Highly Sensitive? 5-Step Empath Survival Guide
Have you ever experienced a feeling of anxiety that came seemingly out of nowhere? Or left an interaction with a friend that was having a hard time feeling completely drained for the rest of the day? Or do you feel like you process other’s emotions for them? You always intensely feel others’ emotions? These are just a couple of signs that you may be an empath.
But what does it mean if you’re an empath, and how does it affect your daily life?
In this article, you’ll learn:
- The difference between empathy and being an empath
- Why being an empath is a beautiful gift to society
- The downfalls of being an empath
- How to know if you’re an empath
- How the brains of highly empathetic people differ from non-empaths
- Why, as an empath, is it vital that you protect your energy and clear out emotions daily
- How to enjoy your empathic tendencies without getting dragged down by other’s emotions
Having Empathy Vs. Being An Empath
Many people confuse what it means to have empathy with what it means to be an empath. Empathy is a natural human response that we feel when our hearts go out to another person. For example, you may experience empathy for a friend or family member that is having a hard time. You care for that person, so your heart responds to their pain, and you may even feel their pain on some level.
Empaths, on the other hand, feel and respond to other people’s pain and emotions in a much deeper way. While someone with empathy may feel someone else’s pain, an empath will experience it so deeply that it will actually feel like their own pain. You could say that empaths are naturally skilled at putting themselves in someone else’s shoes, even unconsciously.
Judith Orloff, M.D., a pioneer in the understanding of empaths, explains, “Empaths not only feel for others but absorb those feelings in their own system.”
How exactly does this happen? Studies show that highly empathetic people, what we call “empaths,” have slightly different neurological functions than non-empaths.
The Empathic Brain
Fascinatingly, research shows that people with higher levels of empathy tend to show more activity in the empathic centers of the brain even when no stimulus is present. This means that the tendency toward being an empath is not just emotional but may also come from a physical aspect of neurological structure.
Perhaps even more astounding, research shows that when in the presence of others, the brains of highly empathetic people can begin to mimic the neurological firing of those around them. For example, if you were in the room with someone that was anxious, your brain would begin to fire in ways that would mimic their anxious brain – making you feel anxious as well.
Empaths may also unconsciously mimic gestures, facial expressions, and behaviors of those around them as they pick up deeply on other people’s internal states.
How Do You Know If You’re An Empath?
Empaths tend to be highly sensitive people, able to pick up on other people’s emotions and needs. In fact, it’s quite common for empaths to sense someone else’s emotional state before they even communicate verbally. While almost everyone experiences some level of empathy, not everyone is as sensitive as an empath.
So, how do you know if you’re an empath? According to Judith Orloff, if you answer yes to three or more of the below questions, then it’s very likely that you may be an empath:
- Have I been labeled as “too emotional” or overly sensitive?
- If a friend is distraught, do I start feeling it too?
- Are my feelings easily hurt?
- Am I emotionally drained by crowds, requiring time alone to revive?
- Do my nerves get jarred by noise, smells, or excessive talk?
- Do I prefer taking my own car places so that I can leave when I please?
- Do I overeat to cope with emotional stress?
- Am I afraid of becoming engulfed by intimate relationships?
Orloff explains that answering yes to even one of the above indicates that you may be at least part empath.
The Pros and Cons of Being An Empath
Being an empath comes with some pretty significant advantages, as well as potential downfalls. At times you may feel empowered by your ability to connect with others, while at other times, you may also feel easily drained and even overwhelmed by all the feelings you pick up.
Here are some of the upsides to being an empath:
- You are able to pick up on other people’s state of being, allowing you to respond and react to others in a way that benefits both of you.
- You have a keen eye for red flags and aren’t easily fooled by other people, which can be very advantageous in business or dating scenarios.
- You have an incredible ability to love and feel compassion for others, which makes you a very supportive partner.
- Your ability to experience joy is magnified as your heart tends to open very easily.
- You can relate to other people easily, helping them feel at ease and seen.
- You tend to be a good listener, holding space for those around you.
