that I’ve woken up I refuse to let that happen again.

In addition, I am doing my best to only use food as nourishment, not as a form of distraction or numbing out.  If I suddenly crave a glass of wine, I ask myself why.

It feels weird, and it’s hard, but it’s so exciting.

I am reading lots of books again.  I am eating sustaining, healthy meals and focusing just on the food itself, not zoning out in front of the screen.  I’m enjoying the cooking, not just the eating. You see a lot more when your head is lifted up instead of focused down or inward, transported away from life and blinded to it by some numbing pleasure.

As I write this I am on a plane going on vacation.  I am intentionally planning a very quiet break, not one filled with lots of distracting escapist plans or busy-ness.  I am going to read books, relax, reflect, think and be with people I love.  No screen time, no Netflix, except the bare minimum of social media, texts and email to stay in touch with people at home. I am very excited about what I might realize about myself and my life, given enough space to think and feel.

What about you?  Do you numb yourself and escape things you don’t want to feel or face by hiding behind food, or social media, or other chronic distractions?  Do you have any time in your life where you can just be and feel, even if those feelings are uncomfortable?

I heard someone speak the other day about how we no longer have gaps of quiet in our life where life has the opportunity to speak to us, where we have the chance to just be.  If we’re sitting in a waiting room or at a transit stop, we pick up our phones and start scrolling through stuff. We don’t see and feel our surroundings, we don’t have a chance to feel ourselves and our lives.

I invite you to join me in becoming more present. In facing your demons and discovering the healing and presence that is on the other side of detaching from escapist distractions. I am so thrilled to slowly be reawakening to life, this is the best thing I’ve done in years.

This is something you can decide, something you can control.  Become aware, notice why you do things. Life is too precious to lose yourself in all manner of distractions and escapes. I challenge you to be present and feel what you need to feel, and live how you truly long to live.

Dr. Susan Biali, M.D. is a medical doctor, health and happiness expert, life and health coach, professional speaker, flamenco dancer, and the author of Live a Life You Love: 7 Steps to a Healthier, Happier, More Passionate You, dedicated to helping people worldwide get healthy, find happiness and enjoy more meaningful lives that they love. Dr. Biali has been featured as an expert on the Today Show as well as many other major media outlets, and is available for keynote presentations, workshops/retreats, media commentary, and private life and health coaching.

Top 10 Traits of an Empath

Discover if you’re a highly sensitive person.

The trademark of an empath is that they feel and absorb other people’s emotions and/or physical symptoms because of their high sensitivities. They filter the world through their intuition and have a difficult time intellectualizing their feelings.

As a psychiatrist and empath myself, I know the challenges of being a highly sensitive person. When overwhelmed with the impact of stressful emotions, empaths can have panic attacks, depression, chronic fatigue, food, sex and drug binges, and many physical symptoms that defy traditional medical diagnosis.

But an empath doesn’t have to feel too much and be overloaded once they learn how to center themselves. The first step is to acknowledge that you are an empath. Here are the top 10 traits of an empath from my book on how to achieve emotional freedom. See if you can relate to them.

10 Traits of an Empath

1. Empaths are highly sensitive
Empaths are naturally giving, spiritually open, and good listeners. If you want heart, empaths have got it. Through thick and thin, they’re there for you, world-class nurturers. But they can easily have their feelings hurt. Empaths are often told that they are “too sensitive” and need to toughen up.

2. Empaths absorb other people’s emotions
Empaths are highly attuned to other people’s moods, good and bad. They feel everything, sometimes to an extreme. They take on negativity such as anger or anxiety which is exhausting. If they are around peace and love, their bodies take these on and flourish.

3. Many empaths are introverted
Empaths become overwhelmed in crowds, which can amplify their empathy. They tend to be introverted and prefer one to one contact or small groups. Even if an empath is more extroverted they prefer limiting how much time they can be in a crowd or at a party.

4. Empaths are highly intuitive
Empaths experience the world through their intuition. It is important for them to develop their intuition and listen to their gut feelings about people. This will help empaths find positive relationships and avoid energy vampires. Read How to Develop Your Intuition to learn more.

5. Empaths need alone time
As super-responders, being around people can drain an empath so they periodically need alone time to recharge their batteries. Even a brief escape prevents emotionally overload. Empaths like to take their own cars when they go places so they can leave when they please.

