Are you an emotional sponge? Do you absorb other people’s feelings and bad energies? You may call yourself an empath, a victim, a people pleaser, or see yourself as suffering from over-responsibility. It is that guilty feeling of being responsible for other people’s discomfort, dissatisfaction, criticism, judgment and anger. Someone expresses extreme rage and anger at you, but it is you who internalizes and feels the pain of their anguish inside you. Imagine that out of control driver who can’t stay in his own lane, can’t simmer down his own temper, slams on his accelerator, cuts you off, leans on his horn to express his rage at you, nearly causes an accident, screams an expletive at you, before he drives off, but you are the one feeling horrible as if you did something wrong. Why? He may have some reason to be angry within himself, but why are you feeling the ickiness of his rage?
That tightness in the pit of your stomach is making you sick, he is long gone, he doesn’t even know who you are, yet his toxicity is now sitting in the pit of your stomach, making you sick. We all have anger, we all have issues, we all have negativity that we still haven’t released, and we all sometimes, inadvertently share it with others. Some people know how to deflect rage, while others absorb it like a sponge. Learning how to not be affected by other people’s emotions is a skill I had to learn and keep practicing. But, absorbing and feeling responsible for other people’s anger, disappointment, guilt was debilitating. When you allow other people’s judgment to permeate into you, you carry it within you. We all carry residual guilt, shame, and anger inflicted by others.
So what can you do to learn how to deflect bad energy?
1) Practice enforcing your boundaries, verbally, physically, emotionally. “No sir, I am actually not a c*, you are actually feeling inadequate with yourself, and attempting to make me feel smaller than you.” “I see you are angry, you are foaming at the mouth, but whoever pissed you off is not here. Take your temper elsewhere”. “Right now you are creating drama and attempting to get me to jump on your bandwagon. Let’s take a time out, and re-engage when you are acting more stable, and able to communicate clearly and constructively what is bothering you”. By defending yourself and refusing their blame or their anger, you are enforcing your boundaries. As soon as you do that, you will feel the power of honoring yourself.
2) Mirror the offender. Mirroring someone does not mean to act badly as they do. If he is an angry moron, that is no excuse to act just as badly. Being a mirror means allowing that person to see their reflection, their own rage and their anger for themselves . “I see, you are loosing control of your emotions”, “I see that there are years of rage that you haven’t dealt with”, “I see you are attempting to manipulate me”, “I see your own shame, and you are attempting to project it onto me”, “That fear is yours, I am not afraid at all”. Reflecting back whatever they are attempting to throw at you, allows them to see how they are seen by other people, which is probably not how they want to be perceived. If you provide real evidence for what you see (not just empty words), they are more likely to back off. Again, once you have deflected their rage back to them, you have successfully prevented it from absorbing into you.
3) Call them out preferably in front of others, before you have any chance to start processing their emotions for them. Stop them right away and say “No, you won’t succeed in bullying me. Your situation is your own, it is not for me to deal with”, “I see that you are creating drama to distract us from the fact that you are the problem.”, “I am not interested in getting sucked into your chaos, please leave me out of it”. Let them know that you know what they are doing, by calling them out, and back up your assertion with proof.
What is the cost to carrying other people’s feelings with you? I can write a book about that. But generally, it is low self-esteem, high stress, resentment and poor emotional and physical health. We all know what that is like. But most women don’t know how to fight back. We all feel guilty, even inadequate fighting with men. There is a heavy price to pay for talking back to angry men in the workplace, socially, politically and in intimate relationships. But our complacency and our fear of making them feel bad, has hurt us. It has hurt femininity and womanhood, it has hurt each of us emotionally, it has hurt us politically, and it has set our careers and independence back for hundreds of years. It hurts, and allowing people, especially men to inflict their own anger, rage, and judgment onto us, and actually accept it as normal has blinded and handicapped us.
There are generations of women out there who still feel that it is their responsibility to coddle and uphold manhood. There are generations of women who have accepted blame for being the weaker sex. What exactly makes us weak? There are generations of women who believe that femininity means complacency, passivity, dependence, incompetence, aloofness, acquiescence, undying support, agreement, subservience. In their defense, they spent years in fear of judgment, shame and guilt for having too strong of an opinion and for daring to disagree or contradict what manhood thinks femininity should be. That said, it is no wonder that today women are dropping out, saying No, walking away, questioning all aspects of romantic relationships and starting to act in their own best interest.
We have all been taught to act nice, smile kindly, support men in whatever fantasy they have of themselves, coddle them like a fragile golden egg, take responsibility for their well being, admit guilt, accept shame, accept judgment so they can feel like men. But, what is the cost to our health? What is the cost to our emotional well-being when we don’t speak up in that board room when our manager is boasting about an idea he borrowed from one of us. What is the cost of politely listening while some office asshole is pounding his chest like an ape, proclaiming himself to be the man, taking up space, but offering nothing to the bottom line? What is the cost of silently allowing toxicity to seep in?
