As within, so without -- inner attitudes, beliefs, and state-of-being are projected outward into action and behavior. Image: Mountain-top removal, an actual devastating mining practice. Photo from NRDC
As within, so without — inner attitudes, beliefs, and state-of-being are projected outward into action and behavior. Image: Mountain-top removal, an actual devastating mining practice. Photo from NRDC

[This is Part 3 of the ongoing ‘Wisdom for Empaths & Sensitives’ series. If you haven’t already, you’ll want to read the intro article first – you’ll find it here. The second post in this series shared more on these types of dynamics and highlighted the toxic-normal pattern of ‘Offloading’.

In this post, we’ll take a look at the toxic-normal pattern of Leveling.]

Given the seemingly uncanny timing involved in this toxic-normal pattern, Leveling is one of the more unnerving, frustrating, and intriguing of the patterns I’ve seen in play, both from my own experience and in the experiences shared by empathic-sensitive friends and clients.

With the strategy or tactic of leveling, the person will act out when the empathic-sensitive (or other person in the relationship or dynamic) is gaining a sense of momentum or is celebrating progress or an achievement of some sort, or has shared a compelling, exciting vision with the other.

A grounded hot air balloon. []
A grounded hot air balloon. []
Whether immediately or not long after having ‘good news’ shared with him or her — which he or she might appear to be initially enthused about, sharing your ‘good mood’ — the leveler will often attempt to re-establish control of the dynamic through one of the toxic-normal behaviors identified in the intro and first articles of this series: outburst, blindsiding, passive-aggression, purposefully provocative behavior or words, baiting or picking a fight, or brooding or sulking (with audible sighs and a ‘felt’ presence, etc.).

The leveling behavior-tactic seemingly aims to deflate, drain energy, and stop momentum, shifting the focus, attention, and thus your energy back to him or her (and away from the positive momentum, exciting vision, ‘good news’, etc.).

(A reminder: It’s important to realize that while some people might employ these manipulative and ultimately abusive tactics purposely, I mentioned in the earlier articles of this series that these toxic-normal behaviors and dynamics are more likely operating unconsciously as a habitual strategy adopted or learned early in life.)

Like many of these toxic-normal behavior strategies, these are some of the less fortunate ‘side effects’ of disowning one’s shadow and thus projecting onto others rather than doing one’s own shadow work.

These tactics are usually ‘default strategies’ of those who habitually engage in energy vampiring, offloading, and some of the other toxic-normal psycho-energetic dynamics (introduced in the first article of this ‘Wisdom for Empaths & Sensitives‘ series).

What might leveling look like in a typical interaction?

Let’s say you’ve been working on a new offering for your business, and experience a week where you receive some very encouraging responses and several new clients. Or perhaps you’ve received word of a bonus or promotion in your job, or news that an article you’ve written will be published, or even just returned from a highly enjoyable day visiting with a friend. You get the gist.

The Lady of Shalott,1878,  by John Atkinson Grimshaw (9/6/1836 –  10/13/1893)
The Lady of Shalott, 1878, by John Atkinson Grimshaw (9/6/1836 – 10/13/1893)

You’re happy, excited, encouraged, and it shows on your face and emanates from your body language. Naturally, you share that happy news with the leveler (a term I use here for easier identification), who may even say ‘Congratulations’ or otherwise act as if they share your excitement. But the timer is set. Tick tock, it’s just a matter of time.

Whether an hour later, or minutes, or the next day, the leveler lobs a stink-bomb into your court by way of an attack, well-timed drama … a behavior chosen for its proven ability to deflate your mood, drain the energy, and shift the momentum, leveling your energy, mindset, and the dynamic downward.

If you’ve experienced it, you’ll recognize it immediately in this description.

Again, the point isn’t to perpetuate the bully-victim or perpetrator-victim cultural norm or dynamic, but to recognize unhealthy, toxic-normal conditioned patterns and begin to change our own conditioned-participation, approach, and reaction to them, thus shifting the pattern in favor of something healthier and more self-respecting. It’s deep yet worthy practice.

If you’ve read the previous two articles in this series, then you’ll already know that these toxic-normal patterns are usually acted out unconsciously, as a result of early conditioning and ongoing reinforcement in Dominator-type cultures. (And you’ll have seen the requisite disclaimer that this information is not intended to be psychotherapeutic in nature; it’s drawn from experience and the research and learning that comes with it.)

The patterns or strategies I’m highlighting — offloading, leveling, etc. — are, according to many psychologists and most psychological summaries, often part of habitual narcissistic, passive-aggressive, sociopathic, psychic- or energy vampiring, and/or similar behavior patterns to which the empathic-sensitive person is conditioned to ‘participate’ with or complement, albeit unwittingly. It’s just what feels normal, albeit what I call toxic normal.

First recognition, and then…

Hound dog hot on the trail [Image courtesy of Public Domain Images]
Hound dog hot on the trail [Image courtesy of Public Domain Images]
Given this, the option for empaths & sensitives is to begin to identify the patterns and choose not so much to wrestle with existing cultural dynamics or try to change other people (who are in their own conditioning), but to change our own participation in the patterns. To begin to disengage and disentangle from the toxic-normal default patterns and choose healthier, more self-respecting responses, and build a repertoire or ‘magic backpack’ of helpful energy and psychic-hygiene tools.

Once you begin to track the patterns and choose different responses, which takes practice but is well worth it, you notice that confidence, energy, and a sense of real empowerment begin to be restored.

In the next article in this ‘Wisdom for Empaths & Sensitives’ series, I’ll highlight the next toxic-normal pattern — scapegoating, which often goes hand-in-hand with a bullying or similar dynamic.

If you missed the first two articles of this series, you’ll find the intro here and the second article on offloading here.

And you’ll find the existing motherlode of current articles in the Resources for Empaths & Sensitives here.

Until next time!

Big Love on the Way,


These posts are based in direct experience, client and colleague experience, energy, and shamanic approaches; they’re not psychotherapy, nor are they offered as such.