Figuring out how to live with a naturally warm and empathetic spirit has been my life’s challenge. I’m sure this is true for many of us. We may come into our adorable baby bodies totally loving and trusting, but then life happens. And no one makes it through childhood unscathed.
I’m not sure exactly when it happened for me, but the barriers around my very sensitive emotional body grew thick and nearly impenetrable. By the time I entered adolescence, I operated on 100% self-protection mode. Floating solo and sarcastic in my aloof bubble, I only allowed the tiniest bit of love to enter or escape. Loving sentiments were rarely spoken or displayed; showing vulnerability meant death! After a spiritual awakening of sorts at the age of 30, I busted up those old boundaries. Feeling so much love within me, I wanted to share it with the world. I walked outside completely unprotected and gooey. Like a real life Slim Goodbody, my heart sat on the surface; open and exposed, it slimed everyone and anyone with its affections. This manner of being didn’t exactly work out for me either. I found myself constantly nursing some emotional bruise or break. Out of necessity, I had to learn how to be strong but not hard, soft but not weak and discerning but not cold. I had to find balance.
Living is not a solitary activity. Interacting with others can be quite challenging for all of us, super sensitive or not. While I do believe that everyone is inherently good, I also know that people do shitty things! Even the people we hold close to us can act like total assholes. At some point in life, a lover, a friend or a family member may mistreat you, lie to you, betray you, disappoint you, and break your trust. It’s usually done out of their own insecurity, immaturity, self-centeredness and/or fear. We all do these things. I’m no saint. I’ve definitely hurt others because of my actions, even while I had the best of intentions. We’re only human and we are all growing through different things at any given time. Part of maturing as an individual is recognizing, through non-judgment and compassion, that we are all to some degree capable of the same behavior. And also, we are all here to assist each other on our separate paths toward evolution; that temporary pain you experience may be necessary to push you beyond your previous limits.
But knowing that we all can act stupidly and that it will eventually be for our good doesn’t exactly take away the hurt and anger you feel. And it doesn’t inform you on how to move forward in your relationships.
* How can I love unconditionally when I am continually disappointed?
* How can I forgive those that have wronged me without feeling like a pushover?
* How can I be a kind, open, and spiritually centered person without getting taken advantage of?
* Who can I really trust and how much of myself do I give to them?
I’ve wrestled with these questions over the years and the answers keep presenting themselves with more and more clarity. Here are some things I have discovered to be true and helpful in a meandering and feminine flow of a list because that’s just how I’m feeling today.
People are not just their potential.
I’ve always had a tendency to focus on the soul-self over the human-self. I’ve given my trust, support, and attention to those who were not capable of returning it. I’ve chosen to see the butterfly at the center as I looked right through the very obvious hard-shelled cocoon. And I’ve fallen in love many times with the potential over the present.
Yet we are not living in the future or on some alternate plane. We are only ever living in the NOW. So while I may be able to acknowledge the gem of a person I see underneath, while the natural nurturer within me can be a cheerleader for their evolution, all I can ever rely on is what is right in front of me. And if I forget that, I will only be disappointed.
This Maya Angelou quote has become my new mantra:
”When people show you who they are, believe them. The first time.”
For an idealist like myself, this truth was a chunky pill to choke down. But I have seen that people are not how they say they are or how they desire to be - they are what they show up as. And that’s ok. The tricky part is not getting too ATTACHED to the projected illusion; the challenge is to see people as they are now while simultaneously holding their potential in mind.
Here, we are our actions and our inactions. Nothing more.
Learn to tell the mirage of love and friendship from the real thing. One you’ll tumble right through, the other will always catch your fall.
It’s just you in here, baby.
Even if you are a part of the greater human family, your life is only ever YOURS to live. No one can completely understand your life experience because it is 100% based on your perception. We are only ever functioning from our unique selves, processing through everything with our senses, and perceiving the world based on our particular combination of conscious and unconscious beliefs.
Ultimately, the most important relationship you will ever have is with yourself. Self-care is essential and must come FIRST before anything or anyone else. You can’t ever leave you!! So you might as well learn how to get along with you.
No connection to another person will ever sustain you like the connection you have to yourself and the infinite source of all life. Amidst all the impermanence there is an eternal presence which will never abandon or desert us. I have noticed that the more I get good with God - that grander, vast, timeless spot within each of us - the easier it is to ride the ups and downs of relationships. As I’ve gotten older and further away from emotional adolescence, I have grown in gratitude for all of the people that have entered and exited my field, even those that have left my life in momentary chaos. Because they have only strengthened and deepened my connection to myself and the true origin of my happiness.