6. Empaths can become overwhelmed in intimate relationships
Too much togetherness can be difficult for an empath so they may avoid intimate relationships. Deep down they are afraid of being engulfed and losing their identity. For empaths to be at ease in a relationship, the traditional paradigm for being a couple must be re-defined. For strategies see my article Secrets for Sensitive People: Why Empaths Stay Lonely.

7. Empaths are targets for energy vampires
An empath’s sensitivity makes them particularly easy marks for energy vampires, whose fear or rage can sap their energy and peace of mind. Vampires do more than drain an empath’s physical energy. The especially dangerous ones such as narcissists (they lack empathy and are only concerned with themselves) can make them believe they’re unworthy and unlovable. Other vampires include The Victim, The Chronic Talker, The Drama Queen and more. To help you deal with the drainers in your life read 4 Strategies to Survive Emotional Vampires.

8. Empaths become replenished in nature
The busyness of ever day life can be too much for an empath. The natural world nourishes and restores them. It helps them to release their burdens and they take refuge in the presence of green wild things, the ocean or other bodies of water.

9. Empaths have highly tuned senses
An empath’s nerves can get frayed by noise, smells, or excessive talking.

10. Empaths have huge hearts but sometimes give too much
Empaths are big-hearted people and try to relieve the pain of others. A homeless person holding a cardboard sign, “I’m hungry” at a busy intersection; a hurt child; a distraught friend. It’s natural to want to reach out to them, ease their pain. But empaths don’t stop there. Instead, they take it on. Suddenly they’re the one feeling drained or upset when they felt fine before.

As an empath myself, I use many strategies to protect my sensitivities such as fierce time management, setting limits and boundaries with draining people, meditation to calm and center myself, and going out into nature. Being an empath is a gift in my life but I had to learn to take care of myself. Empaths have special needs. It’s important to honor yours and communicate them to loved ones.

-Judith Orloff, MD

How to Make Peace With Something You Cannot Control

Feeling safe when you’re not in control is a valuable skill

ibreakstock/Shutterstock
Source: ibreakstock/Shutterstock

Being in control feels safe, you can feel safe when you’re not in control too. The world is unpredictable and your power is limited, so feeling safe without control is a valuable skill.

When the world disappoints your expectations, your brain releases cortisol and it feels like an emergency. You can re-wire your brain to feel safe when you’re not in control. That doesn’t mean being out of control or giving up. It means building a new neural pathway to replace that old cortisol circuit.

Your brain will build a new pathway if you repeat a new thought or behavior for forty-five days. So give up control of something for the next six weeks and you will like the results!

Notice your usual strategy for feeling “on top of things,” and do the opposite. 
For example, if you are a person who tries to bake the perfect soufflé, spend forty-five days cooking without recipes. Conversely, if you are a person who likes to just throw things into a pot, spend forty-five days following recipes.

If you are a person who likes everything neat, let junk pile up for six weeks. But if you are a person who hates order and loves chaos, put things away as soon as you use them for six weeks.

Color outside the lines if that’s new for you, but if you already pride yourself on that, courageously stay inside the lines. It might feel awful on Day One, but forty-four days later it will feel curiously safe.

Don’t quit your day job to beg with a rice bowl. Just stop checking the weather report, buying lottery tickets, and expecting the world to work according to your rules. You will not like the cortisol at first, but you will train your brain to know that it doesn’t kill you. You will learn to feel safe in the world despite your inability to control it.

Getting rid of the clock is a great way to experiment with control, because you can’t control time.
We all have habits for managing the harsh reality of time. For some it’s chronic lateness and for others it’s constant clock-checking. You may think you can’t change your relationship with time, but here are three great ways to ignore the clock and make friends with the passage of time:

  1. Start an activity without having an exact time you need to stop. Finish the activity without ever checking the clock the whole time. It’s over when you feel like it’s over.
  2. Set aside a time each day to spend with no plan.
  3. Designate a day you can wake up without looking at the clock and continue through your day with no time-checking.

No matter how busy you are, you can find a way to relax your efforts to control time. You may be surprised at the bad feelings that come up, despite your abiding wish to escape time pressure. The bad feelings won’t kill you, however, and accepting them helps you accept the harsh realities of time.

Your mammal brain feels good about things it can control. Some people break traffic laws to enjoy a sense of control, while others feel their power by scolding those who break traffic laws. Whatever gives you a sense of power won’t work all the time, however. You will end up feeling weak and unimportant some of the time. That triggers cortisol, but you can learn to feel safe when you are not in control.

