Have you been told that you were just Too sensitive? Too emotional? Not enough and too much all at the same time?
Me too. Even by family members!
My husband and I would take our small kids to amusement parks. By early afternoon, I felt awful and was curled up in a ball sitting on a curb. My body had proceeded to take on ‘everyone’s stuff’ causing me to feel heavy, sick, and extremely tired. My husband would get so frustrated at me because I would have to leave the park to be by myself for a bit. At the time, it was my only way I knew how to reset. I was overwhelmed by the crowds and didn’t understand what was happening.
It was years later before I realized there was an actual term for what I was feeling — EMPATHIC. HIGHLY SENSITIVE. What a relief it was to me to know I wasn’t completely crazy!
Perhaps you have always had the ability to feel the emotions and physical symptoms of others as if they were your own. If this rings true in your life, you may be an “empath.” Only a small percentage of the population experience this type of sensitivity, having the ability to feel and absorb the emotions surrounding them. There are hundreds of books and movies on the subject.
What is an empath?
Being an empath and being empathetic are two different things. “Being empathetic is when your heart goes out to someone else; being an empath means you can actually feel another person’s happiness or sadness in your own body,” according to Judith Orloff, MD, a psychiatrist and author of The Empath’s Survival Guide.
Another way to describe it is that an empath is like an “emotional sponge”—they absorb both the joys and the pains of the world around them, says Amanda Fialk, a licensed clinical social worker and an adjunct professor at Wurzweiler School of Social Work and Chief of Clinical Services at The Dorm, a treatment center in New York. “An empath does not simply understand someone else’s pain, they sense and feel the emotions and feelings of their loved ones as part of their own experience.”
In Six Habits of Highly Empathic People, Roman Krznaric, says, “But what is empathy? It’s the ability to step into the shoes of another person, aiming to understand their feelings and perspectives, and to use that understanding to guide our actions. That makes it different from kindness or pity.
ARE YOU AN EMPATH?
◦ You need a lot of alone time.
◦ You feel others emotions as your own.
◦ You are overwhelmed by crowds.
◦ You desire to help others.
◦ You are very sensitive to smells or materials.
◦ You are a great listener.
◦ You have to be alone to feel calm.
◦ You have a difficult time in romantic relationships.
◦ You have a hard time moving on from relationships.
◦ You notice little changes in people that others miss.
◦ You experience sympathetic nausea.
Once I realized what was happening, I was having trouble STOPPING taking on others stuff. You may be there as well. You KNOW you are sensitive and you think it’s your JOB to walk around being the trash can for your community! You reason, “Aren’t we made this way to HELP others?”
YES, we are created this way for a purpose. It’s not to walk around taking on others emotions, feelings, frustrations, anger, and piling it on top of our own stuff. That’s the martyred healer in us who suffers for others thinking it’s our job. It can even deceptively feed our ego to think “Oh, poor me, I have no choice but to feel everyone.”
I used to think that being sensitive was a curse. I HATED how I was and thought I didn’t have any say in the matter. Often I hid in my house and said I was sick to not go to parties or events that I knew would overwhelm me.
Now, I see what a HUGE GIFT it is! We are made this way to empathize with others. To feel what they are feeling, to understand what they are going through AND to support them.
How does it serve them (and us) to NOT take on others stuff?
You most likely have a heart that is so big you COULD and even WOULD take on everyone’s stuff to help them feel better. I hear often from clients, “But, if I don’t take on others’ stuff who will help them?” I don’t know who will help them. Maybe the next sucker who walks by and doesn’t want to own their own energy. Although I don’t mean that as harshly as it sounds, I wanted to get my point across. WE are all responsible for our own emotions, thoughts, feelings, and circumstances. If you continually take on others stuff (even to your own demise) you are actually meddling in their business of being responsible and learning their own life lessons of handling their own energy, feelings, emotions, etc. You are PROLONGING their PROGRESS by taking on their energy PILING more discordance on yourself to PROCESS. And, unfortunately, I had to learn this the hard way myself.
How to handle the GIFT of empathy.
Let me just say I’m a work in progress on this! I’m well aware of my subconscious tendencies to still think I have to help everyone, all the time, even at my own expense. One morning recently I was checking in and asked ‘how much of my energy field is other people’s right now?” I heard very clearly 70%!! I gasped in frustration. No wonder I wasn’t feeling good. Immediately I prayed and did a meditation clearing my energy. I’ve recorded one for you HERE.
This has become a daily practice for me— NOT taking on others stuff except for the moment I need to know, recognizing IF it happens AND clearing it.
Empaths need to take special care of their own inner lives and needs so as not to be overwhelmed by taking care of others, Helena Rempala, a clinical psychologist at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center says. “A lot of them are good advice givers, very intuitive, and maintain deep friendships but if you find yourself always giving but never receiving, feeling constantly sad or depressed, or are overwhelmed, it’s time to ask for help,” she says.
Other suggestions as well:
2. Affirmation—I CHOOSE DETACHED EMPATHY. You may not remember choosing your gift of sensitivity before you were born, but you ARE NOT CURSED. THIS IS A GIFT. Embrace this beautiful gift you have and lean into it. CHOOSE to be empathic with detachment. Which means, allow it to naturally occur AND don’t hold onto it. Easier said, than done, I get it!
3. Take time alone
4. Review your schedule and make sure you have plenty of ‘white space’ to reset
5. Make a list of top 25 self-care practices and do at least 1 every day. If you need some ideas, DOWNLOAD THIS FREE, “14 wAys to Reset Yourself”
6. Anything that helps you ground yourself physically can also help you stay in the moment and be more aware of where you end and where others begin, Rempala says. Exercise, yoga, and meditation are all good options.
8. Lastly, cognitive, behavioral, and dialectical therapies are particularly useful for helping the empath to learn interpersonal effectiveness skills such as assertiveness, laying boundaries, and setting limits, as well as helping the empath to manage emotions and practice self-compassion when they are feeling overwhelmed and stressed as a result of the experience of others in the world around them, Fialk says.
The bottom line, be aware of your subconscious tendencies to believe you have to be a trash can for everyone else. YOU DON’T! It’s your choice though. CHOOSE YOU! CHOOSE DETACHED EMPATHY. In the meantime, I invite you to incorporate this short meditation into your daily practice to keep your energy clear of others so you can be YOUR BEST YOU.