5 Reality Checks for Empaths & Sensitive People
I have spent most of my life feeling overwhelmed by the energies and emotions around me. Even when those energies or experiences didn’t have anything to do with me, I would take them on as if they were my own. Feeling bad for others became my job.
I felt obligated to fully honor and respect the pain or suffering of others, even those I had never met. Victims of war, starving children, caged animals, or the overworked waitress who was clearly having a bad day, all tugged at my heart.
The impact is even more intense when a friend or loved one experiences something challenging. A friend’s cat dies, my partner gets into an accident, a co-worker is diagnosed with an illness, or a family member is stressed at work. These negative situations would instantly send me into a downward spiral of emotions on their behalf.
A Common Problem for Empaths
Learning I was an empath was a relief. It finally explained why I was so deeply impacted by the energies and emotions of other beings. However, accepting that label has at times made me think I was destined to always “feel bad.” After all, suffering and loss are constants in life, especially lately.
At the beginning of the pandemic, I felt waves of emotions constantly crashing into me. Anxiety would wake me from a deep sleep when I went to bed at peace. I’d go from feeling happy and energetic in the morning to having to climb into bed by late afternoon. These frustrating swings, which clearly related to the energies of the collective, caused me to seriously re-evaluate how I work with my empathic traits.
It became essential to learn how to be compassionate and empathetic while still protecting my energy and emotional health. The following 5 reality checks have helped me to break the cycle of feeling bad so that I (and all the souls closest to me) can more consistently feel good.
#1 – You Can’t Take Away Another Being’s Pain
Having one’s pain acknowledged and emotions validated is deeply healing. What people often need when they are struggling is simply to be seen and heard. [This is the basis for my Compassionate Coaching service.]
What they don’t need, however, is for someone to eliminate or dispel their pain or grief. All emotions must be felt for them to be released and healed. My ability to feel another person’s sorrow or loss does very little to actually relieve that energy for them.
We’ve all been taught that in order to save a drowning person, we must throw them a line from a place of safety, not jump in with them. Jumping in only leads to a greater likelihood that you both go under.
#2 – Growth & Evolution Must Be Achieved on Our Own
Life is a constant state of growth and learning, most of which must be done on our own. Take, for example, a child who is learning to walk. It is frustrating to watch them struggle and fall, but they must work through that process. Otherwise, they will have to be carried forever.
The same is true for all forms of soul evolution and healing. No matter how much we love or how hard we try, we can’t heal another person or prevent them from experiencing challenges. In fact, trying to do so, even when well-intentioned, often causes others distress. It takes away their personal power and freedom, ultimately hindering their growth.
Consider the caterpillar that must fight to break out of its chrysalis. If someone were to help break it free, it would not develop the wing strength it needs to fly.
This is a hard lesson for many compassionate and codependent people. We think it is our job to fix others, and that letting others suffer in any way is cruel and unfair. Yet, what is truly unfair is trying to live someone’s life for them.
#3 – No One Feels Like You Do
Because I feel so deeply connected to others and the world around me, at times it is difficult to delineate what is mine and what belongs to everyone else. Conceptually, I can fully accept how incredibly different we all are, but energetically, it can be difficult to make that distinction. I have learned from other empaths that this is a common issue. In fact, it is pretty much the defining trait that makes an empath an empath (i.e., feeling others’ emotions and energies).
However, even as a sensitive empath, I must recognize that no one feels exactly as I do. My body can sense the energies and emotions around me. Yet, there is no way to stop my active mind from assigning meaning to them. As soon as I feel an energy, I label it through my own framework of experience. As such, those energies are always going to be distorted by my own perception.
Furthermore, every human has a different emotional range. What makes me unbearably sad is a mild inconvenience to someone else. I have at times felt terrible grief on behalf of someone who had experienced a loss, only to later realize the person wasn’t impacted by it at all.
This is especially important to recognize when dealing with narcissists, sociopaths, or other emotionally disordered individuals. People with these traits lack empathy, yet they have learned to fake emotions just to manipulate others and gain their sympathy.
Those of us who are deep-feelers must always remember that our emotional experiences are rare. And, if we really want to know how someone truly feels, it is best to ask them.
#4 – You Must Raise Your Vibrations
If you are emotionally sensitive, the thought of others suffering feels unbearable. After all, you can feel that suffering too, so it is natural that you would want to prevent it. Yet, as we already discussed, preventing the pain and negative emotions of others is not possible or even helpful. That doesn’t mean we can’t be supportive and compassionate.
Somewhat counterintuitively, rather than trying to fight someone’s negative energy or emotions, we must instead focus on increasing our own positive energy or vibrations. The highest vibrational states come from love, joy, peace, and enlightenment. By focusing your intention on creating more of these positive energies in your life, you can effectively raise your vibrations. Such efforts naturally raise the vibrations of those around you.
Gratitude is always a helpful go-to. When you feel grateful, your loving energy naturally expands. Saying a prayer or listening to an uplifting playlist will also quickly shift your energy in a positive direction. For more simple ideas, download my free guide, “33 Ways to Add More Joy to Your Life.”
#5 – Being Grounded is Essential
In addition to raising your positive vibrations to counteract the negative, we also must focus on rooting our energy into the earth so we have the stability and strength to prevent others from taking our vital life force. This is important for several reasons.
First, when you raise your vibrations, that positive energy moves into your upper chakras — the area from your heart and chest through to above your crown. If you aren’t grounded, this rising energy can leave you out of balance and too “in your head.” Furthermore, if your energy rises too quickly, it can lead to anxiety or lightheadedness.
The best solution for balancing rising energy is to root your energy into the earth in a practice known as “grounding.” It can be as simple as placing your focus on your feet so that your energy is moving downward into the earth.
You can also practice a simple visualization where you envision positive, supportive energy (perhaps from the sun or the heavens) shining down onto your head, moving through your body, and then flowing deep into the earth’s core, where it can root into the natural energy present there. Doing this barefoot, with your feet directly on the earth, in a practice called “earthing,” is even more effective.
Empathy, compassion, and sensitivity are all beautiful traits. People who care about the well-being of others are exactly what the world needs right now. However, with so much heavy and unsettled energy present, we must all accept the importance of balance and giving others their own autonomy.
I wrote about this topic from a slightly different perspective almost 8 years ago in “It’s Not About You.” I clearly had not fully learned my lessons back then. I’m not sure I am fully there now either. But I am trying. If this is something you struggle with, please know that you are not alone, and feel free to share your experiences in the comments section below.
For more tips on how to protect and reclaim your energy, particularly when dealing with narcissistic individuals, check out my new coaching course, “Free From Narcissists: A 10-Step Program to Reclaim Your Joy.”
Michelle Gibeault Traub is a health writer, compassionate coach, and the author of Free From Narcissists and Online Dating for Sensitive Women. Her mission is to help women be their best in body, mind & spirit. Sign up for Michelle’s FREE Gifts – The Natural Healing Toolkit and 33 Ways to Add More Joy to Your Life.