Empaths are highly sensitive, finely tuned instruments when it comes to emotions. If you are an empath, you feel everything, sometimes to an extreme, and are less apt to intellectualize feelings. Intuition is the filter through which you experience the world. Empaths are naturally giving, spiritually attuned, and good listeners. If you want heart, empaths have got it. Through thick and thin, you are there for others—a world-class nurturer.
Challenges of Being an Empath
The trademark of empaths is that you know where others are coming from. You may be able to do this without taking on people’s feelings. However, for better or worse, you may also become an angst-sucking sponge. This often overrides your sublime capacity to absorb positive emotions and all that is beautiful. If you are around peace and love, your body assimilates these and flourishes. Negativity, though, often feels assaultive and exhausting.
Thus, you’re a particularly easy mark for emotional vampires, whose fear or rage can ravage you. As a subconscious defense, you may gain weight as a buffer. When thin, you’re more vulnerable to negativity (a missing cause of overeating). Plus, your sensitivity can be overwhelming in romantic relationships; you may stay single if you haven’t learned to negotiate your special cohabitation needs with a partner.
When empaths absorb the impact of stressful emotions, it can trigger:
Food, sex, and drug binges
A plethora of physical symptoms that defy traditional medical diagnosis from fatigue to agoraphobia
Empathy doesn’t have to make you feel too much all the time. If you can center yourself and refrain from shouldering civilization’s discontents, empathy continues to make you freer, igniting your compassion, vitality, and sense of the miraculous.
Quiz: Are You an Empath?
To determine whether you’re an emotional empath, take the following quiz. Ask yourself the following questions:
Have I been labeled as too emotional or overly sensitive?
If a friend is distraught, do I start feeling it too?
Are my feelings easily hurt?
Am I emotionally drained by crowds?
Do I require time alone to revive?
Do my nerves get jarred by noise, smells, or excessive talk?
Do I prefer taking my own car places so that I can leave when I please?
Do I overeat to cope with emotional stress?
Am I afraid of becoming engulfed by intimate relationships?
If you answer “yes” to one to three of these questions, you’re at least part empath. Responding “yes” to more than three questions indicates that you’ve found your emotional type.
Recognizing that you’re an empath is the first step in taking charge of your emotions instead of constantly drowning in them. Staying on top of empathy will improve your self-care and relationships.
How an Empath Can Find Balance
Practice the following strategies to center yourself.
Allow quiet time to emotionally decompress.
Get in the habit of taking calming mini-breaks throughout the day. Breathe in some fresh air. Stretch. Take a short walk around the office. These interludes will reduce the excessive stimulation of going nonstop.
Practice guerilla meditation.
To counter emotional overload, act fast and meditate for a few minutes. This centers your energy so you don’t take it on from others.
Define and honor your empathic needs. Safeguard your sensitivities. Here’s how.
If someone asks too much of you, politely tell them “no.” It’s not necessary to explain why. As the saying goes, “No is a complete sentence.”
If your comfort level is three hours max for socializing—even if you adore the people—take your own car or have an alternate transportation plan so you’re not stranded.
not dead center.
If you feel nuked by perfume, nicely request that your friends refrain from wearing it around you. If you can’t avoid it, stand near a window or take frequent breaks to catch a breath of fresh air outdoors.
If you overeat to numb negative emotions, practice the guerilla meditation mentioned above—before you’re lured to the refrigerator, a potential vortex of temptation. As an emergency measure, keep a cushion by the fridge so you can be poised to meditate instead of binge.
Carve out private space at home. Then you won’t be stricken by the feeling of too much togetherness.
Over time, add to this list to keep yourself covered. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time you’re on emotional overload. With pragmatic strategies to cope, you can have quicker retorts, feel safer, and your talents can blossom.
When I first read this article I thought I may be an empath. I was a giver, not a taker. I put myself last catering to your needs first. But I realized after working the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous with my sponsor that I was fear-driven. I didn’t feel good about myself enough to put me first. I tried to impress you because I had no self-worth.
Having worked the Steps I now realize that I no longer have to live that way. Number one, I no longer have to drink everyday so I have more clarity. Number two, I have been able to understand now what makes me tick and I no longer have to react when I get that “oh-oh” feeling in my gut. I can step back for a moment, take a look at my part, remedy that, and move forward in a positive manner. Thirdly, today I have a Power Greater Than Myself who has my back and guides me through life on life’s terms.
Before getting sober I intellectualized and rationalized everything. I lived from my head and not my heart. In AA I have learned to change everything so I now go with my heart, with my gut feelings, my intuition. And I have found that this is the easier, softer, less exhausting way to live.
I have also learned to look at things, at life, in a positive and optimistic way. The glass is half-full. When I live this way I attract more of the same and I flourish. When negativity enters my life, my mind, my gut, it feels uncomfortable. I remember that I am not in control of people, places or things. I get back in the moment, grateful and humble. I remember that my Higher Power has my back. I embrace the negativity and thank it for visiting, let it know that it does not serve me, and then I let it go.
I remember how exhausted I was living in negativity (lying, hiding, sneaking) when I was active in my alcoholism. Drinking everyday, passing out, coming to, blacking out, eating poorly, never getting good sleep, I was a zombie.
I am so grateful that I am no longer that person, but I must always remember that the disease is still in me, waiting for the pinhole of weakness in me to surface. That awareness and cautiousness keeps me close to the fellowship of AA.
Alcohol is just a symptom of my disease. My brain is what was really sick. My thinking. My pre-frontal cortex of my brain kept me obsessive and compulsive. With that awareness I can today change my stinking thinking to live a life guided by my heart.
My feelings are no longer easily hurt as I finally feel good in my skin about who and what I am. I know that I am doing my best. I know that not everyone will like me, nor me them. It’s all good.
I no longer am emotionally drained by crowds, but I prefer solitude. I enjoy the company of like-minded folks, but keep myself separate from those who are not. Today I have boundaries. I come first. My sobriety comes first.
More often than not I live a quiet care-free life. But when life happens and events occur, they no longer have to become chaos and drama. They are just life. I look at my part. Am I in HALT (hungry, angry, lonely, tired)? Have I forgotten to live in the present moment (worrying about the future or fretting about the past)? Have I forgotten that a Power Greater Than Myself is control? Have I gone back to thinking instead of feeling? Have I forgotten that everything is perfect at this very moment?
If so, I take the time necessary to re-focus, re-balance, re-center. Quiet, meditative time. I get outside. I remember to breathe, to stretch, to move. My mind settles. I get rid of negativity by making it a positive. I get patient and put things in the God Box. I take care of myself. I get thankful. I get humble.
Thank you for reading!
With warmest aloha, Dee Harris
For those interested in positive, inspiring art with a message, please visit my website at www.DeesignsByHarris.com. Mahalo and enjoy!
Adapted from Dr. Judith Orloff’s book The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People (https://drjudithorloff.com/empath-survival-guide-description/).
Discover how to navigate the world as your authentic self with ease, strength, and grace at our Chopra Women’s Retreat. Learn More. (https://chopra.com/live-events/womens-retreat/).
About the Author
Judith Orloff, MD is the NY Times best-selling author of The Empath's Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People. Dr. Orloff is a psychiatrist, an empath, and is on the UCLA Psychiatric Clinical Faculty. She synthesizes the pearls of traditional medicine with cutting edge knowledge of intuition, energy, and spirituality. Dr. Orloff also specializes in treating empaths and highly sensitive people in her private practice. Dr. Orloff... Read more (/bios/judith-orloff-md)
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