-Loretta G. Bruening, PhD

5 Better Ways to Deal With Disappointment

…and why being hard on yourself isn’t part of the solution.

When people marry, they are usually determined to make it through thick and thin, impervious to divorce and discontent, even though two out of five couples will separate and only 30 percent will enjoy a happy marriage. Nearly 80 percent of people have an optimism bias when it comes to personal success and attributes.2 So naturally, feelings of disappointment hit us hard when things turn sour. How do we return to a sweeter disposition after suffering disappointments? Letting go is an essential component to happiness, but how can we actually let go?

Placing hope on our environment—where it is more difficult to feel optimistic due to our innate negative bias—can also cause devastating feelings of disappointment. For example, let’s say we engage in the political process and start believing in a better future and a promising political candidate. And then he or she loses the election. How can we possibly let go of such disappointment and not fantasize about moving to another galaxy—or at least to Canada? Everyone talks about “letting go” but little is said about what enables us to do so. Letting go is expected but rarely taught.

When we cannot let go after what is seen as a culturally appropriate period, people may label us crybabies or sore losers. Few will say it directly, but when we’re stuck being disappointed, these are the messages we often receive: “Get real and get with it.” “Just let go.” And finally, “Move on already, will you?”

So, let’s look at the “how” of letting go a bit more kindly, with less judgment and more creativity.

Let’s say milk is spilled. “Not a problem,” says the person who does not really need the milk, unlike the one who does, especially when she identifies a pattern of unnecessary spills caused by those who do not need the milk. While the former just takes a deep breath, picks up a rag and wipes off the milk, the latter tends to have an emotional response. And when she is starving, the response tends to linger longer.

Obviously it is the individual inner and outer realities which make rolling with the punches an easy or challenging task. Nobody on the outside knows what spilled milk means to your life. Maybe you don’t even know yourself. So the first step may just be to…

Be empathetic and mindful. Do not beat yourself up; claim your experience without judgment. Plenty of people pounce on opportunities to put others down. Don’t do their job for them. Instead, stand by you and be your own best friend. Claim your experience as one that’s generated by you for good reason. Just looking at yourself with kind attention can loosen your rigidities. Beyond that…

Ask good questions. What exactly triggered your emotions? What does the disappointment really mean to you? Are you partially agreeing with the person who disappointed you? What would you or the world be like if you let go of your negative feelings? Do you think someone is helped by your holding on? Continue to be mindful during the inquiry. When this does not suffice…

Reframe and gain perspective. Coming back to the milk analogy, are you exaggerating somehow, reacting to the spilled milk as though you’re starving when you aren’t? Sometimes we believe ourselves too much, focusing on the transitional negative as if it were the whole picture. Sometimes all we need to do is tell ourselves a better, more complete story.

Focus is immensely important when we try to gain perspective. When my favored political candidate loses, I switch gears, refocus, and reframe. Instead of focusing on a particular election, I focus on living in a democracy or improving the nation. Also, I never completely sever myself from the widest of all perspectives: The union of all things, the miracle of life. Leaning on something greater than ourselves and accessing what I refer to as the “Supreme Mode” of consciousness can be learned, as laid out in A Unified Theory of Happiness. Even though perspective is practically everything…

You can also wash sorrow out with joy. This is a Chinese proverb I’ve come to cherish. Sometimes we need to focus on the good and divert our attention from the bad. While I am a strong believer in “facing and embracing” our truth, sometimes smelling the roses when we don’t quite feel like it can work miracles. Along these lines…

Change something you can. When the milk is spilled, the milk is spilled. Nothing can be done about the past. But maybe there is something we can do in the now. Doing something positive when feeling stuck has the power to yank us out of the mud. “If you feel discouraged, encourage someone else,” a wise person once said. Lost an election? Clean up your backyard. Feeling hurt? Join a gym. This is not denying a problem, but getting your system going again by starting a ripple effect in an area of your life that does not seem to relate to the original disappointment. As everything is somehow connected, the waves we trigger with one simple action may eventually remove the obstacles to the flow of life once more.

-Andrea F. Polard, PsyD

4 Ways to Survive Unexpected Situations

Expert advice for maintaining your confidence and finding a positive outcome.

