Do people tell you that you’re too “thin-skinned” or overly reactive?
Do you tend to pick up on other people’s energy to the point where you “catch” their moods?
Does being around a large group of people drain you?
Do you need a lot of time alone to regroup and regain your energy?
Are you frazzled by noise, odors, or chattering, more so than the next person?
Do you compulsively overeat to try and manage uncomfortable feelings?
Are you scared that you might “lose” yourself if you become involved in an intimate relationship?
If you answer yes to most of these questions, you may be an “empath”, according to psychiatrist Judith Orloff, an intuitive psychiatrist who authored the book Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself From Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life.
Being highly sensitive and possessing an exceptionally “permeable” system, empaths are generally:
- very passionate
- gifted at connecting to and helping others
- spiritual, and
- in tune with their physical sensations and emotions.
However, empaths are also prone to:
- soaking up other people’s feelings (for better or for worse)
- extreme emotional responses
- anxiety, depression, and exhaustion
- discomfort and needing “space” when cohabitating
- long-lasting and distressing physical conditions, and
- trouble setting limits with other people.
As an empath, you’re likely to allow your feelings to lead the way, which can serve you well in taking the emotional atmosphere of a room and sensing what others (or you) might need. However, at times you may feel as if you’re stuck in an emotional whirlwind.
You may feel paralyzed, incapable of taking appropriate action.
You may flee the scene in mind and spirit (if not also in body).
You may impulsively strike out in anger, trying to defend yourself, when such a response would be excessive.
To make the most of your highly sensitive nature while protecting yourself from overstimulation and situations that can drain or derail you, try some of the following suggestions:
Use positive self-talk. Repeat to yourself reassuring statements such as:
I can handle this situation.
I can love other people without taking on their “stuff”.
Easy does it.
Calm your body. Take some slow, deep breaths, allowing your abdomen to expand and thus engaging the relaxation response. Babies do this belly breathing naturally – learn from them. Breathe in relaxation, breathe out tension.
To soothe your feelings, put one hand on your heart and imagine love flooding through your entire body.
Determine your needs and boundaries – and stick with them.
If you’re feeling overly extended and someone requests your help, kindly but firmly say no. It’s okay not to explain yourself or to apologize. We all have our limits, and you’re recognizing and honoring yours. This is especially important if you’re dealing with someone who tends to belittle or drag you down. Such individuals may not take it well if you set limits with them — but don’t give in to being intimidated.
If large crowds intimidate you, try positioning yourself on the perimeter rather than smack in the middle of the event. While it’s important to stretch yourself from time to time, it’s also vital to take care of your emotional well-being.
Leave a social event early, if you’re feeling wiped out or overwhelmed. It’s not necessary to stay until what might otherwise be (for you) the bitter end. Know when enough is enough – what level of socializing energizes you and also allows you to maintain your equilibrium.
Have a place at home where you can retreat for privacy. If you have no other recourse (or even if you do), Dr. Orloff recommends the bathroom. People will usually refrain from barging in on you there.
Avoid wide fluctuations in blood sugar, energy, and mood by steering clear of high-sugar foods, along with excessive alcohol or caffeine.
Take short breaks at least a few minutes every day, preferably several times a day, to release tension. Walk around the block. Sit in nature. Have some humorous reading material around to help you lighten up. Laughter is a powerful stress-reliever.
Remember that people differ in their level of emotional insulation. Some individuals appear (appear – don’t compare your insides to someone else’s outsides) to adapt easily to all sorts of circumstances. On the other hand, such people might miss the exquisite nuances of emotion and sense of aliveness that you’re able to experience. If you’re an empath, you may be more highly strung – but you can use this to your advantage and maximize your many unique attributes. Take pleasure in being your finely tuned self.
Orloff, J. (2009). Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself From Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life. New York, NY: Harmony Books.