By Catherine Gregory
For as long as I can recall, I’ve been very sensitive to the mental and emotional states of other people and even animals. How others are feeling can affect me both negatively and positively. At times, being so sensitive made me feel overwhelmed or like an outsider; so I decided to seek out the advice of an expert. I was relieved to learn that there’s a term for people like me: I’m an empath.
In her book The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People, Judith Orloff, MD, explains that having empathy means our heart goes out to another person in joy or pain; but for empaths, it goes out much further. Empaths actually feel others’ emotions, energy and physical symptoms in their own bodies, without the usual defenses that most people have.
Empaths make up about 20 percent of the population and have a wide spectrum of sensitivities that can either challenge or enrich their life experience. Without proper self-care, empaths are commonly overstimulated, absorb the stress and negativity of others, experience emotional burnout, and feel isolated and lonely. When balanced, empaths are giving, compassionate and highly intuitive, and are naturally gifted in the helping professions, from medicine to counseling to teaching.
Are You an Empath?
Answer "mostly yes" or "mostly no" to each question:
1. Do you get frequently overwhelmed or anxious?
2. Do crowds drain you and do you need alone time to revive?
3. Are you afraid of becoming suffocated by intimate relationships?
4. Do you tend to socially isolate?
5. Do you absorb other people's emotions, stress or symptoms?
6. Do you feel replenished after spending time in nature?
7. Do you prefer one-to-one interactions and small groups to large gatherings?
8. Do you need a long time to recuperate after being with difficult people?
9. Do you have chemical sensitivities or a low tolerance for scratchy clothes?
10. Do you overeat to cope with stress?
If you answered "mostly yes" to one to three questions, you are at least a partial empath. "Mostly yes" to three to six questions, you have moderate to strong empath tendencies. Seven or more, you are a full-blown empath.
If you have empath tendencies, regular self-care is vital for optimizing your gifts of empathy, vulnerability and heart-centered, intuitive awareness. Here are some guidelines to help you feel balanced and stay energized.
Appreciate Your Gifts
Instead of feeling like an alien or outsider, embrace the fact that you are wired differently and have the ability to feel deeply, to sense energy, and to access intuitive and compassionate ways of problem solving. Honoring yourself as an empath will open you up to experience your wholeness and appreciate life fully.
Set Compassionate Boundaries
Empaths tend to absorb other people’s negative emotions or energy, so setting clear and compassionate boundaries is a must. Avoid watching disturbing news or films; steer clear of toxic environments; and say no to “energy vampires,” those difficult people who exhaust you. Limit conversations or excuse yourself from their presence whenever you begin to feel overwhelmed. Listen to your intuition about relationships that are nurturing for you.
Shower Away Toxic Energy
We can’t always avoid energy-zapping people or situations; so to cure an emotional hangover (which feels like brain fog, exhaustion and even physical illness) try a shower meditation. Stand under the stream of water in your shower and repeat this affirmation, inwardly or outwardly: “Let this water wash away all the negative energy from my mind, body and spirit.” Feel the shower cleansing and rejuvenating you as toxic energy washes down the drain.
Take Time to Slow Down
Empaths benefit greatly from a meditation practice. Quieting the mind and disconnecting from overstimulation can help us tap into our intuition and connect us to a greater sense of spiritual purpose. Meditation also strengthens our ability to stay centered amidst stressful situations.
Recharge and Ground Yourself
Emerging science suggests being in contact with the earth’s electrons calms the nervous system. Get outdoors regularly and put your bare feet or entire body on the ground. Breathe in fresh oxygen. Hold a stone. Sit by a body of water. Stand with your feet on the earth and imagine yourself as a huge tree, with roots extending down from the soles of your feet, anchoring you to the center of the earth.
Seek Emotional Support
Sometimes talking to a friend or therapist about a toxic interaction can help to dispel any remaining negativity. Remember, you can learn to stay open as you build resilience and explore your gifts of being an empath. The world needs more empathetic, open-hearted, intuitively aware people—it’s time to let your strengths shine.