If you are an empath, you know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a roller coaster of emotions from those around you. What I have understood from my interactions with a few empaths I have been fortunate enough to interact with is that empaths are like emotional sponges.
An empath does not just listen to the words you speak. It goes much beyond that. They listen to your use of the words, your tone, your eyes, your body language, and your subtle facial expressions. Everything a regular person might just miss out on.
To put it more simply, an empath listens to everything you’re not saying. They interpret your silences, the words you don’t say.
According to psychiatrist Dr. Judith Orloff in her book The Empath’s Survival Guide- “empaths feel everything, often to an extreme, and have a little guard up between others and themselves. As a result, they are often overwhelmed by excessive stimulation and are prone to exhaustion and sensory overload.”
If you are an empath you must keep yourself safe from the emotional overload you are instinctively and naturally exposed to. While you cannot stop being an empath, you can learn coping mechanisms that allow you to enjoy your gift (yes being an empath is a gift, if you learn to use it right) without letting it wear you down or wringing you out.
Yours and Theirs
As an empath, it is natural for you to tune in to someone’s feelings through their perspective. This can make you a good listener and that is a good thing.
“Learn to set boundaries for yourself.”
It is dangerous when the emotions you absorb get mixed with your own feelings and you find it difficult to differentiate between the two. It is important that you draw a line and identify if a feeling belongs to you or it is being projected from someone else. Blurring this line can cause immense strain on your own emotional well-being too.
Visualize a Boundary
Sometimes, you need to make a conscious effort to look at a person with an imaginary transparent wall between him/her and you. While you get attuned to their expressions and listen to their words, you need to be conscious about keeping their emotions from piercing through that wall and reaching you.
This is helpful if you are an empathetic leader of an organization or company. Understanding and recognizing your people’s feelings and points of view enables you to be more engaging, effective, and influential. People trust you more when they know you understand where they are coming from. However, too much empathy can cloud your judgment.
According to research by Paul Bloom, an author, and professor of cognitive science and psychology at Yale University, empathy can distort your ability to make sound decisions. This is because your judgment is based on feelings rather than facts.
“Honor the limits you set for yourself.”
Striking a balance between being empathetic and being objective can be tricky for empaths. It is helpful to know your tendencies before others’ emotions run high and guard yourself against being lured by feelings away from thinking objectively. Listen with your heart AND your mind. Be sensitive and sensible at the same time.
Know When to Disengage
Being there for a friend or someone who needs to unload heavy emotions is one thing, being a dumping ground for negativity is another. When things begin to feel like you are taking up someone else’s unloaded baggage on your back and it has become a regular thing, it’s time for you to detach yourself and give yourself a break.
You will know this to be the case when after a conversation with someone, you part ways and the other person feels relieved, which is a good thing, but you feel yourself carrying weight from all that you’ve absorbed. This can take a toll on your emotional and mental health.
Worse is if you’ve become the go-to person for people who need ‘someone to listen to them’, irrespective of whether you are going through a rough patch yourself. Imagine negative emotions piling up on your chest, no outlet, just a steady inlet of emotional streams. Sooner or later, you will reach a breaking point.
“Learn to say no.”
As psychologist Jamil Zaki of Stanford University puts it, “We want to be there for someone but not lose ourselves.” A good tip on how to stop being an empath is by reducing your exposure to people whose negative emotions affect you. Limit your conversations with them and keep their negativity away. Give yourself time to replenish your energy and drain out any negative emotions you absorb.
Empathy fatigue is when you consume feelings (emotional or even physical) around you, from your family to colleagues, to your social circle, or a crowd of people, and begin to feel tired of it all. When this happens, a sense of emptiness and alienation can creep into you. This could affect all aspects of your life.
Strengthen Your Sense of Self
Being aware of your own needs, wants, and identity can keep you from putting other people’s feelings and perspectives above your own. As an empath, your tendency to give importance to other people’s emotions can cause you to forget about your own.
Caring for a sick loved one, for example, can cause you to focus all your energies on meeting that person’s needs and letting your own needs get the scraps, or what’s left of your time and your resources. You end up neglecting your own life by taking care of someone else’s at your own expense.
It is important to give value to that person in the mirror because filling yourself first with good thoughts enables you to share and care for others. Self-care goes beyond just the physical aspect of your being. Taking care of your emotional health by filtering what you consume cultivates your well-being.
“It is important to step back and take a break every now and then.”
Do not be held hostage by other people’s feelings or negative situations. Strengthen your self-awareness so you can easily navigate your way through the web of emotions out there without succumbing to them and being buried under their weight.
Get Off that Trap
Caring doesn’t have to cost you your emotional and mental wellness. As an empath, you cannot help but feel happy for those who are happy and feel sad for those who are sad. Positive emotions are fine and can even inspire you to become a better person.
Keep in mind that the empathy trap is real. Your kindness and compassion towards others should build them up without dragging you down.
To reiterate the tips mentioned above, practice your ability to switch your focus. Instead of being fully immersed in someone’s flood of emotions, keep yourself grounded in your truths.
Do not helplessly allow yourself to be gripped by negativity. Instead, learn how to separate their emotions from yours.
Empaths to the World
While you need to keep your guard up and know how to stop being an empath for your own sake, you can use the positive side of it to benefit you and the world around you. As you share in the pain and sadness of people around you, you help lift their spirits. And when you do, you can become a channel through which positivity can flow and multiply.
The world needs more of that!
The Bottom Line
Your ability to help relieve someone else’s burden and boost another’s joy is a gift that you can nurture and share. Just don’t allow yourself to carry unnecessary weight and lose your sense of self along the way. Use your gift of empathy to build and support people – yourself included.