Authenticity is one of the most important parts of being human. But it’s also one of the most difficult. We long for people to see us in our messy puddle and love and accept us anyway, but we fear that they will see our puddle and reject us. Being authentic always opens an opportunity to be rejected, and that scares us. Of course, rejection will happen. It is a part of life. But we must learn to be authentic anyway. As John Amodeo notes, being authentic lets us “discover a satisfying sense of integrity and satisfaction in expressing the truth of our experience no matter what response we receive.” Being authentic is healthy and freeing, but we need to feel safe and protected for that to happen.
To be authentic is a journey. It’s not something that we will always be. Whether it is because of a particular event or person in your life, there will be moments when you stop being authentic. Schwartz describes this scenario well:
Most of us are too concerned with what others think of us. As such, we may disguise or manipulate features of our personality to better assure that others aren’t judgmental or adversely reactive to us. If I worry about what others think of me, then I manipulate my personality and communication, either to seek approval or avoid disapproval. This masks my true or authentic self.
At some point, we will all mask our authentic self. But doing so always leads to anxiety. Every time. I cannot say this enough: Anxiety is a signal that we’re not being authentic. Stephen Joseph agrees, “People often have a niggling anxious sense that something in their lives is not quite right; this niggling sense is our built-in alarm alerting us to the tension of inauthentic living and urging us to make changes.” As highly sensitive empaths, we must learn to hear that signal clearly and choose to be authentic again. And protection will enable us to make that choice.
Another benefit of protection is that it helps us connect more deeply to those we choose. It helps us define the behavior and balance in a relationship to make deeper connection possible. It means setting boundaries in relationships, and asking others to abide by them, so you can see whether someone is healthy to have in your life. For example, it’s saying, “You know, I really don’t like it when you call me that word. Please don’t do that again.” If they continue to use that word, you have to decide. Do you need to say it differently so that they will hear you, or are they somebody who is not really safe to share that part of yourself with?
Obviously, each relationship must be assessed individually. But protection is learning how to set your boundaries. It’s asking for what you need and creating these standards. Deborah Ward explains:
Write a list of the things that you need emotionally. These are things that are important to you and upset you or hurt your feelings when they are ignored or violated. They could include being listened to, sympathy when you’re hurt, celebrated when you succeed, love and tenderness without asking for it, being cared for and knowing you can rely on someone. Whatever is important to you is important. And when someone ignores what’s important to you or crosses your boundary, you’ll know because it hurts. Don’t ignore that. Your feelings are there to tell you what’s right and what’s wrong.
Protection means choosing to be assertive about your boundaries and also being able to follow up with your assertiveness. If people don’t respect your boundaries, you may have to limit your contact with them.
Protecting ourselves helps us set boundaries. We need these boundaries to protect us from negative external situations, but they also help us avoid negative internal behavior. Specifically, they enable us to stop picking up other people’s energy. Absorbing energy from others is a basic reality for highly sensitive empaths. We do it with family and friends and people we’re helping. We can pick up emotions from movies or a walk through the graveyard. We often pick up others’ emotions unconsciously, although many in the helping professions probably do it consciously, thinking “I’m going to make you feel better. I’m going to take your pain away.” But whether we mean to or not, it’s really not helpful to us at all.