Metaphoric Sunscreen

My skin is very fair. I have suffered from enough sunburn to understand the importance of sunscreen and its meticulous application. I can recall a particularly painful incident at the beach where I dutifully covered myself in sunscreen, only to find later that I’d missed the tops of my feet. With my poor feet in a bucket of cold water, I pondered the power of that sunscreen. Most of my body would have been throbbing with the same painful redness, had it not been for a seemingly benign lotion. It’s like an invisible force field lying on the surface of  your skin. A sweet-smelling cosmetic is stronger than the sun’s powerful rays? It’s pretty unbelievable, but I’ve seen it work and I trust its effectiveness. Once I lather on the sunscreen, I feel comfortable and safe. I am protected from immediate and long-term harm.

What if I could have that intuitive sense of protection from an emotional perspective?

If physical skin represents emotional boundaries, I need a metaphoric sunscreen to prevent the absorption of other people’s feelings. Just as I have fair skin, I have weak emotional boundaries. It is very difficult for me discern my own emotions from others, especially when there are strong feelings involved. They seem to seep inside me, whether positive or negative. I then act on these emotions and thoughts, never quite sure if they are truly my own.

I did a bit of research on skin protection and gleaned some insights from each fact that can apply to the concept of emotional boundaries  —

1. How much exposure is too much? We’ve all heard that humans absorb Vitamin D from the sun. On the other hand, the sun’s radiation can ultimately have dire consequences like skin cancer. I learned that 10-15 minutes a day, twice a week, of direct sunlight is enough to obtain your Vitamin D requirement without risk. Otherwise, sunscreen should be applied.

My intention is not to shut off all empathic communication/connection with others. There is value and beauty in sharing others’ emotions — whether helping someone grieve or celebrating their triumphs. The key is limiting this openness so you do not lose yourself.

2. What Sun Protection Factor (SPF) sunscreen do you need? It depends on your own personal skin type – how fast you burn without any protection. If it takes you ten minutes to sunburn, then applying SPF 15 will allow you to prevent sunburn for 150 minutes.

Everyone is different. Some people naturally have stronger emotional boundaries and don’t need as much “sunscreen” as I do. I have to acknowledge this aspect of myself and use the “formula” to gauge what SPF I need based on how long I will be amongst people who may inadvertently push their emotions onto me.

3. What is the difference between UVA and UVB? UVA radiation causes premature aging. UVB radiation causes sunburn and skin cancer. Most sources advise using sunscreen with “broad spectrum” coverage to protect against both.

The immediate effects of absorbing other people’s emotions may manifest as depression, anxiety, sleeplessness, irritability – much like sunburn. After many years of foreign emotions taking hold, they can grow on their own, branching new ideas and thoughts, like an unnatural cancer. Individual actions are taken based on emotions that are not my own – or have been skewed by others. These actions have long-term repercussions – greatly impacting the direction of my life, causing sadness and pain that could have been avoided.

4. Do you only need sunscreen on sunny days at the beach? Even on a cloudy day 80 percent of the sun’s ultraviolet rays pass through the clouds. The sun reflects 17 percent on sand and 80 percent on snow. Also, ultraviolet radiation increases 4 percent for every 1,000-foot increase in altitude.

I must consider not only who I’ll be with, but where I’ll be. Will my emotional boundaries be weakened by the number of people, the purpose of the gathering or my connection to the place? I must remain vigilant and aware – a baseline of protection is always needed.

I wish I could pop into the drug store and pick up a bottle of metaphoric sunscreen, but it’s not currently on the market. However, I’ve written down some of the ingredients…although I’m sure I’m missing some…

1. Awareness: I know that my boundaries are naturally very open and permeable and that certain people and situations exacerbate this tendency. I still want to remain compassionate and open to others, but I know that limited exposure is healthier. Knowing all of this, I can plan ahead. If the situation seems dangerous, I can avoid it altogether.

2.  Preparation: If I know that I will be in a susceptible position, I can:

  • Visualize applying my metaphoric sunscreen. I could use body lotion, charging it with the intention of protecting my psychic boundaries. I could imagine a white light surrounding my body.
  • Meditate or practice some simple breathing exercises to ensure that I am grounded and hyper-aware of my own emotions so I can recognize others’ intruding.

3. Practice: With the above two, my boundaries will strengthen, so my protection is enhanced. Sunscreen (the real thing) can actually repair damaged skin if used regularly.

I’m sure other parallels could be drawn, but these were the ones that occurred to me. Must be the sunny weather. I welcome ideas and thoughts to strengthen the concept and provide guidance to others who are “fair-skinned.”


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