Being a cheerleader of the human race comes with a lot of emotions. I take on a lot of people’s stuff including the good and the bad, and ultimately I don’t let it go. With all the recent events from a global pandemic to racial injustice, I have found myself crying in a corner of my closet. On May 29, 2020 I took to my Instagram stories letting my community know what was happening. That was the first time I was told that I was an empath.
When hundreds of strangers start messaging you the same thing, you better believe I am going to listen. Both my husband and I have never heard this term before and thought maybe it was a California thing, but it turns out it’s more popular than I thought.
Empathy and sympathy aren’t synonyms. Empathy involves identifying with what someone is feeling and actually feeling those feelings yourself.
Understanding An Empath
One of the first people they told me to research was Dr. Judith Orloff. Dr. Orloff’s is known for transforming the face of psychiatry. She has been called “the godmother of the empath movement.” Her book “The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People” is an invaluable resource to help sensitive people of all kinds develop healthy coping mechanisms in our high-stimulus world without experiencing compassion fatigue or burnout.
Awakening to Who I Am
This is who I am! Not diagnosed by myself, but rather hundreds of folks in my online community. The light bulb is now flickering, the bell is ringing. I finally get it. After all these years of me taking on other people’s stuff, I have experienced this great burn out that truly affects my well-being. But the bigger problem I have it stops me from being present with my family.
Recently, there was a horrific accident that took place with a mom and her child. To tell you that I laid in bed without sleeping for weeks would be an understatement. I felt so bad for the husband and the surviving kids that I reached out sending our condolences. I took this on as if I knew them closely as if she were my best friend. For some reason, I still think about it and can’t let it go. What I didn’t know is that I was experiencing being an extreme empath.
According to a 2012 study, people who meditated regularly for eight weeks were far more empathetic at the end of the study than those who simply participated in health education classes.
The Traits of an Empath
I didn’t understand when my community first tried to tell me I was an empath. But as I looked into Dr. Orloff’s work, I realized they were right. She notes 10 traits of an empath, and I have to say, I check almost all of these boxes.
1. Empaths are highly sensitive
2. Empaths absorb other people’s emotions
3. Many empaths are introverted
4. Empaths are highly intuitive
5. Empaths need alone time
6. Empaths can become overwhelmed in intimate relationships
7. Empaths are targets for energy vampires
8. Empaths become replenished in nature
9. Empaths have highly tuned senses
10. Empaths have huge hearts but sometimes give too much
Now that I know I’m an empath, I have some perspective on the way I take on the bad stuff, but it doesn’t make it any easier to handle. I still find myself in the closet crying and staying up through sleepless nights with everything happening in the world. But I also need to remind myself it’s important to take time to focus and care for my own wellbeing.
Listen to The Mom Confidential Podcast Episode 49: “Living As An Empath With Dr. Judith Orloff“
Remember Not To Take On Everyone’s Pain
Sometimes I feel completely worn out, just from taking on everyone else’s emotions and hardships. There’s so much wear and tear on you physically and emotionally as an empath, that it’s important to take care of yourself. Remember that you can’t take on all the world’s pain, and there are times you need to step away. You can be emotional and have empathy without taking on all that stress and pain into yourself. It’s something I have to be mindful of all the time.
Make Time for Self Care
Find a way to heal yourself through self-care. Ground yourself each day, just by walking through the grass barefoot or playing with your pets. Find a way to connect yourself in some way to nature. Others benefit from alone time. I love taking a quiet bubble bath in an attempt to find my peace. If you’ve got a big family like me and alone time is rare, take just a few minutes alone in your room to breathe and refocus.
If you can, clear your mind. Try some journaling or mediation to get rid of all the emotions that could bring you additional stress and pain throughout the day. If you’re a visual person, try imagining sending all that negativity away from you, or envision yourself in a protective bubble where other’s emotions can’t reach you.
The extent of your emotional intelligence will make it easier or harder for you to be empathic. The more connected you are to your own emotions, the greater your ability to feel for others.
Stay Away From Emotional Vampires
Dr. Orloff calls them “emotional vampires” and I love this term. Some people can sense that you’re an empath (even if they don’t know what it is!) and use you to make themselves feel better. This isn’t about friends going through a hard time, or family leaning on your for support, but those people in your life who are negative, draining, and dump all their complaints and hardships on you. Try to set emotional boundaries when you can and remember that you need to take care of yourself first.
Since the early 2000s, a new theory of empathy has emerged among neuroscientists. Empathy may stem from something called mirror neurons, which respond the same way whether you’re performing an action or watching someone else do it.