The Empathic Journey
Years ago I probably would’ve thought you were crazy if you asked me “Are you an Empath?”. I didn’t even really understand what it was until a few years back, and even then it was only talked about on the super hippy-tastic circles. Mostly, because was so misunderstood. Which is how I felt at the time too.
For those who don’t know, an Empath is someone who has a higher-than-average ability to pick up on other people’s feelings. It is more than just empathy, where you can try to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. No, an Empath can feel another person’s joy or pain. They can tell someone is upset before they’ve even spoken. With people they’re really close to, they may be able to “just tell” something is off and call to check-in with that loved one. Empaths often don’t like large crowds, because they pick up so many different emotions. They can have anxiety and feel drained often. There’s a great article that talks about how to recognize if you are an Empath, by Judy Orloff, M.D., which you can find here. What I wanted to discuss today was more aimed for those who are already aware that they are empathic.
I feel as though we’re living in a great time for Empaths, even though there are many challenges we face. I feel like it is so awesome to see it more and more accepted. As a teenager I could have greatly benefited from better understanding my Empathic capabilities. I have vivid memories of games I made up as a child, where I’d try to guess what other people were feeling. Like if I saw a car coming in the other direction, I’d close my eyes and try to “guess” what their mood was. Then look at their expressions as they drove past. But I also struggled with feeling responsible for the negative emotions of others. Like I had to fix it, and I didn’t always know how. And I didn’t understand why I was sad, just because someone I was around was sad. As I got older, I learned how to use this talent to explain people’s emotions back to them in a way that brought comfort or clarity. I think that is why my social circle jokingly referred to me as the group’s therapist. But there wasn’t much support for me back then. I often felt overwhelmed and confused as to why. I don’t look back longing for a different outcome, I am happy with who I am and those experiences shaped me. But I’d love it if I could help anyone else ease the struggle.
If I had known what an Empath was and told people this, I think a few people would’ve thought I lost my mind, and I might have had a few try to give me an exorcism. But truly, I do not see it as a paranormal gift. I feel that it is a personality trait, one that is evolving within humanity. It seems to me that there are far more Empath’s now, so it only makes sense that we will talk about it more. And hence, it will continue to become more accepted. I personally feel it is just a development of our senses. With most talents there are those who have a better innate talent for it. For these Empaths, they easily have an understanding of micro-expressions and body language. I think as time goes on, we’ll only better understand what it means to be an Empath and why it occurs in some with great intensity. For all of us who identify with it, I hope we can learn to understand it in a way that allows us to see it as a gift.
As an Empath, you’ll likely have heard “overly-sensitive” a lot. You’ll learn to cover up your discomfort in many different situations, just to avoid the judgement. This is draining and frustrating. But I’ve learned a few tools that help me navigate a world of emotions, and be able to tell which ones are mine.
Have you ever play Super Mario Bros.? There’s a way that if you can’t keep up with a friend while playing together, you can hit a button and a little bubble appears around you for protection/help. I want you to think of this in times of high emotions. If things are really intense around you, giggle about being in a video game and imagine pressing an internal button, that initiates your own bubble. You will need to practice this for it to be really effective. So, before you go to bed each night, take some deep breaths. Imagine a warm light, of any color that comforts you, fill your heart. Let it build and build until you can feel it envelop you in a peaceful warmth. If you fall asleep, it’s perfectly okay! Your intention is there. But it is best to try to stay awake so you can really connect to your breath.
Breathing will become your a superpower. I refer to this deep connective breathing as breathing in until you feel it touch your soul. There’s this special feeling you get right in your chest, when you breathe in deep enough. This is where you are being fully present, fully connected, and fully in power. Breathe it in and hold it once it touches your soul. That is the button to turn on your bubble. The great thing is, once you practice, no one will ever know you are using your bubble. It will just look like you are breathing.
