When the same information/data shows up from multiple sources, I pay attention. This week, two different people shared similar versions on the same story, so I thought I'd elaborate on it here. The story goes that there are certain cultures (e.g., Asian, Native American) where it's customary to listen deeply when someone is speaking—which minimizes interruptions that are considered inappropriate, or even rude. The listener then generally replies after they have had a moment to integrate any new, and/or conflicting (from their perspective) information.
Why is this an issue for empaths—those who can feel other's emotions as if they are their own?
If you've ever watched a news show with multiple guests talking over each other, you'll know what I mean when I say that it doesn't feel safe to watch.
Listening without thinking about a response, or reacting/interrupting can be challenging—especially if what the speaker is saying is in conflict with your perspective—but it prompts nervous systems to choose states of defense like fight, flight, or freeze (whether participating in the conversation, or viewing it), and empaths can feel the energy of fear, and/or anger, related to that.
But feeling the fear and anger isn't the only issue.
When everyone is in a state of defense, it's easy to misinterpret what's being said, and believe narratives that would otherwise not resonate with your truth—and that stuff can spread. When this is the scenario, everyone is in their head, or so triggered by what is being said (as well as the emotional energy of fear, and anger), that their essence is out of their bodies altogether. In addition, people typically don't know what to do with the anger that arises—and so they send it toward a specific person, or a group of people, or turn it inward against themselves (especially if it was learned that anger is not okay to feel).
What's more is that when people are in these states of defense, it's difficult to read someone's intentions and whether they are telling the truth (whether the physical cues match what they are saying). In his book, "The Pocket Guide to Polyvagal Theory: The Transformative Power of Feeling Safe," neuroscientist Dr. Stephen Porges describes physical characteristics (which I list below) that offer signals to the brain as to whether someone feels safe to connect with physically, emotionally, etc. He says, “Functionally, if a person is mobilized and in a defensive state, it will be difficult for them to detect cues of safety. If a person is “shut down” or dissociated, it will be almost impossible for them to detect cues of safety” (p.102).
Could you imagine if the newscasters and their political pundit guests were all sitting in a circle and could only speak when they were handed a talking stick?
My hunch is that everyone would know that they would get their turn to not only be heard, but listened to in a way where their perspective is considered. It's an unlikely scenario, but I can still feel the difference in my body just imagining it. My body starts to relax. I can feel how the individuals in the circle would feel relaxed in their body too—where they could drop their awareness from their logical mind, down to their heart and gut.
From this feeling of relaxation in the body, it would then feel safe to expand energetically where there is more room to take in conflicting information, as well as the discordant energies of fear and anger—without absorbing that energy in their body.
So how can you practice this art of listening when conflicting perspectives, or incongruences, are affecting your nervous system?
There are three approaches that you can take to feel safe when you come in contact with conflicting perspectives, or incongruence between what is being said and the energy you're picking up.
1. Listening to the other person
When you are in a state of curiosity, it's a sign that your nervous system is in what Dr. Stephen Porges calls "social engagement," and connection with others is possible, so here are four questions you can ask while listening to another person:
Are they making eye contact, or averting their eyes?
Are they smiling with their eyes, or smiling with their mouth only?
Are they using intonation/vocal prosody, or is their voice more monotone?
These last four questions are some of the cues of safety (former), or danger (latter) that the brain picks up from our senses, which can tell you whether, or not, the person speaking is at capacity to hear your perspective. If you're picking up more cues that signal danger, then it may be best to move to step #2. Note: Stephen Porges' son, Seth Porges, has a helpful overview to illustrate this further.
2. Listening to self
While the questions above can help to remain curious and out of defense, sometimes past experiences can influence the present and others' perspectives can feel triggering. If this is the case, I've found it helpful to shift the listening to your own body's reactions.
When you practice noticing, it makes it easier to stay in your body where you then have access to your inner wisdom's guidance to receive insight on what you need to care for yourself in the moment (Do you need to take a break, breathe, check your grounding cord, or radiate light from your heart?), and then respond to the topic in a way that is aligned with your truth.
3. Playing Scrabble
Imagine that everyone is given a set of tiles to play scrabble. Each set is different. Some of the tiles were given out to others when times were overwhelming and their brain made the overwhelm mean something that's not true (Ex. I'm not wanted, I'm not enough...). If they're still playing with tiles of unprocessed trauma (and who isn't?), others' perspectives can trigger a reaction and make it challenging to listen.
When you recognize that everyone's working with a different set of tiles that shapes their perspective, it becomes easier to have compassion for those that differ from your own—which then shifts you out of defense and allows you to be the one who can hold a safe space for their discordant energy to release.
Empaths typically are great lie detectors because we can read energy, however, we can still get stuck in our heads (and social conditioning) and ignore, or dismiss, what we're picking up.
With so many attacks in the media being thrown at various individuals, it's important to practice these listening techniques so we can recognize the fear-based and less-than-empowering narratives, as well as the smear campaigns targeted at those who have something important to say.
As an added benefit, these listening skills can help you to shift your nervous system into a state of connection where it feels safe to be with other people with different beliefs and perspectives: when you're in this more expansive state, the different frequencies can move in and out of your field without absorbing them in your body—where you are then left to spend the day on the couch transmuting them!
That said, if you're noticing some overwhelm, or expending your energy trying to create harmony among those around you, please feel free to reach out. I offer private coaching/energy healing that can help to dissolve the triggers that keep your nervous system on alert and missing the cues that could be helpful to you. You can schedule a free discovery call where we can review what you desire to bring into your life, what may be getting in the way, and the resources that can best suit your needs (potentially including my offers). There is no obligation to invest as I truly love learning more about the challenges that empaths are facing and how they are shining their light in the world.