9 Ways to Nourish Your Heart (and reverse compassion fatigue)

by Caroline van Kimmenade

The world needs open hearts. The world needs compassion, caring, empathy, and being present. Your heart is important in so many ways. But how do you nourish and support your heart when the world looks bleak, hatred seems to run rampant and trying to care about one more thing feels impossible?

Below are 9 ways. But first, I want to emphasize that one of the reasons that we so very very much need more strong and healthy hearts in the world is because there are so many misunderstandings about love.

What is Love, Really?

The words love and caring and compassion get thrown around a lot by people who are not present and who show zero empathy and compassion. (It’s annoying right? Especially when other people fall for it)

Instead, for those unable to feel love, love becomes a rule: if you say happy birthday in this way, you’re kind. If you say it in that way, you’re mean. If you have this symbol in your online bio, you’re a good caring person, if you don’t, you’re bad.

None of that has anything to do with love. Trying to define love in our minds turns it into a caricature. Love needs to be felt in the body, in the heart.

Your heart is a part of you to listen to, to consult. The answers that come from your heart are often not obvious, not predictable. Love does not follow rules about what should or shouldn’t be done or said.

This is why the connection to your heart is irreplaceable. You can’t just jam a tape on love into your brain to run the show.

Your heart can cut through the “sounds good” noise and discern the true love out there. Especially when love shows up in unfamiliar ways. The heart can discern the goodness underneath the gruffness, the caring beneath the oddities.

Conversely, your heart can also sense the coldness beneath the pretty words. The lack of feeling beneath what sounds good. The hiding of rage and blame under a pretense to care.

Yet unlike the mind, which can seemingly go on endlessly googling this and that, the heart does have very real limits. Limits on what it can handle and process and come to terms with.

Which is why your heart needs nourishing. You can’t treat it like a limitless mind, and just doing lots of cardio doesn’t help it in the way I’m highlighting here 😉.

9 Ways to Nourish Your Heart

Heart Prescription 1. Spend time in places that feel “done”

Your heart is all about being present. The first way to nourish your heart is to spend a little more time just being present.

Easier said than done right? Especially because it’s hard to be somewhere when every time you look around you see something that is awful or that needs fixing.

“You settle into the seat and immediately are reminded of the wall that needs painting, the paint you need to buy, ooh wasn’t there an offer on this week on paint?…”

The heart solution: Create a space in your home, balcony or garden that is “done” – where you can look around and feel at peace and not be reminded of the many things that may need doing elsewhere. Spend time there daily.

If you have little space, a corner of a room will do just fine. Or maybe there is somewhere outside of your home that feels done, where you can just go and enjoy how right it feels.

If you’re used to being on the go go go then doing this will feel extra impossible and scary (but there is so much to dooooo Caroline!). In which case, you desperately need to embrace this practice. Your heart recharges when you take time to be, not do.

Pro tip: What if you sit in a beautiful spot and you still feel tired and dull inside? You feel like you need to revive that feeling of love first (but how??), because it seems like it’s just gone and you can’t get it back. Yes, yes, you know that spiritually, we “are” love blabla, but you’re really not feeling it.

I went through this once and intuitively developed a healing “fix”. I share this solution in the More Love Class (inside the Happy Sensitive Library). Once you’ve listened to the class, you can practice this unique 5-minute technique to get access to the feeling of love inside of you (It’s there! But it might be hidden under a pile of burdens and distractions. This technique helps you find it and connect with it and keep that connection alive).

Heart Prescription 2. Learn to understand what your hatred is telling you

“Wait, what, hatred?? I thought we were talking about love and compassion??!!”

Ah yes, bad bad hatred! There’s a huge misunderstanding out there that in order to be MORE loving, you have to squash any and all hatred: annihilate it.

What this points to is a very common yet grave misunderstanding of the purpose of hatred! No, hatred is obviously not meant to “hate crime” at others. People who do that do not truly feel and actually understand their true hatred, they use it as an emotional grenade instead.

Hatred has a purpose though and understanding what you hate and why is very important to make sure you don’t deplete your heart. This is a complex topic though and I’m not going to even attempt doing it justice here. It’s just too easy to misunderstand or overlook the essence if I try to give you the main points here.

Instead, I’ve recorded a two hour class on what to do with hatred (and rage, blame and anger). You can listen to it inside the Happy Sensitive Library here (in the Difficult Feelings Made Easier section). You will get some big aha’s from this class, I promise. You’ll gain a fresh perspective on these misunderstood feelings, how they’re trying to help you and how to deal with them in a way that doesn’t hurt others and also doesn’t hurt yourself.

