As a highly sensitive person (HSP), healer or empath, dating can come at a high emotional cost. We are like sponges, unconsciously picking up on the energy of those in our vicinity, crying at what feels like inappropriate moments, or leaving a tense situation and feeling incredibly tired and heavy.
When it comes to dating, empaths and HSPs tend to naturally see the best in people. Our desire to care and nurture others is one of our most beautiful, attractive and revered qualities. And in addition to this: it also makes it f**king difficult to discern who is a good match for us, because we see beauty and capacity for love in all human beings!
A breakthrough moment for me this year was when I could see the pattern that permeated all my past relationships - I was settling for less because I didn't fully accept my own capacity, and need for, deep connection in relationships. This wasn't something I saw as a gift, but rather a curse which always made me feel like I was asking for too much.
Being naturally and energetically 'open', healers and empaths are magnets for others who 'need' this - in other words, people who are unable to give themselves the care and nurturing they need, for whatever reason, seek it in others.
So what is a highly sensitive person/empath?
If you identify with any or all of the following, then its likely you have empathic gifts (the ability to feel other people's emotions as your own):
You need a lot of time alone to re-energise after spending time with people.
People often say "I've never told anyone this before" and continue to tell you their life story.
You are strongly connected to your intuition and know when someone is lying/inauthentic/insecure but can't explain why.
Others often say how self aware, wise or what an 'old soul' you are.
People tell you to 'stop being so serious' or to 'stop taking things personally.'
You used to get told to 'harden up' or to 'just get over it' and asked 'why you are so sensitive'
You cry at random moments (festivals, weddings, parties, nostalgic songs, sad films, happy films, life generally)
In my relationships and since studying the complexities of human attraction, I've noticed three common pitfalls that I, and other highly sensitive people, tend to perpetuate in relationships.
Falling in Love with Potential
The double edged sword of being highly sensitive is that while empaths naturally see the best in people, it can be easy to see who this person could be rather than who they actually are. While this comes from a beautiful desire to help others, I've also come to realise it can manifest as a deeper fear of vulnerability.
When we can focus on 'fixing' another person (and projecting all our stuff on to them in the meantime) we never have to deal with our own stuff.
The problem with falling in love with potential is that we're basically telling the other person that they aren't good enough for us. And in order to be with us, they need to change.
This is where reflection and developing a strong capacity for self awareness can help you see where you are projecting your emotions on to others. Often the 'problems' you see in your partner are a direct reflection of what also exists within you.
Becoming the caretaker in relationships
Similarly to falling in love with potential, people who take on the caretaker role are looking for someone to focus on so they can avoid their own stuff. Of course, at different times in the relationship partners will need to lean on each other. But what I am referring to here is when there is one person who always needs support, and the other person takes on the role of being present, addressing their needs.
A common disposition for healers and highly sensitive people is to feel as if they carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. And although we might be getting overwhelmed and feeling burdened with people's stuff, our caring and nurturing nature means that we often stay in relationships because we have convinced ourselves that this person needs us when in reality, care takers need to have someone to take care of in order to feel loved and validated, just as the other person needs the support to feel loved and validated.
The shadow side of this dynamic is a caretaker often justifies this as being 'spiritually superior' to their partner, which is essentially just another form of protection from heartache. If we believe we are superior to our partner, perhaps not even consciously, then we create a sense of safety in our minds by convincing ourselves that they won't leave us.
Reflecting to our detriment
I write a lot of about the importance of self awareness and reflection in relationships, however this will only get you so far (50%, in fact).
HSPs tend to be very aware of how other peoples' emotions impact on them. Growing up I would spend so much energy analysing what I had done 'wrong' to cause someone to react in a particular way, and this carried on through my relationships. I was an extremely shy and timid person, who was scared of speaking up when I wasn't treated fairly because I was scared of losing love.
However, if you end up in a relationship with someone who does not reflect on their behaviour, you can end up apologising for things that are not your fault, because you are scared of losing love. In the most extreme cases, you might end up with a partner who gaslights you, which can be extremely debilitating and toxic to our self worth.
Sometimes, it really is their stuff which they are projecting on to you, and no amount of reflection on your behaviour will change the situation. I have experienced times when reflecting on my own behaviour has become another way to be unnecessarily critical and harsh on myself, and a distraction from feeling and releasing stories and emotions which are no longer serving me.
From one highly sensitive person to another, here are my dating self care tips for healers, empaths and highly sensitive peeps out there:
Boundaries, Boundaries BOUNDARIES.
Setting and sticking to boundaries is often extremely difficult, and sometimes not even desirable. But boundaries are CRUCIAL for ensuring that we don’t lose ourselves in relationships.
Growing up, most people are never taught how to set boundaries. Think about it - how many times were you told you had to go to this party, or give some creepy or strange relative a hug and a kiss even though they smelled weird, or had a tantrum because you didn't want to do something. Children can be easily manipulated by parents into doing things they don't want to do, and often when they try to exert boundaries, they are immediately overruled by the all conclusive 'you just have to'.
Its even less natural for highly sensitive people to have boundaries, and because they are so loving, and just want to help, they can often mistake attention and affection for love and connection.
But the majority of people do not understand he depth to which empaths know how to love. And because of this, they are unintentionally shamed for the depth to which they experience emotion and wear their heart on the sleeve.
Particularly in the beginning of a relationship, when you are just getting to know someone it can feel almost excruciating to say goodnight, or to spend a night apart from each other.
However, as someone who needs a lot of alone time, I can only do this for so long before I start to burn out. While in this case it is intense love and joy that I feel (both my own and theirs) it is still exhausting for me to be around people generally, even if I do love them.
While its normal, and even desirable, to lose the sense of balance you have created before this person comes along, its also important to maintain those routines that keep you centred. Whether its getting an early night, or having a night off a week to spend time with your own friends, in the long run it will make your connection stronger.
Energetically Protect yourself
There are many things you can do to energetically protect your energy from meditation, the affirmations, to particular pieces of clothing, to avoiding certain people, crystals, essential oils, smudging sage. For me, I find meditation and affirmations really helpful, and I also like wearing a piece of protective jewellery or scarf. My advice would be to try it all until something works for you, and when you are on a date, keep breathing and remain present and in the body.
Start noticing your attractions
Try asking yourself the following questions:
Who are the partners you tend to be attracting/and are attracted to?
Can you see any similarities or patterns about their personality or how the relationships began and ended?
Often empaths attract people who, for lack of a better word, are 'broken' in some way and because for the reasons explored above, try to fix or take away their pain. But all this does is 1) prevent the other person from feeling and moving through their stuff, and 2) place unnecessary burdens on you, and 3) prevent you from creating a truly fulfilling relationship with someone who sees you for who you are.
If any of this resonated with you, grab your copy of my free Conscious Dating and Relationships Guide which is packed full of practical tips and information about attachment styles, attraction and how this feels in the body.