Softness via Pablo Alfieri
A brief history of hating people and sulking in depression and self-hate has prompted me to acknowledge what happened to me and my mom a few weeks ago. I am a recovering emo, I guess, although I never dressed all the time in black and painted my face in a non-conformist fashion.
Over time I have, and still am, developing a habit of positivity and sound mental judgement. I know how easy it is to be a worldly person who reacts automatically and I know how hard it is to be a positive thinking human who knows when to step back and evaluate things before reacting.
A few weeks back, my brother’s seamstress came to our apartment to assist my brother with his current project. She’s a bubbly individual who just loves sharing her stories with everybody. This day, in particular, she carried horrible news about her life.
A few days after Mother’s Day, apparently her life went on a downward spiral with her husband doing drugs and her able kids not working or even trying to find a job. I can go on with the whole detail, but by no means do I want to infect you.
I was sitting by the sofa, doing my laptop habit, checking mail, browsing websites and tinkering with my blog as she poured her whole demise to my mom. My mom, mind you, who played the willing victim and acknowledged her every single problem as if it was her own, as if it’s an effective way to comfort a friend.
I was wearing my headphones, minding my own business when suddenly I heard my mom talking about how she’s so frustrated with her kids too.
In my head I was like, “Mom, I’m a few meters away from you. If you’re going to voice out your frustrations, you can damn well say it to my face and not talk to her as if I’m not around.” This is not the first time she did that, , but I pretended I heard nothing to keep the relationship. I thought this was just a few symptoms of mid-life crisis.
“Empathy is a noble virtue but allowing yourself to become a sponge person, sucking others’ stress, is self-destructive.”
According to Martha Beck, Sponge People are a race of people inadvertently taking in the negative emotional energy of other people, a phenomenon similar to catching an epidemic.
Negativity is a strong psychological disease. It’s mainly the culprit behind major depression and suicides. It takes a couple of positive thoughts to keep you up and going, and that one negative thought to make everything fall apart.
I don’t know why our minds work this way.
Probably because deep inside, we’re all craving a little bit of acknowledgement. We need it as a treat for exerting effort on anything. If someone was not impressed we feel incompetent. We begin to think that our efforts weren’t enough. It’s like the saying “You can’t please everybody” doesn’t really work when someone actually vents their frustrations on you or your work against the high statistic of those who congratulated you.
“Negative emotions run like wildfire. It destroys your sense of optimism, your drive to enjoy life and dooms everyone else.”
Instead of giving her comfort, my mom allowed herself to be caught in the wildfire of negativity. She sucked in so much negativity to the point that she forgot the wonderful things about her children. My mom focused on our flaws and how frustrated she is with us.
Not only did it make her more miserable, it pissed me off too!
It’s just so annoying. I wanted to throw in a tantrum right then and there. You can’t fully blame a woman going through menopause but it’s hard to admit that what she said actually hurt a lot.
To be stuck yourself, trying to cope with failure, going in circles to figure out where you’re heading next. I was actually doing fine and it seems like I was that close to figuring out what I wanted from life. Well, before I was slammed back to the hole I tried to crawl out from. And for that to come from someone I expected to help push me, it devastated me.
Now I know I’m not the only person on earth experiencing this kind of emotional virus.
You may be an employee surrounded by lazy and whiny co-workers. Or a nurse surrounded by angry dissatisfied patients and co-nurses who can’t afford to smile. You can also be a teacher surrounded by unruly students and miserable co-teachers.
Maybe you’re simply watching the news about another spree killing or the rapid growth of unemployment. You start seeing people crying or cursing the government, or both.
Maybe you happened to see your friend’s miserable break up post on Twitter or Facebook. There are endless possibilities of encountering this phenomenon. However, there are also ways to arm yourself against them.
Recognize your own emotional type
Self awareness is the first step to figuring out how you can save yourself from being a sponge person.
According to Dr. Judith Orloff M.D, a renowned psychiatrist and author of New York Times bestseller Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself from Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life, there are four emotional types of people: The Intense Thinker, The Emotional Sponge, The Strong and Silent Type, and The Gusher.
The Intense Thinker is the insensitive one, who believes he can think of a solution for anything and doesn’t really care about others’ feelings, even his own.
The Emotional Sponge is the one driven by emotions and as the name goes, is overly sensitive and prone to absorbing other people’s negative emotions as well as spreading them around.
The Strong and Silent type is the listener, who finds it hard to express himself and is therefore able to only take in the negative and not spread it, which usually plants a ticking time bomb inside.
The Gusher is the more toxic form of the Emotional Sponge, highly emotional and intensely expressive, usually responsible for a whole community’s misery.
Know the right people to talk to and stay away from negative people
Recognizing what kind of emotional type you have helps you evaluate other people’s emotional types and find a way to arm yourself.
All of us at some point in our lives have experienced sadness, frustrations and misery. People have advised us time and again that that kind of negative feeling needs to be released in order for you to move on.
Please, for the love of all things bright and beautiful, choose the people you share your story with.
Misery loves company. As much as you want to talk with someone who can relate to your situation, pick someone who has overcome it already. Find someone who is ready to listen and help, not someone currently going through the same situation like you. Don’t confide in people who are likely to push you further in your own misery.
Never share with someone who is more miserable than you.
Believe me you’ll either feel stuck in your shared miseries or get involved in self-destructive activities. If you don’t know anyone who can withstand the gravity of your negativity, then you can talk to a teddy bear or a pet or vent your anger on any inanimate object.
If you’re aware you are weak against negative emotions and are going through your own problems yourself, it’s better to stay away from negative people.
Don’t be rude and turn them down bluntly when they want to talk about their problems. Be honest, yet polite. Tell them you’re going through an emotional phase yourself and would appreciate it if they can allow you the time and space to figure things out. I’m sure they’ll understand.
Don’t try and be a hero if you can’t handle the stress involved. You’ll end up unintentionally ruining another person’s life and yours as well.
Visit a resident psychiatrist or call a 24 hour crisis hotline in your local community.
There are emotionally trained people ready to listen to you and provide professional counsel.
On the receiving end, because you’re aware of the emotional types of those around you, if you consider yourself strong enough to listen and counsel them without the added pressure of getting bummed out, then make it your personal mission. And don’t just listen. Help release them from the prisons they built around them by involving them in your radical self love habits.
Don’t judge. Don’t argue. Understand.
If you’re not really the type to give a shit about their feelings but you know your way around their problems, please don’t judge them or make them feel more pathetic than they’re already feeling. Give them your unbiased suggestions the sincerest way you can. Provide them with tips on how to take control of their lives. Empower them.
Be part of your friends’ support group when you know for yourself that you’re wearing your emotional armor and you’re ready to provide positive counsel.
These are but general ways of eradicating the race of sponge people in our lives. Ironically, not all people can handle personal change and development. Most would rather live life as it comes, blame every negative situation as part of being human and not do anything about it.
But you’re a human, an intellectual and highly sophisticated being, not a sponge person.
You have a mind capable of bending spoons and seeing limitless possibilities. You are wonderful, brilliant and empowered. Realize that you are capable of self-improvement. You are more than enough to create ripples of gratitude and positive thinking.
Yes, you’re human, but you’re also the master of your life. Take charge and enjoy it while you still can.