We get easily drained as Empaths, and it takes time to learn how to not be “open” to everyone’s emotions. So, it is necessary to find things that refill your energy. This is one you are going to have to play around with, because preferences are subjective. But I find music to be one of the most helpful tools for me as an Empath. You start by watching which songs make you happy, not because of old memories. But purely because the beat makes you smile. Put these songs on your phone, so they are always with you. Seriously, it is okay to put in your earbuds and lock yourself in the bathroom for a 30 second dance party! Or to take a break and park somewhere in your car to belt out with your favorite song. Try it next time you feel as though everyone has drained the life-force from you.
3. Move it!
Yes, just like I said to go lock yourself somewhere you can do a quick dance party. The same goes for any movement. Getting your circulation going isn’t only good for your physical health, it is good for your emotional health. I am not going to tell you to go run, because you may hate running. I just want you to find something that makes you want to move. Do you love the swing-set? Go swing! Love to jump? There are trampoline parks in most cities. Or at least you can get a little jump on at home. Try out different classes in your area, even things that sound weird. You may find something unique that you really love.
4. Essential Oils
There are so many oils out there that are helpful, but I can’t possibly include them all in this post. I highly recommend that you try new ones, whenever you have the option! Some of the basic oils I would recommend are:
– Lavender, or Ylang-ylang, for anxiety: Personally, I prefer Ylang-ylang as it is a lighter and more floral smell. It reminds me of sunshine. And I reach for it when I know I am going into a situations with high emotions. Just one or two drops on the chest, by your heart. But lavender is a great starter oil. It has many uses, is easily obtained, and often very affordable. It can also help relieve stress and anxiety.
– Eucalyptus, for rejuvenation: This oil is a great way to recharge when you are feeling drained. The same goes for any of the mints.
– Sandalwood, or Frankincense, for protection: My favorite oil is Frankincense. I love its rich earthy scent and it is so diverse in its uses. Be it to protect you from negative energies, or to fight off that cold. It is very helpful. In fact, in studies it has been seen to have antidepressant effects and even boosts the immune system! Just be sure to keep your oils somewhere cool, preferably dark, and private. It may sound silly, but emotions are just energy. It’s best to keep your oils somewhere away from other people’s energy.
5. Sacred Space
This is a must have. You have to have a space set aside for yourself. It doesn’t have to be big. I’ve known some people to even use their car! It just has to be a place you can control to some degree. Truly it can be anywhere you can relax. But ideally it is a place you can decorate, purify, and make yours. I recommend routinely saging your space, to cleanse and protect. But you can cleanse with a prayer or intention as well. Oils and crystals may also be used to cleanse your space. Whatever allows you to really claim the space as your own. Use your space to go and relax. To get away from the world. Even if it is just for a few minutes.
5. Creative Expression
Do not give me that “Oh, I can’t draw.” line, it is an old outdated thought that is holding you back. Just like there are a ton of ways to get moving, there are a ton of ways to be creative. Even with drawing/painting there are a ton of different styles, or you can make one up! With humanity we like structure, so that we feel taken care of and safe enough to go outside of those defined boundaries and grow.
So, in order to grow, you gotta start somewhere! Go scribble on some paper. Or shred it into tiny pieces and make a shape out of them. Mix paint together (at Wal-Mart acrylic paint is under a dollar per container or even on sale at times for 50 cents) and drip, splatter, or dump it onto paper. As long as it is yours and you don’t care, you can dump that paint on anything! Go get an art kit for kids, play with air dry clay, or go out to a pottery class. There are options for every budget and lifestyle. You just need to go try it. Poor all those emotions into your art. Let it go through you, into your art. Rather than hold onto it. I think you’ll not only feel better, you’ll be surprised at what you can create!
There are at least a few times a week we can all turn off our phone, or at least the ringer. And far more times we can all step away from the internet. Personally, I turn my phone on vibrate whenever possible. I also limit the number of apps that have permission to give me notifications. In fact, I’ve never allowed Facebook to have permission to give me notifications and I swear it has a daily temper tantrum. I am available by my phone for emergencies. But seriously, years ago we survived without cellphones. Where you had to play phone tag with someone’s answering machine. We weren’t always available or connected 24/7, and the world didn’t implode. Just making sure your ringtone doesn’t jolt you each time it goes off, can help greatly. Try soothing tones whenever possible.
