The word empath didn’t used to be part of my vocabulary. In fact, this descriptor is a fairly new discovery for many of us.
However, the experience of being one who feels deeply is nothing new at all. If you are an empath, you already know it.
As soon as we first heard it roll out of conversations at yoga studios, coffee shops and more recently read it as the buzzword in print too, we resonated like fine crystal, because finally we had a word to explain our unique disposition.
I knew I was an empath the first time I realized that I felt what others were experiencing, even when they hadn’t yet felt it themselves. With this ability, I took on the responsibility of care-taking for people who often didn’t realize they were hurting. I knew they were, though, and I thought I could make them better.
Oh, the innocence of youth!
It is a true gift to be empathic, though, and as we grow into well adapted adults we can fully realize how. The psychological definition of empathy is that we experience exactly what another is feeling, thinking or doing without them having to explain it; we have the automatic knowledge of what it is like to be in another’s shoes.
This allows us to form immediate connections with people. It assists us in building deep, loving bonds—but it also can be a tiring trait.
Unfortunately, the last descriptor is the downside to being empathic. Taking in many different experiences at once is our challenge. It can overwhelm the best of us to understand so deeply everyone else’s process of being human, especially as we often try to support them at the cost of ourselves.
The biggest pat on the back we give is when we fulfill another’s need. Empaths have a tendency to feel that, because we know what others desire, it is necessary for us to give it to them. This is the empathic trap.
As we become the ultimate caretaker for others through using our gift, we do several unhelpful things too: We get exhausted by being there for everyone, we take away others’ power by not letting them help themselves, and we create an unhealthy distance from the experience of what we ourselves need and feel.
Don’t fret, though—there are ways to be a healthy and energized empath. We just need to brush up on a few skills.
Because the thing we want to do most is love and nurture the world, we have to offer this to ourselves first.
Here are three ways to change our empathic patterns from other-care to self-care. It is about setting clear boundaries.
1) Say No
This little, teeny word may have been the hardest one that I ever had to try and spill out of my rosy lips. Saying no is not an automatic response for empaths. We instinctually want to make others feel good, and we think that yes is a more appropriate way to do it.
But no, is often the most empowering response an empath can give. We must learn to feel what others experience and still make our own desires be our priority.
Try it on. The next time someone asks for help and our gut sinks because we just want to be here for our self, be a revolutionary and say no!
2) Don’t take on others’ sh*t.
We all have our stories, our trials and our tribulations, and most of us, unless we have reached guru status, try to get rid of them here and there by way of other people. As empaths, we love this. It is like winning the lottery when someone wants to tell us their juicy trouble and be led through it.
But listen—this action actually depletes us. We cannot fight others’ demons for them. The best thing we can do is to show people that we have confidence in their ability to handle their own life, and let them. People choose to carry their load because they need to learn the lessons around it, not us.
3) Tune into our own experience.
Empaths tend to be outer-world focused, which means we search for reactions, information and guidance of what to do through others. When we look to the outer world first we forget that we have an inner, wise one waiting patiently to guide us.
Ask this question to yourself before answering others requests or offering our sweet shoulder to lean on, “How am I feeling right now?” We may be surprised by our response.
I am a firm believer that as empaths we have much to offer the world. One of the biggest gifts we could share is to model the act of tender self-care. Because we are brilliantly sensitive, we are the perfect people to do this.
Radical self-love may become the empath’s new mantra.
Author: Sarah Norrad
Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: Drew Hays/Unsplash