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 intellectualise 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 defence, 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:
- Panic attacks
- Food, sex, and drug binges
- A plethora of physical symptoms that defy traditional medical diagnosis from fatigue to agorophobia
Empathy doesn’t have to make you feel too much all the time. If you can centre yourself and refrain from shouldering civilisation'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.
Recognising 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 centre 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 guerrilla 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 honour 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.
- If crowds are overwhelming, eat a high-protein meal beforehand (this grounds you) and sit in the far corner of a theater or party, 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.
Adapted from Dr. Judith Orloff’s book The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People