Life throws unexpected things at us all the time. Some we like—such as finding a $20 bill on the sidewalk—but many of them we don’t, such as missing a flight due to an extra long line at airport security. Sometimes unexpected events can be much more serious, such as an illness or a job loss. Needless to say, these kinds of events can be quite distressing.

What you need to rely on most during these difficult times is your ability to think creatively and solve problems. However, research shows that negative emotions such as fear, anger, and frustration can actually cause your brain’s executive network, which is responsible for problem solving, to constrict and work less effectively. On the other hand, positive emotions help your brain generate more creative solutions to problems.

How can you become more successful at dealing with life’s curve balls? Although you can’t control the occurrence of unexpected situations, you can control how you respond—and that can make all the difference in how you feel and how you deal with distressing issues. Following are four ways to survive unexpected stress, and maybe even come out ahead:

1. Pause before you act.

There is a huge difference between a reaction and a response. A reaction comes from an automatic part of the brain. It is almost like a reflex. Reactions are very quick, especially when we feel threatened in someway. On the other hand, a response is something you consciously choose to do based on a more thoughtful assessment of a situation. For example, when someone cuts you off in traffic your automatic reaction might be to get angry and assume the driver is deliberately being rude or thoughtless. This anger can cause you to want to retaliate in some way. By pausing and taking time to think, you give yourself a window of opportunity to pick a better option. You might decide that retaliating is not in your best interest or you may realize that the driver wasn’t deliberately trying to be disrespectful, but was simply not paying attention. For most people, practicing deep breathing and counting to 10 can help restrain a reaction long enough to choose a better response. If you are a very visual person you may even imagine yourself aiming a remote control at the situation and pushing the pause button. Practicing mindfulness on a regular basis is another great way to increase your ability to pause before acting.

2. Don’t assume that the things you don’t want are bad. 

Most people automatically assume that if something they don’t want happens to them, it’s a bad thing that will likely lead to an even worse outcome down the road. If you break up with your partner, you may think it is awful because you will never find anyone better and you will always be alone. If you don’t get a job you sought, you may think no one will ever hire you and you will be stuck living with your parents forever. Thinking this way inevitably makes you feel terrible.

For most of the things that happen to you, there’s no way of knowing whether they will be a bad thing or a good thing—and which one an event turns out to be often has a lot to do with how you respond. If you end a relationship, blame yourself, become despondent, and never leave the house, you increase the likelihood of not finding another relationship. However, if you accept that, for whatever reason, it was not the right relationship for you, maintain a positive attitude, believe that a better relationship is coming your way, and then get involved in fun activities, you significantly increase the likelihood of finding another great partner, possibly one who is an even better match.

Unexpected situations often have the potential to open the door to new events in our lives that we do want. If you miss your plane, you may end up meeting the love of your life on a different flight. If you lose your job and are forced to move to a new city, you may meet a great new set of friends, or find your dream home. You never know what will come of a situation, so rather than assuming a situation is bad, which only generates lots of unhelpful, negative emotions, practice saying to yourself, “We shall see.” Then make an effort to look ahead with hope.

3. Plan for everything to turn out well.

Many people hope for the best, but plan for the worst. The problem with this strategy is that we act on our expectations, yet our actions create our experiences. If you want a good outcome, you have to plan for one because that is what leads to the actions that create good experiences. An unexpected event is one you didn’t plan for, but that doesn’t mean you can’t plan to create the best possible outcome from the situation. We all have the ability to shift our attention from an unexpected event that seems like a big problem and focus instead on finding the solution. The minute you ask yourself what you can do to make something better, you have taken the first step in planning for events to go well. When you see a plan laid out in front of you for how to make something turn out well, your assessment of the situation starts to change. You regain your sense of control and as a result you start to feel better.

4. Trust in your ability to be OK.

Most people have been through more than one difficult thing in their life. You’ve probably already been through several significant challenges and quite a few smaller bumps in the road. No one likes them, but most of us survive them. When you are in the middle of a difficult situation, instead of assuming it won’t work out, think about the things you have already been through and ask yourself, “What did I do to get through those events?” Knowing your own strength is important for self-confidence. If focusing on your strong qualities doesn’t come naturally, ask someone who knows you well to give you a boost. When you redirect your attention from a problem to the knowledge that you’re able to handle it, you will start to feel better.

-Jennice Vilhauer, PhD