Do you know who you “really” are? Have you struggled with your sense of self, experienced an identity crisis, or maybe still feel like you’re figuring it out?
It is common in the archetypal hero’s or heroine’s journey of our life that we lose, question or hide our real self. But for empaths (highly sensitive people), it is practically a given. One of our main traits as empaths is that it is easy for us to merge with other people and absorb their emotions, problems, values, habits, beliefs and more. And because it is so natural for us to live in everyone else’s shoes, we don’t even know we’re doing it. This causes us to believe that everything we are feeling and experiencing is our own.
This dynamic often sets us up for hellacious identity crises. Extracting ourselves from the stew of codependence, figuring out where we end and the next person begins, and learning to live from our own center are major challenges in the life of an empath. In my work with sensitive souls, and codified in my book The Evolutionary Empath (on shelves Nov 5), I offer a number of exercises and processes for reclaiming your sense of self and learning who you are. One of those tools is examining who you were as a child.
Exploring who you were as a child before the world began to unduly influence your behaviors and decisions can be a fantastic way to help you remember your true self and to regain your center. There are usually untainted, pure behaviors up through approximately ages 6, 7 or 8 that can help you recall your core essence before you began censoring yourself.
This exercise lends itself well to journaling or reflective meditation. And honestly, you don’t have to be an empath to get value out of this query. This is an excellent practice for anyone looking to reclaim and live from their authentic self.
To get a bit more granular, contemplate the following questions:
- How did you play? What or who did you play with?
- What activities were you attracted to? Music? Sports? Art? Building things?
- How did you respond to people around you?
- What are your favorite memories?
- What did you spend time imagining, dreaming or fantasizing about?
- What were your “prized” possessions?
- What did you want to be when you grew up?
- Where were your favorite places to visit?
For me, this was a goldmine activity. Here are some themes that were expressed as a child that are core pieces of me now: Native American spirituality; horses; love of rocks, stones, trees, fur, and natural elements; fantasizing about and playing with “magical” objects; creative expression through art, dance and music; being in nature; being physically active; climbing trees and exploring; and being sensitive to others’ emotions. I was naturally exuberant, adventurous and active. I loved being outdoors and playing with nature’s toys. I gravitated toward creative expression of all kinds. And I naturally picked up on and felt everyone else’s feelings.
But, many of those qualities went underground as I grew up and started absorbing the messages from church, family, school, and society about who I should be, what is and isn’t appropriate, and putting other people’s expectations of me above my own heart’s calling. Can you resonate with any of this?
One of my favorite recollections, which so totally parallels my current self, is that I was a little medicine woman before I even knew what that was. I had my special collection of magical items that I kept in a crocheted draw-string bag (remember those from the ’70s?). Of course, they were just rocks, sticks, costume jewelry, dried flowers, bits of this and pieces of that. But to me, they had special meaning and powers. My favorite fantasy was about a ring I had. The “stone” was yellow, probably glass or acrylic, and it was translucent. You could see an interesting pattern on the bottom of the stone where the adhesive dried when it was glued to the mounting. This design, I fantasized, was a map of my home planet. It was an island in the middle of an ocean and this special ring of power kept me connected to my true home.
What were your “make-believe” stories?
As you consider this exercise of reflecting on your childhood, I would be remiss if I didn’t roll an important disclaimer: Depending on the experiences of your early years, this activity may or may not work for you. Some people have repressed much of their childhood or have very few memories to call upon. Some people are walk-ins, meaning their “soul swapped out” at some point in their early life and they have no recollection of life before the exchange. If recalling your childhood is difficult, you might hook up with a parent or older sibling to reconnect with these aspects and behaviors of your young self.