But that sensitivity can come at a price; when your sensitivity is not properly managed, empaths may experience some downsides, including:
- It can become confusing to recognize which emotions are yours and which belong to other people.
- Feeling emotions so deeply can be overwhelming and, at times, draining to your system.
- You may pick up other people’s “stuff” without meaning to, which will leave you feeling anxious or depressed for no apparent reason.
- Your threshold for social interaction may be lower than other people’s.
- You may become triggered or upset by everyday experiences like watching a sad movie or hearing what’s happening on the news.
- You may be more likely to experience panic attacks due to emotional overwhelm.
How Being An Empath Can Impact You Emotionally
Most people don’t realize that they’re empaths. If you don’t know the difference, you may think that everyone feels as deeply as you do and understands others without the need for verbal communication. You may also think it’s normal to feel sudden bouts of anxiety, depression, overwhelm, and so on without an obvious trigger. In reality, however, being an empath can set you up for a very different experience of emotions throughout your life. Understanding this difference is vital for your emotional health, well-being, and relationships.
As an empath, you may find that you’re frequently disappointed when the people closest to you can’t read your mind and understand your emotions without your need to articulate them. Since this is a gift that comes easily to you, It may feel like they don’t care as much or aren’t paying attention to you as well as you are to them. In reality, they just aren’t relating as intimately with your emotional state because they don’t have the same capacity you do. Regardless, this can lead to feelings of neglect, rejection, and abandonment – especially when you’re young.
Furthermore, as an empath, you literally feel other people’s feelings. This can set the stage for a lot of confusion and overwhelm. Many empaths believe that they are just innately anxious or depressed when, in reality, they’re simply picking up on other people’s stuff.
If you grew up in a home with a parent that had mental health issues, it could magnify your own emotional responses even more. Carrying the emotional burden of those around you at a young age can be overwhelming and even traumatic.
Not being able to predict your emotional state can also make it hard for you to trust yourself. In truth, empaths are highly intuitive and perceptive, but if you haven’t mastered the art of differentiating your emotions from those you pick up from other people, it can lead to issues with confidence and self-trust.
This is why it is so vitally important as an empath to learn how to protect your energy and detoxify any emotions that don’t belong to you. While everyone can benefit from a practice of clearing out emotional baggage and getting present, for empaths, this is a crucial step for mental and emotional well-being.
Daily Skills For Empaths
There are several tools that empaths can use to find balance in their day-to-day life. Integrating these skills into your life will not only help you understand your own emotions better, but it will empower you and help you use your empathic skills in a more positive way.
#1 Set Boundaries
Boundary setting is one of the most important and challenging skills for an empath to cultivate. It can be challenging to say “no” or “not now” when you feel so deeply for others, but being able to take care of yourself first is vital for your health.
Boundaries can look different for everyone; for example:
- You may need to tell a friend that you’re not available to see them if you feel drained from your day already.
- You may need to communicate with friends or family that trigger you that certain subjects are off-limits when you are together.
- If there is someone in your life that asks a lot of you, you may have to learn how to tell them no more often and redefine what your dynamic looks like.
These are just a few examples, but you’ll know it’s time to set a boundary when you start to feel overwhelmed in your interactions with them.
#2 Allow Yourself Ample “Me” Time
Empaths aren’t necessarily introverts, so it can be hard to find a balance of human interaction when you love being around people but also become easily drained. If you find that your days are packed with social interactions, make sure you are carving out time to check in with yourself. Without enough time to evaluate your own emotional state, it’s easy to get swept away by the emotions of others.
Alone time gives you a chance to recharge and recenter and will make your social interactions feel much more balanced and fulfilling.
#3 Don’t Be Afraid To Say No
This goes along with boundary setting, but it’s worth repeating. Even when you have someone in your life that doesn’t ask much of you, sometimes you still need to say no. This may not necessarily fall under “boundaries” but rather just simple self-care. The takeaway here is that saying no isn’t a bad thing, and it will set a precedent for the people in your life to understand that you aren’t always available to them.
