Are you someone who tries to avoid crowds and large groups of people because they make you feel overwhelmed? Do you often find yourself feeling depleted and exhausted in intimate relationships, but have trouble pinpointing the cause? Do you feel others’ pain deeply, yet have trouble disconnecting from it? Do you have trouble working out what your needs are and having them validated?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, chances are you are an empath.
So, what exactly is an empath? An empath is someone who is an emotional sponge, highly sensitive and deeply tuned in to their environment. They also have a natural ability to be able to see people deeply, far beyond surface personality. The word itself offers a perfect description, meaning ‘feeling into’. Empaths have a beautiful, caring, gentle and heart-centred nature, and bring much-needed compassion to our planet, but can easily be vulnerable and prone to many obstacles. This can make them feel like something is really wrong with them. An empath’s nervous system can easily become overwhelmed, which can also lead to a number of physical ailments, such as anxiety and depression.
Here is a checklist of empath traits:
- The main overarching problem for empaths is they have blurred personal boundaries as they have trouble separating other people’s emotions and moods from their own. They can unwittingly take on other people’s emotional states and can be burdened by a whole range of feelings from others around them such as blame, guilt, grief, and anger. They may automatically tune into and protect another’s feelings, but are often unable to express their own.
- Empaths are introverted, often craving solitude and quiet in order to recharge their batteries. Empaths have sensitive nervous systems that are easily stressed and overstimulated. Extroverts, on the other hand, need the company of others to feel energised, and they enjoy crowds and being the life of a party. Omniverts (yes that is a word!) are those who are able to spend some time in a crowd, meeting new people and socialising, but then need solitude and peace to recover and recalibrate.
- Empaths often have never learnt to define and value their needs and have them validated in relationship. They may either struggle with intimacy (because it so easy to lose themselves) or they attract partners who take advantage of their sensitive, gentle nature. An energy vampire is a term used to describe someone who (either subconsciously or consciously) saps the energy of another. These types of people can be particularly drawn to empaths because of the magnetic qualities of the empath that others lack. There are different types of energy vampires, but the net effect is the same for an empath, who can feel drained and empty from these toxic and dangerous relationships.
- An empath can have an under-developed sense of self because they have such big hearts. They give so much of themselves and tend to be chronic pleasers. Whether this is a protective mechanism learned in childhood, or an inherent characteristic makes no difference; it can take a long time for an empath to develop a strong sense of self.
- Empaths have hyper-sensitive senses and their nervous systems can easily become overwhelmed by strong smells, too much talking, loud noises or bright lights.
Wellbeing strategies for empaths
If you are reading this and recognise some or all of these qualities within yourself, you may be thinking that being an empath is a bit of a poor deal! However, with greater self-awareness and the right tools, it is possible to start to really enjoy the amazing characteristics empaths bring. Personally I believe that empaths are here to bring more love, compassion and softness to and often harsh and difficult world.
- Emotional and physical boundaries
Simply noticing how you feel when you are in the company of others can help you to hold on to your own energy. If you notice your mood suddenly dipping when you are with certain people, then this is feedback from your body that their energy is affecting you.
It’s really important to validate what you are feeling. Don’t ignore it. If you suddenly wonder why you are feeling anxious, sad or unhappy just allow this emotion to play out. If it dissipates within a day or so, then it’s more likely to be someone else’s mood. If it stays with you, then the mood is your own and may require some self-reflection as to what it may stem from. It can be easy to be triggered by others’ emotions that empaths haven’t adequately worked through.
If you are a visual person, then you can imagine yourself in a big protective, nurturing bubble before walking into uncomfortable settings. One thing that empaths must practice is saying ‘no’! This can be really difficult to do for those who enjoy helping people, or worry about other’s reactions if you were to start to say no more often. Surprisingly, people on the whole are fine (unless they are energy vampires) if you explain calmly that you need a night in or time out.
Feel OK about making something up if you have to get away from someone’s monologue of problems, just start practicing those no’s. When you start doing this notice how you feel within yourself. If you feel a sense of strength that’s your personal power coming back to you and you will start to feel more confident.
Mindfulness is a really important practise to bring awareness to your thoughts and the sensations in your body. It can be achieved simply by taking a slow breath in, followed by a longer breath out which helps to calm your nervous system. Mindfulness will assist you in practising saying no to people, because it has you focussing on the present moment rather than worrying about what people are going to think of you. Another effective way to come into the present is to take a deep breath in and imagine a silver thread or waterfall flowing down from the universe and settling into a spot in your body where you feel centred – usually around your middle or just below your belly button. Imagine channelling this in through your breath until it feels locked in.
- Quiet time
As an empath, your nervous system is not able to adequately separate and identify your own emotional issues from others, which can lead to range of health issues. To help your nervous system stabilise, it is imperative that you give yourself some quiet time to unplug from your environment. Whether that is meditating, reading a book, yoga classes, walking on the beach – whatever you love to do and helps you to feel peaceful.
- Grounding and cleansing
Grounding means connecting to Earth’s energies, simply by standing or walking barefoot on grass, sand or rock. Because empaths are often not in their own bodies and their own emotions, it’s really important to bring yourself back, and grounding is a really important practice. There are many health benefits of grounding, and I highly recommend watching this if you are curious to find out more.