Heart Prescription 3. Stop endlessly binging on information

Your heart needs you to feel and be present. You can’t do that when you keep shoving more ideas down the pipeline.

Eating is fine, but you also need time to digest! In order to create the space to be, you need to spend time “cleaning up”. This means you need to spend time feeling your feelings. Otherwise, every time you try to create some space to just be, tons of inner tensions and emotions will pop up to vie for your attention.

When you keep shoving more information down your inner pipeline, you put all those feelings on hold. Yes, your mind absorbed the information, but your body is not getting the time she needs to process what you’ve read and heard. Without that processing time, more information leads to more and more anxiety. This makes it harder and harder to be present.

Be selective about the information that you “eat” and remember that you need time to post-process it emotionally.

If you are learning something new (or reading about tips to help you, like in this article) make sure you take time to pause and apply the ideas, before rushing on to the next interesting chunk of information!

Heart Prescription 4 – Watch movies with a happy ending

Yes, the sometimes very unrealistic ones are fine. (Not so unrealistic that it becomes annoying though).

The stories we feed ourselves shape our view of the world as a whole. When you are inundated with stories of hatred and strife (whether factual news, people’s experience, or fiction) this starts to become your vision of what the world is.

As such, it becomes harder and harder to be present and keep your heart open, because the world just starts to feel very very unsafe. So, to balance this out when you suspect this is happening to you: only watch feel good movies and read feel-good stories before bedtime.

Even if you value keeping it real and being in the know, remember that your understanding of the world will become very one-sided when your heart gets overwhelmed and grows cold or anxiously stressed out.

Heart Prescription 5 – Sing along with your favorite songs

Make time to look up the lyrics. It’s not a waste of time, you’ll feel better.

Enjoy the process of singing. Enjoy the sounds and the words of songs you love. Pick songs that help you express where you’re at right now.

If you’re stressed, sad, angry or otherwise unhappy, use music to first express how you’re feeling, and slowly shift your way into songs that are more upbeat. Remember, start where you’re at. When you do, you might find yourself automatically reaching for happier songs, until you actually truly feel good.

E.g. the first 3 songs are about rage. Then 2 about anger. Then 4 on grief. Then it feels like you got it all out and you feel drawn to something upbeat. Voila, you feel better. You processed some feelings and you are present: to how you feel, present to your singing body

Heart Prescription 6 – Compliment others who are doing beautiful heartfelt things

It doesn’t always have to be you making a positive difference. There are lots of people out there doing wonderful things. Take the time to really let the beauty of what they create sink in. Savor it. Then reach out to them to let them know how much you enjoyed what they created.

When you do this from a truly heartfelt place, often this will boost their heart and yours. It boosts your heart because it reminds you that there are good people out there doing good, moving things. Your heart needs those reminders! It also boosts their heart because people making beautiful things don’t often receive true compliments.

Critical Note: what I am talking about here is very different from telling someone you love their work…and then slipping in a big or small ask! The compliment followed by an ask (or begging for compliments in return) is a strategy, nothing more. This kind of “appreciation” might give someone’s heart a little boost, only to immediately ask for more in return (here’s 5 cents, now gimme 20 back!). This is heart depleting, not nourishing.

If you regularly receive these kinds of “tokens of appreciation” from people and you’re wondering why you don’t feel uplifted by all the compliments, this is why. The ask is bigger than the compliment and really, it’s just one more request for you to give something. You have my permission to completely ignore these kinds of “appreciative words”! Ignore the compliment, ignore the ask, ignore it all and spend some heart-nurturing time instead.

Heart Prescription 7 – Practice being present with yourself and all your feelings

Being includes being with yourself – all of yourself. If you can’t be present to what you are feeling – all of it – how do you expect to know what you want, need and what your purpose is?

Being with all your feelings is far from easy though! Mostly because many of us never learned how. Plus, there are so many judgments out there on “good” and “bad” feelings that you can start to feel anxious when you come upon a “bad” feeling in yourself.

This is why I have created a dedicated section on Difficult Feelings Made Easier inside the Happy Sensitive Library. It includes step-by-step feeling processes and feeling guides on the different kinds of difficult feelings and what their purpose is. Understanding how specific feelings are trying to help you makes it easier to feel them (because your mind stops judging them and pushing them away).

Heart Prescription 8 – Get better at setting boundaries

It’s easy to deplete your heart by throwing your caring down a black hole. Those black holes can be situations that aren’t what they seem, people who lie and exploit or just choices that create a catch-22 of caring more and more in an attempt to fix the unfixable.