As we move away from codependence, we move toward self-reliance. And this doesn't have to mean becoming a recluse. Instead, it means grounding in the knowledge that it's only you and your concept of God in here. And anyone else you encounter is just another being you get to walk alongside. We can enrich each other’s lives, share in each other’s successes and failures, encourage, uplift, co-create, and all of the other good stuff that comes out of interpersonal connections.
Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries.
When you are emotionally sensitive, you may naturally be a good listener. People may gravitate toward your light like moths to a lamppost. It can be wonderful to help and give someone your ear when they are in need. Even strangers may divulge the details of their lives. But eventually you have to draw a line. It goes back to self-care. If someone is only treating you like their counselor or life coach, scheduling appointments where they do nothing but unload their emotionality on you without asking about you and your life - well then, perhaps you should start charging them for your time. Therapists get paid for a reason. Friendships are reciprocal and should not drain you of your energy.
If someone only desires to sleep with you and has no interest in seeing you outside of the bedroom, then you are not anything more than casual bedmates. If that’s cool with you, then great - have fun! If it’s not, stop responding to their inquiries. If someone’s body is literally inside of your body, there’s an energetic connection being made and emotional attachment can be difficult to avoid. Mistaking sexual interest for genuine interest is a rite of passage for many of us. Know the type of relationship you are in. Feel into the tone. Be honest about what you desire. Ask the other person where they’re at. It’s all fine, but mistaking one thing for another can be awkward at best and heartbreaking at worst.
Overall, boundaries are essential and entirely up to your own creation. You always have a say.
Be discerning. Carefully curate your inner circle.
I used to believe that loving people meant always carrying them with me. I thought nurturing meant never letting go. Giving more than I was receiving came quite naturally and I often ignored that inner voice that said, “what about you, Erika?” Out of a sense of lack, I thought I had to settle for whoever showed up in my life, even if they treated me poorly. Doesn’t everyone deserve my help and affection?
Um, no. Not really. Being a generous person does not mean allowing others to take advantage of you. No one gets extra points for ignoring their own needs out of guilt. Even martyrs require some support. Personally, I’m not a fan of one-sided friendships. I’m not too keen on getting used or manipulated. Yes, there are times when one person needs more than another or when we can only give so much of ourselves because of life events, but every solid connection is built on give and take.
Your inner circle - the people that have access to the deepest parts of you - should be a select few. Being a nice person doesn’t mean you have to let EVERYONE in. It does not mean opening up your heart, your home, or your legs to just anyone, despite how good it may feel to temporarily connect with them.
Practice discernment and be selective. While everyone is deserving of your divine love and compassion, not everyone is worthy of your friendship. Sometimes people are just lessons you have to learn. And you may not realize it until after the fact. Everything is always revealed in time. You can paint bronze gold but it's no substitute for the real thing. Paint always comes off with wear.
Decide what you want from a relationship, who you want to have as a friend or partner and then BE THAT PERSON. Connection is based upon energetic resonance. We attract what we are, what we think we deserve, and what we believe is possible. As we gain more self-confidence and raise our personal vibrations, the people we attract will change as well. As the saying goes, people come in for a reason, a season, or for life. Even our existing relationships will shift as we do.
Being needy and having needs are different things.
Insecurity in the self breeds neediness. If I am insecure, I am always going to look to outside validation. I NEED you like an addict needs a fix. I NEED you to confirm my sense of self, to build me up, to make me feel like I matter. But if I am secure in something greater than my temporary nature and if my worth comes from within me... then I don’t need you for survival. I just get to enjoy your company and rely on you as a supportive friend. You get to come and go as you please, just as I do.
It’s usually not until life knocks you on your ass that you recognize that people are the most important “things.” I pride myself on being independent, yet I view my family like friends and my friends like family. If you’re in, you’re in! I cherish and depend on the love and support of others even if I can function on my own. When I recently got into a car accident and was home alone and in pain, I thought “hmm, I actually really need someone right now. Maybe having needs isn’t so bad.” On a normal day to day basis, I'm cool. I take care of me. But when I’m physically uncomfortable, emotionally exhausted and just plain old sad, it's more than nice to have someone there for comfort.
I will always remember a conversation I had with an old friend. It was several years ago and I was debating whether or not to end the relationship I was in at the time. Although I loved my boyfriend very much, I felt as if he always disappeared whenever I was going through something really difficult or important in my life. After I shared the details of this dilemma, my friend simplified it by saying, “A lot of shit happens in life. Shit that is really scary. You’re always there for him but is he ever there for you?“ The answer, sadly, was no. And even though it was upsetting, I knew what I had to do.
We do need each other at times. And that’s ok.
We are all doing the best we can.
