The Paradox of the Extroverted Empath.

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I have a pretty clear image of the “classic empath” in my mind.

She’s shy and sensitive and loves nothing more than curling up with a good book, a cup of tea, and a pair of socks she probably knit herself. She’s a gentle soul, deeply in touch with her emotions and sensitive to the feelings and experiences of those around her. She cherishes her solitude and the lucky few she trusts enough to love.

It’s a pretty picture—but it’s not that simple for everyone.

For those unfamiliar with the term “empath,” it’s a character structure built upon empathy for other beings. There are many other terms to describe this experience—including HSP, intuitive, “giver,” and more. Many consider it a gift, but also a challenge to navigate in our high-pressure, high-stimuli world.

Empaths have a few identifying characteristics including: 

>> Hypersensitivity to people’s emotions, noises, stress, and stimuli of all kinds.

>> Emotional absorbency—taking on others’ feelings as their own.

>> Strong intuition or “gut feelings” about people and situations.

>> Loving and needing alone time.

Through all the pieces I’ve read and personal conversations I’ve shared, these qualities seem relatively undisputed, but one in particular I just cannot resonate with—introversion.

As sensitive and spongy as I am, I’m also (and have always been) a die-hard extrovert.

I thrive in relationship with others and need a boost of human interaction to keep my energy up during the day. I can’t help but feel an unending love for people. The truth is, when I spend extended periods alone, I actually feel heavy and drained—the exact way most empaths express their experience after too much socializing.

This is the paradox of being an extroverted empath:

>> We need human connection to thrive, but still feel drained after spending time with people.

>> We can relate deeply and personally to many people at once.

>> We feel a great sense of purpose from understanding other people’s experiences.

>> We need our alone time, but don’t always want to take it.

This is a highly challenging place to be in, but it’s the truth I’ve been trying to balance my entire life. Frankly, not all the “empath survival guides” out there speak to this experience and the unique needs of the extroverted sector of this community.

I’d like to change that.

How do we take care of ourselves as outgoing, extroverted sensitives in this life?

Here are a few practices that have proven helpful to me:

1. Breathe.

Some sort of personal breathwork practice is imperative to staying in balance. As an empath—especially an extroverted one—we are exposed to the emotional dispositions of many. So familiarizing ourselves with the feeling of our own bodies, feelings, and energy allows us to recognize when we’re holding something that isn’t ours.

I have benefitted from basic Buddhist meditation, self-reiki, and chakra balancing practices, but the options are limitless. Find one that works for you!

2. Ground and center.

Carrying other people’s emotional energy leads to feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and ungrounded. Once we recognize we’re feeling this way, re-centering our awareness back to ourselves and getting grounded expands our capacity to hold space for others without sacrificing our own well-being.

Grounding is as simple as sitting in meditation and bringing awareness to our tailbone being supported by the Earth, or the simple sensation of our feet on the floor. We can also get grounded by spending time in nature, noticing all the sights, sounds, and smells around us. In terms of centering, I like to just close my eyes and take a few deep breaths into my heart and belly—visualizing all my scattered thoughts and emotions drawing back to me.

3. Let go of what isn’t ours.

Extroverted empaths are drawn to engage with many kinds of people, and naturally absorb thoughts and feelings that aren’t ours. For example, that sudden feeling of anxiety was actually our mother’s, that grief was our colleague’s, or that flood of love was our best friend’s. Whether or not the feeling is pleasant isn’t important—only that it’s not ours.

When we choose to regularly engage socially, it’s even more important to check in with ourselves and make sure that what we’re feeling is actually our own. Pause frequently and take a big sigh out to release anything that isn’t yours to hold.

4. Seek out smaller groups.

I’ve found that smaller, simple interactions are enough to fill me up with the human connection I need to thrive. We don’t have to be the fluttering social butterfly at a 50-person party every weekend to feel connected—in fact, more intimate personal relationships often generate the fulfillment we’re looking for more effectively anyway.

Have dinner with a few close friends, or meet one-on-one with someone to share a creative project. When I do find myself in spaces with many people—like a concert, party, or bar—it helps to have an “anchor person” who I know and trust to check in with if things start to feel intense or overstimulating.

5. Take breaks.

We have to be willing to take breaks alone to recharge—even if it’s for an hour or two—to avoid emotional burn-out. This has been a lifesaving lesson for me. If I want to be social after work, I’ll go home to make dinner, lay down, listen to music, or read solo for a little while before reconnecting with people again.

Meditation, or even a five-minute walk, is an incredibly effective means to do this when we don’t have time to take a full break. Finding (or creating) small windows in the day to reconnect with ourselves ultimately allows us to keep up the energy to support our extroverted nature.

6. Be alone in the presence of others.

Many of my favorite “me-time” activities involve taking myself out to enjoy things I love in public spaces where I don’t know anyone. Extroverted empaths can’t help but engage on a deep, emotional level with people we know, and this takes energy, but complete solitude can be equally draining. Solo time in public is the “Middle Way.”