This one is tough, but you have to start practicing saying no. I see this with Empath’s a lot, they feel obligated to fix things or maintain the peace. While sacrificing their emotional well-being or happiness. Creating boundaries will help you tremendously, and if they are healthy, it can help strengthen relationships too. This can be as simple as not answering the door when you have no expected guests, no missed calls/texts, and especially if it is a time when you usually aren’t available. Or ignoring a call for a number you don’t know. As well it can be saying no if friends want to go out to a club you hate because it is too loud, or when your family is pressuring you to have dinner with that family member who is always rude. The one everyone knows hates you anyway. I am not saying never be around them, just know once-in-awhile you have a choice. It is okay to say no. Being an adult we have that magic power. We get a choice. Sometimes feeling obligated, we can forget that magic power. There is nothing wrong with saying, “Nah, thanks. I want to just go home and relax.” and leave it at that. Let them complain or tease you. Learn to say no, and feel that you have the right to say it, because you do. There are times you can make compromises, but do not allow it to turn into running your life.
8. Cherish Me Time
For Empaths the best thing you will ever do for yourself, is learning to like hanging-out with yourself. It will not only help you to be a more independent adult, but it will help you get experience with what your emotions feel like. Sometimes when you have so many emotions rolling around inside you, it can feel terrifying to be alone with them. But depending on others to distract you from all of it, can actually be what is adding to it. I know for a good portion of my generation, we weren’t really taught a lot about emotional intelligence.
Think about how you were taught all these subjects in school to “prepare” you for the “real world”. Were there any classes on emotional intelligence? I’ll bet most say no, if you did say yes. Please, send me an email. I want to know what cool school you went to! And I don’t mean that one week your health class teacher talked about stress. Emotions are far more complicated than a one week topic in a class.
So, for most of us it is either expected that parents/guardians would teach us. Or we’d magically acquire the tools for emotional management. But for many they were not given tools, or they were given ones that were dysfunctional due to generations lacking proper emotional intelligence. Today more than ever it is so important to gain emotional intelligence. There are so many streams of information bombarding us with intentions of emotional manipulation. Without proper understanding, it is hard to decipher it all, let alone recognize when it is being used to manipulate us. Plus, with all the digital ways we can “escape” it is easier and easier to become disconnected with yourself. I’ll bet most of us don’t even notice it. The side effects of enjoying time with yourself are increase self-esteem, self-love, and the abandonment of any fear attached to eating or going to the movies ALONE. Hey, being able to choose the movie and snacks is an awesome feeling!
Spirituality used to be associated with ghosts and the paranormal, and for some it still is. But I am talking about the connection you have with your soul. Being connected is so essential, for everyone. Perhaps, you already routinely participate in a religion. That’s great! But it doesn’t necessarily mean it is attending to all your spiritual needs. For some religion is their spirituality. They co-exist together. For others, they are deeply religious but they have separate rituals for their spiritual wellness. Still others only focus on their spirituality. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. There can’t be, for it is literally your connection with your soul. No one else can dictate what that is or how it is achieved. Only you. I know that can be scary, but it is also so exciting. There’s so much to be gained. I truly feel if people were more connected, the world would be a far better place.
10. Give Yourself Permission
Whether you need to laugh like a maniac, or cry it all out. It is okay to feel. To let yourself feel the full height and depths of emotions. Especially if you’re carrying more than just your own. It is okay to shed a tear when comforting a distraught friend. It might even be the sign of strength and acceptance they need to let go and release it all. While you don’t want emotions to run your life, it doesn’t mean you’re trying to get rid of them. They’re a part of you. It is just a matter of learning to navigate this journey with them. Also, know that by feeling the deeply, you will be able to help others. As well as to know yourself deeper. And to truly experience the most essential aspect of what it means to be human.