This week was full of family and observing young adult teenagers as they mature and rebel. As they fight their way to becoming their own person, doing things their own way, and having their own thoughts and beliefs. It was also full of mothers who are loving, trying to parent their rebellious teens while navigating a new role. That of guidance counselor, loving friend, and practical coach.
Letting go of the reins is hard. Watching your kids make mistakes and having to let them figure it out on their own must be excruciating. (I say “must be” because I do not have children of my own. I like to think of myself as a third parent to my nieces and nephews but the reality is I am not, I am an aunt.)
A wise client of mine said to me this week “empathy conflicts with identity development.” Wow! Read that again. Merging is how we feel connected to the people we care about. Our feelings for our people is what can make identity development challenging. There is so much change and struggle in adolescence and the overriding desire is to fit in and be accepted.
The desire to fit in conflicts with the developmental process and can result in a common pattern in unaware empaths; the chameleon effect or changing one’s personality–likes, interests, vocabulary, manners–to match the person with whom they are spending time. I am calling this the Phantom Persona.
The Phantom Persona
It is in childhood, and most especially in teenhood that the Phantom Persona takes root. Until empaths learn not to, we unconsciously extend our auric bubble out and merge with people, taking on their desires, needs, manners, and speech patterns. It is a natural empath ability to merge energies and put on other people’s personas.
Empaths take on the personal tastes and interests of others for many reasons; curiosity, fear, and inclusion being the most common. Humans have a driving need for connection with other people. Safety in numbers. To be accepted by others and part of a community supersedes our other driving need to be authentic. Regular use of merging especially when feeling insecure or vulnerable (what teenager isn’t) results in Phantom Persona.
Long-Term Effects of Phantom Persona
Phantom Persona creates real problems for us as we move out into the world of work and adult relationships. Neither area will be fulfilling and fun for us if we are constantly shifting to match our environment. Projecting a false persona isn’t fair to those we enter relationships with, work or personal, and it definitely isn’t fair to us. Eventually, our true self will bubble out and cause problems in those relationships and work environments.
If you have worked through this in your own life or are working through it now, then your understand the challenges of undoing the Phantom Persona. It requires us to figure out how to learn who we really are, what we want, and what we believe in. That is hard for anyone to do but it is excruciating to do it as a full grown adult. The more established we are in our career and/or marriage the more devastating it is to tear down the Phantom Persona and define your true self.
Note: If, like me, you didn’t do this as a teenager and waited till your 30s, 40s, or beyond and you are scared and wondering if it is worth it, I want to assure you it is most definitely worth it. Do it, it isn’t too late. Keep reading, the steps I discuss for helping teenage empaths to develop their sense of self are the same for an adult whose empath senses prevented them from properly defining themselves as teens.
Conflict is Inevitable, Embrace it
It is natural to individuate as a teenager. As young adult teenagers, we are moving away from our parent(s) as our authority and seeking to become our own authority. This is a natural and necessary process of maturation. And as we all know, it is emotional and challenging because teens don’t know everything they need to know in order to make good decisions all the time, so they will have missteps.
As adult empath parents of teens, it becomes our responsibility to hold space for mistakes. Point out the mistake, but be matter of fact and provide ideas of how they can handle it differently in the future. Empaths struggle with conflict and shame so practice talking to your kids and know that shame or embarrassment pushes them further into the Phantom Persona.
Conflict is often challenging for empaths. We feel deeply both our emotions and often those of the other party in the conflict. If you struggle with conflict, now is a great time to reach out for help and find support through therapists, coaches, and intuitive energy work.
Conflict will never go away, it is a necessary construct in life. It provides a potent structure for personal development. Conflict isn’t about controlling the teens’ behaviors but providing them understanding of the consequences for their decisions and actions. This is the domain of the practical coach. Whose role is to help teens understand cause and effect as it relates to their choices, words, and behaviors.
Creating a Container for Self-Exploration
If you understand your child to be an empath and you see them struggling to know their own needs and wants, help them by providing a safe environment and regular activity for their self-exploration.
- Begin by asking them what they like and why. Be specific: favorite color, team, subject in school, hobby, television show, or game. Give them space and time to answer you. If they don’t have an answer have them ponder it. Check in with them in a week.
- Nurture their curiosity, demonstrate areas where you and your friends or spouse disagree, let them know it is safe to have an idea that is not the same as yours.
- Encourage them to know and explain their why. This includes providing that safe space for them to explore and articulate their feelings, ideas, and beliefs.
- Listen without agenda. Let go of the instinct to convince them of your opinion. Instead, ask open ended questions. Continue the discussion over weeks and months allowing them to grow and expand their point of view.
- Hold space for them to change their mind. Demonstrate by letting them know when your opinion changes.
Don't Forget the Energetics
I mentioned above that empaths often merge with their companion’s energy field. This merging is what enables an empath to pick up on their companion’s interests, needs, desires, etc. So what happens when empaths merge with people all the time? They pick up energetic bits of everyone they have been in contact with throughout the day/week/month.
Having all those energy bits belonging to other people in your field does a couple of things:
- You become heavy, tired, and your natural energy vibration lowers, over time this can lead to illness, anxiety, and depression.
- You can’t hear or interpret your own needs and desires because it is “too loud” in your energy field or aura. You will pay attention to the needs and desires of those in your field often mistaking them for your own needs and desires.
- Sea Salt or Epson Salt baths
- Being in or near the ocean
- Smudging with sage
- A shower
- Meditation with clearing visualization (YouTube has a bunch)
Whether you are working on this process of individuation for yourself or your are supporting an empath teen through it, be gentle. This is one of the harder transitions for empaths no matter when you are tackling it.
Individuation is empowerment. It is being who you came here to be, not a another version of someone else; be that person a parent, a spouse, a friend, or a boss. There are plenty of people who would like you or your child to stay in their Phantom Persona because it serves their unhealthy ego and agenda. I hope knowing that is reason enough for you to tackle this important developmental process.
Three cheers for self-identification and developing the true self.
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About the Author
Laura Rowe is an Intuitive Strategist & Spiritual Seeker at The Vital Spirit. Living in Portland, Oregon, Laura founded The Vital Spirit in 2013. She has a background in business operations, a master’s degree in organizational management, and she has spent the last 35 years studying spiritual traditions and practices, and the last 12 years training in intuitive energy healing modalities.
Laura helps empaths and sensitives who have struggled their whole life with belonging. Explore How We Can Work Together