I love to take my laptop to a coffee shop and write, or take a book of poetry to a bistro and enjoy a nice glass of wine. Others may like to hang out at the beach, hit the rock climbing gym, or maybe peruse an art museum. Enjoy the company of the strangers without directly engaging with them.

These are just a few practices I have found allow me to fully express my social, people-loving nature while maintaining my sense of balance and energy as an empath in this world. Are there any other extroverted empaths out there? I’d love to hear how other tips for embracing the paradox that we are.

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Author/Editor: Danielle Beutell
Image: Abo Ngalonkulu/Unsplash
Copy Editor: Callie Rushton
Social Editor: Lindsey Block

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Danielle Beutell

Danielle Beutell is an elephant journal editor, intuitive writer, and meditation nerd currently based in Boulder, CO. In light of this passion, she’s studied mindfulness, Tibetan Buddhism, chakra healing, and a wide breadth of spiritual psychology practices. Most recently, she completed a year of retreat and intensive Buddhist study in the California Redwoods.

In addition to her spiritual practice, Danielle writes poetry and enjoys connecting with creative community through art and music. Find more of her work on her website, Facebook, and Instagram.

Daniel D. Reimer May 16, 2018 10:15pm

I can relate to this a lot and just start being aware of what it means to be an extroverted empath.

Ellen Douglas Apr 18, 2018 11:26pm

For example, now I feel THAT post was to long. I need honest input. Am I being paranoid??? 😕

Ellen Douglas Apr 18, 2018 11:18pm

Thank you Danielle. It has only been a few months since my realizing why I act as I do. Understanding that I am an 'intuitive empath' has released me from the long term, (for lack of another word) judgement from others as being overly sensitive and seeming emotionally out of control. I am an extrovert. I have also been dx as being bipolar. (Anyone else?) My feelings (or, whoever's) were SO intense, (especially when someone close to me was denying their truth) - that I felt like I was loosing my mind. My intimate relationships were doomed as I was constantly desiring spiritual growth and awakening while my partners often remained stagnet and I was blamed for judging them or them saying they believed that I thought I was better than them. Which, you my peers (of which I am SO thankful for) know the reality of my intention with these loved ones - to empower them to grow toward self-actualizing and living their truth. I am now single (for the first time really) and it is okay because understand there is nothing WRONG with me. Before this revelation - I believed my sensitivity was SO strong that I wanted out. I was suicidal and hospitalized because I did NOT FIT IN. It makes me wonder how many empathic people have committed suicide NOT being aware that the intensity of their emotional pain wasn't even their's. When my epiphany was revealed - everything FINALLY made sense. My biggest challenge now, is that being an extrovert (and maybe being bipolar - IF I even am) I find I come across way to intensive! Even on first meeting someone. My sharing about living one's truth, seems to make some people uncomfortable. Don't get me wrong, I can pick up on a person cue and try to relate to their level of emotion but I feel like I go 'over the top' such as in texting or posting on FB. I don't feel I impose my beliefs but I will challenge people to think. I am always second guessing myself after I post, yet simultaneously knowing my words are sincere and carefully chosen. Do any other extroverted empaths feel this way? I want to use my gift but need to understand it's power...just as water gives life it can also be a great danger. I guess my awareness is the first step. I do not want to deny who I - nor do I want to repel close family and friends. I desire guidance, suggestions and feedback and will receive it with an open heart. TY! Ellen

Amit Singh Feb 5, 2018 1:33am

my dear i can completely relate to what you've written, are you sure u are not an ambivert type, i mean i too was originally extrovert, but have shifted to the middle. i know this recharging/discharging and sometimes even being clueless dilemma therefore i'd recommend you reassess yourself to see if u are also ambivert, trust it'll save you a lot trouble and might even help you figure out energy sources better, just to be sure, besides it won't do any harm anyway

Amit Singh Feb 5, 2018 1:26am

cool, i was originally extroverted (Empath too but back i didn't knew it), so i can relate to it, and it was pretty frustrating, and at certain point eventually i started withdrawing and developed escapism in introvert hobbies kind of started moving towards introvert spectrum, just to end at ambiverts which kinda of sounds cool but is even more screwed up because sometimes u don't even know when the initial introvert recharging started causing draining, and the other way round too, and everyday you have your both introvert and extrovert sides kinda of struggling for control, soo yeah it's pretty messed up hehehe na ja let's see how it goes

Kim Cool Jan 30, 2018 2:53am

Thank you for this amazingly on point article!!

Alex Johnston Jul 28, 2017 7:46am

Great read and advice/ideas :)

Kendra Davis Jul 26, 2017 1:28pm

Yes, thank you for this! This is me through and through. The alone time in public is my default.

