Several years ago, I logged some significant time visiting an acupuncturist. At the time, I worked as a waitress at a cigar bar (BLEH) and my sinuses and overall health paid a daily price.
I also found acupuncture to be helpful at that time in my life because my body was still trying to recover from two decades of self-starvation, binging and purging behaviors, which left me compromised on practically every level.
At any rate, the professional I was seeing was trained in multiple disciplines, and over time as we healed me on a physical level, the healing work began to dig deeper.
Of course she became a mentor and a trusted part of my support team, which meant I would sometimes come in and mention a difficult interpersonal interaction or conflict with a loved one as well.
One day, after being on the receiving end of several such stories, she shared her perspective on what the underlying issue might be. She said she thought I needed to learn to “zip up.” And she wasn’t talking about my jacket.
She then told me that, from her point of view, I was clearly an empath – which is another fancy term that basically just means someone who is sufficiently sensitive emotionally to easily pick up on others’ emotional states and empathize (see?) with them.
She said I was the kind of empath who had a lot of trouble figuring out which energy was mine (coming from within me) and which energy was someone else’s (coming from them towards me).
Then she gave me an assignment. The next time I felt myself to be in the presence of any strong emotional energy (whether I knew whose it was or not), or preferably before I even ventured out into any place where other people who were feeling strong feelings might be present, I should “zip up.”
This is how she told me to do it:
Picture yourself standing up tall. Starting at your feet, grab the zipper pull at your feet and pull it all the way up, up, up, over your head, and back down the other side until it reaches your heels.
That is it! You are “zipped up!”
She explained that, mentally and emotionally, this keeps my energy in and others’ energy out. This doesn’t meant I don’t still perceive or even react to the energy present around me. It means that other people’s energy can’t sneak inside me while I’m not paying close attention and then start to behave as if it is my own energy to trick me into thinking I am lonely, angry, sad, hopeless, fearful, etc…..
In other words, I can be with a friend who is sad, hold that space for her, offer a listening ear, even cry with her if that unfolds, and still not take on her pain and sadness and carry it around with me for the rest of my day. It is her sadness – and truthfully, like we all do, I have plenty enough of my own without taking on the sadness of others as well.
I realize this “zip up” exercise sounds really simple and even too simple, but I have to say – it REALLY works. I love to go to a local park near where I live. I’ve been going for years – decades, even. When I go, I usually walk on a three-mile gravel walking trail lined with trees and ponds and natural loveliness.
In past years, I used to regularly get accosted by single men who were out trolling the park for hookups, dates or workout clients. More than one literally followed me down and around the trail – one in a blinding rainstorm – talking and standing too close and just generally being very unwelcome.
In the past, I didn’t know how to react and I didn’t understand why these types of people would target me. In one case, I literally had to stop, turn to the person, and very rudely state, “I came here to walk alone and think and not to talk to you and I want you to leave me alone.” It worked, but I felt bad for the rest of the day afterwards.
Today I don’t get accosted anymore. If I forget to “zip up” and then I notice a suspicious-looking individual moving in my direction, I quickly do the mental visualization and “zip up” and then turn my attention firmly to the path ahead. The person then departs for greener emotional pastures.
“Zipping up” also works amazingly well in other scenarios, like in the grocery store and on the freeway. It helps get tailgaters off my bumper and send grumpy angry complainers in the direction of the store manager instead.
But most of all, it keeps me semi-sane in a world that often feels increasingly insane, at least emotionally speaking.
Today’s Takeaway: Have you ever had trouble with intrusive people that just don’t seem to have the social radar to realize you don’t welcome their company? Are you a magnet for individuals who just want to complain and hog your time and drain your energy? I would love to hear if “zip up” helps you to find some personal space and sanity in these types of situations!