What does it mean to be an Empath?
Lately I’ve been taken aback by a surprising and unforeseen trend that has been occurring with the people with whom I come in contact. What I’ve been noticing is that many more individuals are exhibiting attributes that are commonly associated with empaths. A recurrent refrain I’m hearing is, “…what’s going on with me?…I’m trying really hard to keep myself from getting overwhelmed…I feel like I need to shut down or be by myself… people in pain are drawn to me and I feel the need to help them… sometimes I feel like the life is being sucked out of me” What seems to be occurring is that, by living in such uncertain and complex times, empaths are picking up on the tension in the world. This can be distressing for such highly perceptive and compassionate folks.
Calling oneself an empath means that you are a person who has an exceptionally sensitive neurological system who has difficulty filtering or blocking out stimulation. Along with that trait, they seem to just know what those around them are thinking and feeling. Empaths are naturally helpful and try to resolve whatever problems they may detect. Having the ability to be incredibly observant, they notice details that others miss. They behave in a compassionate and empathetic manner, sometimes to the point of taking on the pain of others without consciously meaning to.
How might I know if I’m an empath (you might ask)? Here are some questions that can offer some insight into the answer:
1. Am I able to just know how others (even those unfamiliar to me) are feeling?
2. Do I sometimes struggle with boundaries because it’s difficult to know where I end and others begin? How can I be sure that what I’m experiencing is coming from me or coming from others?
3. Have I noticed that people are attracted to me; that they tend to trust me quickly, confide in me and feel comfortable around me, even strangers?
4. Have I experienced feeling as if someone else’s viewpoint may have ‘rubbed off’ on me, that I absorb the perspective of others?
5. Have I been told that I am “extremely sensitive” or “thin-skinned” because I feel every emotion very deeply?
6. Am I able to easily know if a person is being truthful or not, as if I have a built in lie detector?
7. Do I find it difficult to see someone in pain to the point where I feel compelled to help them; that I really have a difficult time detaching from others when I notice them suffering?
8. Do people frequently seek me out to listen to or pay attention to them?
9. Can I quickly change from feeling comfortable and happy to being overcome with discomfort or anxiety merely because I noticed someone troubled coming into the room?
10. Have I noticed that acquaintances turn to me more than others for advice and guidance?
If you think you are an empath or have someone in your life who is, you likely recognized that it can be both a difficult way to exist in the world or it can be perceived as an amazing gift. Being this sensitive to other people’s emotions, energy, and the environment can be challenging especially as an inexperienced or untrained empath. Like most other things in life, there are both positives and negatives to having the ability to more acutely detect and directly experience the feelings of others. There are negative aspects to being so receptive to others especially when you are unaware of how to keep yourself safe and protected. On the positive side, when you know how to securely use and control this gift, the ability to feel other people’s emotions can be an awesome skill.
You may notice when someone is feeling anxious, you can pick up on that more quickly and intensely than the average person. This enables you to be able to provide support, if you choose. However, directly experiencing the emotions of those around you– without the ability to pick and choose what you feel– is difficult and can be exhausting, both emotionally and psychologically, leaving the empath struggling and confused.
When someone is experiencing fear, an empath can recognize it immediately then assist the person to calm their panic. If there is a perceived threat, empaths can get out of a potentially dangerous situation faster than most.
Your ability to convey to others that you are a safe and trustworthy person is incredibly beneficial. An empath truly understands the saying “to know what it’s like to walk in another person’s shoes” because they regularly experience it.
Most empaths have the ability to notice even the most insignificant social cues. This means that most empaths pick up on someone’s true intentions even if there may be minimal evidence as to what the person really wants. An empath can sense it.
Empaths are truly gifted people in many ways because they sense the feelings of others as if it were their own. They are great problem-solvers. Empaths are experts in understanding human nature which enables them to figure out the motivation of others.
Methods to Prevent and Manage Emotional Fatigue
End a Relationship If Necessary
Be discerning of the people with whom you spend time. As an empath, your relationships with the people around you are essential. When a friend or a partner is in need, you know very well how to be compassionate, acting as an advisor or shoulder to cry on. However, people who are constantly in crisis can drain you and take advantage of your benevolence. Even though you likely will feel compelled to help most people, listen to your own gut and end any relationship that may feel toxic. This protects you from being sucked dry.
Notice What Drains You then Rejuvenate Yourself
If you notice you’re experiencing sensory overload, it can be beneficial to slow everything down then disconnect from all stimulation. You may find it useful to retreat to a room without sound or light and sleep or meditate. Consider taking short walks. Go barefoot in nature. Touch the earth. Play in the dirt.
When it becomes necessary to take care of some of life’s obligations, there are methods which can support you. For example, when you go to the supermarket, avoid peak hours and plan on shopping off hours. If you decide to go to the movies, sit as close to the aisle as possible rather than sitting in the middle of a crowd of people. When your friends ask you to join them for a night out, consider hooking up with them at a time when you haven’t worked all day. Recognize and be prepared for experiences like these.
Prioritize Time for Yourself
Always build in some time for you to sit quietly. Taking a break to sit outside for a few minutes can be rejuvenating. Consider using the bathroom as your refuge when you need an escape from events. Most people will respect your privacy when you tell them you need to use the bathroom (I hope).
Turn off the computer and phone. Sit or lie down in a comfortable position and give yourself several deep breaths. It’s unnecessary to do anything other than focusing your attention on your breath. Notice how when you inhale, your lungs expand to allow the fresh air in. When you exhale, notice how your body releases and comes to rest. Keep the focus on your breathing until you feel a calming, comfortable sensation. If you choose, allow yourself to visualize a strong tree extending down the center of your body from head to toe. Now sense the tree’s roots growing from the bottom of your feet connecting deep into the earth, enabling you to feel so solid, balanced, and centered. Notice how stable you feel. This can be a useful practice to revitalize yourself.
Trust Your Gut
Always listen to your intuition. You may notice “red flags” which are warning signs that there is something to which you need to be watchful. When you find yourself uncomfortable with a person, place, or situation, pay attention. If you are unable to move away from the person, for example, consider turning your body on an angle so you avoid facing them directly. Preventing your chakras from lining up with theirs, keeps them from “stealing” your energy. How about visualizing putting up a shield? Another option is to visualize yourself surrounded in a bubble of light which envelopes you in a warm, golden glow. Then let the energy that’s coming toward you bounce off the skin of the bubble right back to where it came. Nothing can get in unless it’s invited. These are protective methods. The more you practice them the quicker and easier it becomes available.
Create clear and consistent boundaries Empower yourself by developing and utilizing strong boundaries. (See July, August and September 2018 articles on Boundaries). I’ve seen far too often that truly compassionate and caring individuals forget to employ boundaries in their relationships, then become unhappy when they are taken advantage of. Remember to construct solid boundaries.
On a personal note, I’m quite familiar with the gift as well as the challenges of being an empath. I live it every day. When I was young, it was perplexing and troublesome because I felt so weird, so different from others. At present, I’ve learned to honor myself as an empath. I am far more secure in myself since I learned ways to live comfortably with who I truly am. I use a variety of skills I have learned along the way which help shield my sensitivities while still being available to others.
“With great power comes great responsibility…” Spiderman’s Uncle Ben told him. Being an empath demands more of you than most. Retreating into isolation may be necessary for a while yet you’re here for an important purpose. It’s essential you learn how to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Use your gifts wisely and help the world.