How we behave in life indicates where we are in consciousness. We are all on our own paths to awakening. We are all evolving and moving past the illusions we used to hold as truths. We are all growing up! So if someone betrays you, lies to you, breaks your trust, deceives you, talks ill of you, or abuses you - their behavior is not ABOUT YOU. It’s not personal. How they behave stems from their own limitations, judgments and fears. The manner in which they act is directly related to what they believe about themselves and the world.
So if that is true, can we ever really blame anyone for being themselves? On some level, yes. What they did was awful and it hurt you! They would be wise to take some mature personal responsibility. But from the enlightened angle, no. Like a baby who doesn’t yet know he/she can’t paint the walls in poop, people can only act and react as they know how to from their level of awareness. The baby has to learn that is not an acceptable way to express their creativity in your home. You have to tell them! They can’t do better until they know better. And then from that point, it’s up to you whether or not they are left unattended in your house.
You are the only one who can stand up for you.
We can’t always know what is happening within another person. We can’t always guess what the other person needs. That’s why it has to be spoken!
Stand up for how you are feeling. Honesty may be temporarily jarring but it is ultimately freeing. Be boldly real. Nothing is stronger than looking at someone and telling them your truth without flinching. When you share your self-acceptance with another, it will only send ripples throughout their energy field. Because we are all made up of the same stuff! We are always mirroring each other. When you are real with another, you give them the opportunity to do the same.
I’ve never had a problem expressing anger. Yelling, screaming, and seething have always come easy. But I have learned that I can never yell loud enough to turn back time or change past circumstances. Speaking up for myself in a grounded, honest, and sincere manner has done more for me than fighting ever did. Looking at someone and saying "I don't like what you did. That hurt me. That's not ok with me and I won't allow myself to be a part of a relationship where that behavior takes place" is more powerful than any angry bite or jab.
Vulnerability is strength. Pretending, aloofness, lying: these are all weaknesses spurred on by fear. We all have the capability to operate in these ways. But I know when I have chosen my truth, however difficult it was to admit or own up to, I have always been rewarded with new levels of self-confidence, freedom and personal power.
I love you, I forgive you, I want nothing to do with you.
I don’t want to punish someone for their truth. I wouldn’t want anyone else to punish me for mine! But it is well within my right to decide whether to forgive, forget, and continue on in the relationship.
Self-inquiry is necessary. What feels most loving for you? What feels like a relief - being with this person or being away from them? How many chances are you going to give? Do you actually want to be around them or do you just feel obligated based on some old idea of what it means to be kind?
I once met this really high vibe spiritual healer who was discussing how he maintains relationships. He said that the first time someone close to him breaks his trust, he’s gone. In a sense, they’ve lost him forever! I remember thinking that was kinda harsh. But now I understand how it’s actually quite loving to cut those ties.
Because the truth is:
I can LOVE you from an unconditional and nonjudgmental place - as the ideal divine mother and father would. I can greet you with a real namaste and mean it! I can see you through the eyes of the infinite.
I can FORGIVE you. I can look right through your actions to the root of why you did them. I can acknowledge your humanity and the fears which lead to your decision-making. I can see the part I played in the events that took place. I can imagine myself in your shoes and feel compassion for your insecurities, knowing that I have the potential to act similarly. I can remember that holding onto anger only causes me to feel more of it.
I can do all of this - from a distance. I can love you and forgive you and also WANT NOTHING TO DO WITH YOU.
And that’s being kind. You are not helping anyone by enabling their low self-esteem or poor behavior. Continually giving someone the benefit of the doubt despite repeated offenses doesn’t win you any awards. It doesn’t make you a better person. And pulling away from the relationship doesn’t make you a horrible person. Instead, it makes you confident. And strong. And fiercely LOVING. It says “I love you but I love me more. I love me most.”
If someone does not contribute to your life’s joy, if they act in a manner that does not vibe with how you desire to be treated - they may not be deserving of your time. Your greatest tool, weapon and line of defense is your time and your point of focus. Your attention and your energy are vital to your precious life experience. Why would you waste it on those who disregard your feelings or do not treat you well? The best thing you can do for another is to pray for their enlightenment and freedom. Send them love, see them happy and unburdened, and hold only the highest of intentions for their future. And then release them from your life.
It can be difficult to let go of people especially when you have grown attached to them. But you do not have to suffer for friendships or for love. You do not have to hold onto anyone out of a fear that you won’t find better. There are millions of lovely beings in this world. Open up the space in your life and become an energetic match for those you desire to associate with. You can trust that the right people for you will come in just as the wrong ones will leave. It always works this way!
Overall, this life is YOURS to enjoy. And it goes by so quickly! Choose yourself first and you will only be rewarded in kind. The universe is constantly responding to us. As water always seeks its own level, so is it the same for relationships. Be the type of person you want to be around, honor your truest feelings, stand up for yourself, and watch as you are only surrounded by love.
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