#4 Start a Grounding and Centering Practice
Empaths can easily get swept away in their day and into the stories of others. Finding a grounding and centering practice that you use daily, sometimes several times throughout the day, can help you feel tethered to your own inner self. Some fantastic grounding and centering exercises include:
- Mindfulness meditation
- Deep breathing
- Gentle Yoga
Your practice can be unique to you as long as it allows you to feel present and centered. The best practices for empaths are those that don’t take too long and can be done anywhere. Even two minutes of deep breathing or five minutes of meditation can be all you need to feel more grounded.
#5 Eat Plenty of Protein
Healthy eating, in general, can enhance your emotional state, but protein is particularly grounding. Make sure that you get enough protein throughout your day, and try not to skip meals.
Emotional Detox For Empaths
All of the above tips should help you feel more grounded and centered throughout your day and will likely mitigate some of the emotional residues that you tend to pick up around you. However, as an empath, you will always be highly sensitive, which means that it isn’t enough to just stay grounded; you need to clear energy daily.
If you’re new to emotional detox, you likely have years of trauma stored in your energy field and cellular memory. Even non-empaths have to clear and release old emotions frequently, but as an empath, you’re holding your own trauma and the trauma of others.
You’ve likely heard of detox diets and cleanses that help you eliminate physical toxins, but how do you clear emotional toxins?
That’s the question that led me to create my Emotional Detox Program. Clearing out emotional toxins (whether those emotions are yours or come from other people) takes a strategic plan that acknowledges mind, body, and energy.
In the Emotional Detox Program, I walk you through simple yet incredibly effective strategies for clearing out old emotional trauma and staying clear and grounded in your daily life.
If you consider yourself a sensitive person and have been struggling with anxiety, depression, overwhelm, or confusion, this program is for you.*
In the program, I share:
- Unique and powerful tools for clearing your energy field.
- Dietary recommendations for keeping your physical body in optimal health so that your cells are able to release old memories that are not serving.
- Education around why you may feel the way you do, and what psychology has to tell us about releasing trapped emotional responses.
- Meditations to guide you on your healing journey
- Bonuses including detox bath instructions, essential oil guides, vagus nerve exercises, and much more.
The goal of the Emotional Detox Program isn’t only to heal past trauma but to create a mind-body-energy system that is resilient, open, and fortified so that you can move through your life feeling empowered and centered.
While empathy is a trait that most people exhibit, being an empath takes compassion to a whole other level. When properly managed, your empathic abilities can be a great gift to you and the people around you. However, if you’re unaware of how to manage your empathic tendencies, you can easily become overwhelmed, anxious, and depressed.
As an empath, your number one job is to take care of your own emotional well-being. You feel more than others, and on a much deeper level, this means that your self-care regimen is a vital aspect of your overall health.
In addition to boundary setting and creating a daily grounding practice, the tips and tools you’ll learn in the Emotional Detox Program will set you up for success so you can stop feeling like everyone else, and finally know what it feels like to just be you – in a grounded, balanced, and healthy way.
You can learn more about how to release emotional trauma and what physical health issues it can cause in this fascinating free Emotional Trauma Masterclass. Don’t miss it!
*These statements have not been reviewed by the FDA. The Emotional Detox Program is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. It is not intended to replace any medication or healing modality prescribed by your medical doctor.
Click Here for References+
- Christov-Moore, Leonardo, et al. “Predicting empathy from resting state brain connectivity: A multivariate approach.” Frontiers in integrative neuroscience 14 (2020): 3.
- Riess, Helen. “The science of empathy.” Journal of patient experience 4.2 (2017): 74-77.
- Avenanti, Alessio, et al. “Transcranial magnetic stimulation highlights the sensorimotor side of empathy for pain.” Nature neuroscience 8.7 (2005): 955-960.
- Carr, Laurie, et al. “Neural mechanisms of empathy in humans: a relay from neural systems for imitation to limbic areas.” Proceedings of the national Academy of Sciences 100.9 (2003): 5497-5502.