Embodying an energy type that is more like Velcro vs. waxed, emotionally speaking, can help those who struggle with getting swept up in others’ emotions to focus on tending to their own garden of feelings first, according to clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly, PhD, author of Joy from Fear.
“A person who is Velcro takes on everybody’s stuff, including their own, but a person who is waxed paper has done enough work to know this is yours, and this is mine,” says Dr. Manly. By being more like waxed paper than Velcro, you're able to set better boundaries for yourself, and therefore, be more attentive to your own emotional needs by not expending energy on others when it's not warranted. Below, Dr. Manly breaks down what it means to be one or the other in more detail.
The two emotional energy types for sensitive people
Velcro emotional energy type
Just like actual Velcro, which is a hook and loop fastening system where things can get, well, stuck, someone who is the Velcro emotional energy type is a person who cannot help holding onto emotions.
“The idea of the Velcro is a sensitive or highly sensitive person who tends to let things stick to them and rub them raw, and they don’t know how to release that energy,” says Dr. Manly. As a result, they collect “emotional burs,” or negative energy (comments, interactions, or emotions) from others, which they carry with them.
If you’ve ever removed a bur from a dog, you may know that these prickly barbs can penetrate the skin and cause prolonged pain if they’re not promptly dealt with—the same idea applies here. Velcro types allow things to stick with them, and risk these becoming lasting issues and insecurities.
Waxed paper emotional energy type
Waxed paper, on the other hand, is a smooth substance that other things glide off. So, people with a waxed paper emotional energy type are able to keep others’ emotions and feelings from derailing them. “The person who is waxed paper has worked hard to know [themselves], so they recognize they’re not going to take on someone else's stuff,” explains Dr. Manly.
To be clear, being like waxed paper doesn’t mean ignoring or rejecting your own or someone else’s emotions. It simply means that you’ve done the internal work to recognize that you don’t have to take on someone else's emotions or add their problems or stressors or whatever else they put on you to your plate.
Think about a situation where someone has made some unwanted comment that wasn't warranted. Maybe they mentioned that you look particularly tired. You may start feeling insecurities about whether you have bags under your eyes, or if you are coming off as slow or sluggish. A Velcro person would take these comments to heart and allow them to potentially ruin their day; meanwhile, a waxed paper person would think something like 'I'm not sure why they said that, but I am happy with how I look and feel and it's not really their business whether I'm tired or not, so I won't let it get to me.'
In essence, the Velcro emotional energy type is reactive because it’s about responding to the actions and feelings of others, which can make it difficult to regulate your own emotions. The waxed paper emotional energy type, however, is much more fluid and self-assured. Because these people are confident in their own capacity to handle what comes their way, they're less likely to be tossed off track when something inevitably tests them.
This isn't to say you should never listen when someone says something to you that causes you discomfort for fear of collecting an emotional bur; some of the stickiness of Velcro can in fact be good. The key here, though, is to get to a place where most things aren't sticking, so you can marshal your emotional resources toward what's deserving of your attention.
How to collect fewer emotional burs, and how to remove them
Let’s say your emotional energy type is Velcro. How can you avoid collecting more emotional burs and release any you’ve already accumulated? According to Dr. Manly, the best way for people with a Velcro emotional energy type to protect themselves is to identify situations where they’re adding others' emotions to their plate, and assessing whether they belong there in the moment.
“Don’t shame and don’t blame yourself, but instead become more aware of when insensitive people, or those who aren’t conscious of what they’re doing, trigger you and you take on their energy,” says Dr. Manly. “Figure out if this is something they’re doing, or if it’s something within you that needs attention and is unresolved.” This way, you’re taking a moment to be mindful about whether this thing is worth spending your emotional energy on.
For example, maybe you’re at a party and someone makes a comment about how they’ve noticed you’re working far less lately. If this comment rubs you the wrong way, get curious about why before you respond. Are there indicators that this person is being passive aggressive and attempting to insult you? Are you self-conscious about not being perceived as “lazy”? These could be scenarios that could create an emotional bur. But they don’t have to.
If you need a vibe check to make sure you’re not taking on any undue negativity, Dr. Manly says you could even say something like, “I’m curious, what did you mean by that comment?” to figure out exactly how to interpret it.
"It's about noticing when to self-reflect to find out if it's something you need to work on, if it's about the other person, or if it's a combination of both."—Carla Marie Manly, PhD, clinical psychologist
Self assurance is another muscle to build to make the work of decreasing your load of emotional burs feel easier over time: Say you are a recovering workaholic who’s been working harder to set healthier boundaries around your work time. Perhaps the friend was just admiring your progress, but you realized on self-reflection that you’re still sensitive to being perceived as unproductive or “lazy” if you’re not working as much as you used to. That pause can help you not take the comment personally, or worse, react in a defensive way.
Conversely, maybe the person who made the comment is the workaholic and they were being passive aggressive with you, in which case, taking a moment to pause still allows you to see the situation for what it is and not letting it stick to you.
Dr. Manly emphasizes that you’re not ignoring your feelings, but rather recognizing what’s behind them and moving past them. Keeping a journal about the experiences where you’ve picked up emotional burs is another healing tool that could be helpful here, too. “It's about noticing when [emotional burs] get stuck to you, noticing when to self-reflect to find out if it's something you need to work on, if it's about the other person, or if it's a combination of both,” she says.
If you find you’re prone to carrying around others’ emotions that leave you drained or sad, you can also work with a licensed professional, such as a therapist or psychologist, for help setting some emotional boundaries and processing your feelings.
Know that you're not doomed to be in the Velcro state forever. “If you get used to being mindful of [emotional burs], then you eventually can transform into wax paper, which is that most of the time other people's crap just doesn't stick to you,” says Dr. Manly.
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