If you grew up in a family where it was always your job to care and have no needs of your own (aka, not bother anyone with your feelings), chances are you grew up in a family with at least one narcissistic parent. When you grow up like that, you learn to delete any and all boundaries and instead work really hard to give everyone else what they need. Other people are allowed to hurt and ask for things, but not you!

If this is you, setting better boundaries is complex because your sense of what you deserve and are “allowed” to do has been deeply wired into your fight or flight system. Growing up with narcissistic people is stressful and they will bully you into understanding their rules.

When I say it’s complex to set better boundaries, I don’t mean it’s impossible (it’s very possible!). What I mean is that you need to learn how to work on the obvious outer “actions” of boundaries (doing things differently) but also on the thinking rules you’ve internalized, the emotions and needs you’ve learned to suppress, and the blinders you’ve learned to put on in order to help those who are always hurting (without being allowed to see and call out their manipulations, because that would be “mean and selfish” on your part).

If this hits home for you and you know it’s time to make some healing changes, take a look at my No to Narcissists Programme for Highly Sensitive People here.

Heart Prescription 9 – Immerse yourself in activities that you love

It doesn’t matter whether those things are “practical” or “useful”. Just make sure that you actually love doing those things and that they are not merely a way to numb out!

When you numb out, you’re not present. You’re spaced out and passive. You’re not aware of what you’re feeling. There is nothing wrong with numbing out from time to time, but it doesn’t really help you heart. It’s more of a way to give your mind a break.

When you love what you’re doing on the other hand, you feel a lot! You are actively involved. Time passes quickly because you care about what you’re doing (whether that is gardening, painting a tiny figurine or experimenting in the kitchen). You feel accomplished and good doing this thing because it nourishes you from the inside out.

If you’re not sure how to get more feel-good activities into your life, because you’re not sure what they are… fret not! This is a pretty common problem for Highly Sensitive People who are busy taking care of everyone else. You are in “responsibility” mode and not in “hmm, what would feel good to just do for me” mode. Responsibility is fine, obviously. But too much of it weighs heavy on and depletes the heart.

If you’d like to make some changes in this area, I have a workbook with a step-by-step process for you on Rediscovering Yourself and Having More Happiness. As of writing this, it’s available as a separate guide (here) and also inside the Happy Sensitive Library. You can use it to discover new soul-nourishing hobbies, but also to take your career in a new direction.

Which of These 9 Strategies Will You Try?

If you read one that gave you a little ping of: “that’s what I need!” be sure to write it down so that you actually remember to apply it. Making a note in your calendar can be helpful. Or just an old-fashioned post-it somewhere visible!

Either way, reading any of these tips in itself won’t make a difference. Remember, your heart is not your mind!

Your mind can flourish on interesting information, but your heart needs your presence. This requires changing some habits to make more space for your heart to be and feel, enjoy and process. No amount of knowing or good ideas alone will make this needed shift.

What if it’s Not Enough?

If you have ways of caring for your heart, but continue to feel exhausted and you worry that the love you had is gone, there might be more going on underneath the surface.

Did you know that your heart can go on automatic, giving and giving beyond her natural capacities? It all depends on your inner “programming” and some of us, have taken serious spiritual “truths” about loving everyone and being available to everyone, literally to heart in such a way that our hearts keep working for others on autopilot.

If this is happening for you, you eventually end up in a place where no matter what you do for self-care, it never seems enough. Just a day or two around people who need love will have you down in the dumps again.

If this is you, there is a solution! Through all my work with empaths and energy sensitivity and my own healing, I’ve learned how to identify and release the kind of programming that can make your heart overwork herself on autopilot.

There is a lot of talk online about people who absorb painful energies from others (empaths), but it’s also possible to give your own positive energy away. When this happens you get run-down extremely quickly for no seeming good reason. Because while giving everyone what they need all the time, may work in a tiny mountain community, it doesn’t work in our modern world where we encounter new people everywhere all the time.

Does this resonate for you? Have you perhaps been told that you overgive, but you’re not sure how or how to stop? Set up a Clarity Call with me so we can identify what exactly is happening and how to resolve it.

I know that I’ve listed a variety of causes and solutions in this article and maybe on going through it, you intuitively know what you need. Great (go do it!)

Yet maybe, all the possibilities just make you confused: “Could it be this? Or this? Or maybe I need to do this? Aaargh, I don’t know!” In an online, 30 minute Clarity Call you can tell me in person and I can put my intuition to work to help you get clarity on what is happening, what is causing what, and what you can do to resolve it.

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