The cost is your dignity. If you are wondering why people cross your boundaries so easily, it is because you have been cowering in the corner for years, when in fact you should have been defending your honor. If you are wondering why people spew hate and obscenities in you presence and simply expect you to say nothing, it is because you showed them that you can be counted on to sweep those offensive words under the rug. If you are wondering why toxic people assume their way into your life, it is because you are a sponge, willing to soak their feelings in.
The only way to reverse the situation is to start speaking up, defending your boundaries, fighting back, learning to speak logically and reasonably instead of emotionally, holding people accountable for bad behavior even if it costs you that relationship. You have to make yourself and your honor more important than anyone else’s existence. Your ability to exist in a healthy environment and with healthy relationships is your right, but you can only have that if you earn it. You earn that right, when you fight for your own dignity, for your own respect, and your own honor. No one else will honor you, until they see that your boundaries are strictly enforced.
Ten years ago I started to speak up, honestly, bluntly, without sugar coating anything. “No, I am not a bitch for saying no to you, you feel insecure when women tell you no”. “No, I actually don’t feel guilty making choices that are in my best interest, you are attempting to make me feel guilty so that I would act in your interest”, “No, you are not the most productive sales person on this team, Monika’s and Jane’s numbers are consistently higher”, “No, it is not okay for you to keep me company in my hotel room, you are my manager and if you have a problem with that, let’s talk to HR together”, “It is clear you don’t have a strong handle on your emotions, may I suggest anger management so that you can act more balanced during meetings?”, “No, I am not wearing this red dress for your benefit, actually I am wearing it for myself”.
The very first time I spoke my inner truth, and said something difficult bluntly without sugar-coating it, I felt like a boulder had been lifted off my chest. I felt free, lighter, healthy, and so powerful. What was surprising was that the more I started to talk back, challenge men, clearly demonstrate the errors in their thinking, the more they started to think before they talk, consider that I might easily prove them wrong, even expect me to put them in their place. Many men simply do not know how pompous they sound when they assume you will support their assertion of themselves. And many immediately become self-aware when you check them. Yes, assholes will always be assholes, and they will explode in rage when someone challenges them. Let them be angry, as long as you don’t accept their anger and apologize for it. Allowing men to save face, by making you responsible for their feelings is toxic to you.
You don’t need to support men, and it is not your responsibility to make them feel safe, coddled, and comfortable. That is only their responsibility. Allow their tempers to be your red flag and a sign to disengage, move away, you don’t want that in your life. But, resist the temptation to help them manage their feelings. If he is an adult who has made any effort to understand and develop himself, he will take responsibility for his own anger. He won’t attempt to unload it on you. In fact, rescuing men from their own feelings IS that bad habit that gets you sucked into toxic relationships every time. Leave him alone. Watch and observe whether he knows of constructive ways to diffuse his own anger. Kicking a car, a dog or you is not constructive at all. Hitting a punching bag isn’t either. It means he cannot express himself verbally, so he will go punch something instead.
Does he need you to agree with him so that he can feel right about his own assertion? Does he fall apart and lash out when others disagree with him? You don’t have a man on your hands, you have an emotionally unstable brat whose manhood is dependent on others upholding it.
Resist the temptation to help men be men. If he is a man, he will be balanced, he will be in touch with his emotions, he will be able to handle negative feelings without blaming others, or resorting to violence. A real man will not throw a temper like a child, or start hitting his chest like a Neanderthal. A real man can walk upright, speak in coherent sentences, and does not carry a club or make a fist any time someone threatens him. A real man does not need your help to be a man.
You don’t have to walk on eggshells around a real man. You don’t need to keep your opinion to yourself, so that he can feel okay. You can call him out on his bullshit and he won’t start crying or yelling obscenities. He can handle his own mistakes, admit when he has failed, you don’t have to fear repercussions or revenge when you are dealing with a real man. In fact, just start talking back, enforcing your own boundaries, saying No bluntly, then watch to see how the men around you react.
Once I started calling men out on their own bullshit in the office, I realized how valuable this is in my dating life. In fact, long before I start taking a man seriously or dating him, I watch how he deals with accountability for his own words, how he reacts to criticism, can he handle a challenge to his ego? I want to see if he is pretending to be okay, or is he really okay- the difference being is if he is not okay, you will see it as passive aggression, brooding, revenge, back-stabbing later. Men rarely verbalize when their feelings are hurt, instead they punch a wall, throw a tantrum, or do something underhanded when no one is looking. Pay attention to how he diffuses anger.
In the mean time, you need to stop absorbing emotions of men who don’t know how to handle their own inadequacies. Practice enforcing your boundaries unapologetically, mirror their feelings back to them without stooping to their level, and call them out when you see bullshit. Sure, they will be uncomfortable, but there is no reason for you to accept and carry that anger on your back. His anger is his toxicity, not yours. Eventually you will be able to tell the real men apart from the Neanderthals, by observing how they deal with their own emotions.