Linda A Jul 24, 2017 10:52pm

so me too

Ariel O'Taquet Jul 23, 2017 1:16pm

I feel like I could have written that article! Thank you :)

Ros Hitchen Jul 23, 2017 9:03am

Really interesting I can also relate to this. I always discounted the idea of being an empath previously but this resonates. Particularly the piece about being in nature to recharge. I take my dog for a walk in the woods or fields and just breathe in the "green". Now I need to think of breathing out all those other emotions that aren't mine and can become overwhelming. Thank you �

Natalie Matushenko Jul 14, 2017 7:17pm

Thanks for writing this! I too am an extroverted empath and could really relate to all that youre saying

Paulina Piña Jul 14, 2017 5:47am

Thank, thanks and many thanks! I do enjoy, even need, to interact with a group of people and I value the time I spend alone. Breathing has worked for me at different times. Distinguishing my feelings from those I "catch" from others has also made a big difference.

Frank Karas Jul 14, 2017 2:39am

Being an empath, either introverted or extroverted, you would have to be Vegan. Cause empaths feel empathy. Right? Otherwise you would only be a pretender.

Jill Hawks Jul 14, 2017 2:23am

This is so me! Thank you for sharing! I like to wander around Barnes and Noble, REI or other favorite stores solo to recharge, even if I don't buy anything! Or drive into the mountains even if I don't hike. :)

Chris Boortz Jul 13, 2017 8:00pm

I think of myself as an ambivert (combo of extrovert and introvert) but the piece about empathic awareness fits too. Interesting piece, thanks.

Danielle Beutell Jul 13, 2017 7:11pm

I love the ennegram personality quiz as well—I've always been fascinated with any means of self-understanding. Of course, two "types" of people is a generalization, but for the purpose of understanding ourselves as intuitive, feeling types, "extrovert" isn't usually the first assosiation. I think Meyers-Briggs profiles are interesting in this respect as well.

Michael Mitchell Jul 13, 2017 4:56pm

I get you. There are predominantly introverts and predominantly extroverts but there is another core type of personality that functions well in both directions. These are ambiverts. I am an introvert but in certain situations can be very extroverted. But I am at my core an introvert and get recharged by myself but when I work with others in a soulful way I also get recharged. Might want read about the Enneagram personality types.

Kendra Maggio Novick Jul 13, 2017 2:57pm

I call myself a "social hermit". Thank you for affirming there are others like me.

Lyn Reeta Jul 13, 2017 2:37pm

Oh My Goodness!!! This is TOTALLY Me!!! I have always know I'm an empath...Most of my friends think I'm an extrovert & I know I can be--but it comes at a physical expense when I burn the candles at both ends. I had another friend refer to me as an introvert-In which I looked at her like she was nuts! I can become withdrawn at times because too much socializing & taking on other people's emotions can be draining. But I also know that not being around people can be just as draining...I recently joined two different gyms-one for group classes so I can get the personal connection being around people & another with a personal trainer so I get the personal one to one time. I'm a teacher & love what I do but my emotions are often pushed away while I tend to the little ones in my class & those around me who seek support. This gives me a huge sense of purpose & allows me to be there for people in large numbers, from the children, to their families, to my co-workers & administrators. At the same time, I always take my work home with me-whether it's grading papers or trying to figure out how to best help academically, socially, physically & emotionally. However it can also be quite overwhelming at times. That being said, once the summer comes along & trust me I do LOVE my summers!! I realized this year, I am always at a loss...I continue to need that socialization & I have to seek it out. I have usually gone to the beach, but this year I'm finding the need for something different. I have started chatting with people in the grocery store & at times paying for items that they are purchasing at the market when they are in line behind me. It's my way of giving back to others in a way that makes me feel more fulfilled. It's my way of being social from moment to moment so I can take alcare of me as I need to. Thank you for this...I really needed this this morning & to step back & appreciate all we go through as extrovert empaths & strategies to help ourselves remain grounded & true to ourselves. �

Shelly McGrath Jul 13, 2017 2:19pm

Ahh! Thankyou! This is such a great explanation of how I would describe myself and some great advice as well!

Erika Pierce Jul 13, 2017 1:27pm

I can relate to this!

Melina Powers Jul 12, 2017 6:23pm

Nice tips. I am probably an ambivert if I want to try and choose a label in this area, but I wanted to add that some mistakenly believe introverts don't like people and this article kind of gives that impression. However, this is not the case. Also, I can see why the author would want to come up with another category to define people because I find that most of these labels rarely fully accurately describe someone, which is why I use them quite loosely myself. For instance, personally I relate to aspects of what is described as an empath and other parts I don't relate to. There actually is so much variation in how people define the term; it does not really have a solid definition in the literature.

Lindsey Egelston Jul 12, 2017 2:47pm

Thank you! I always knew I related to being an empath but never felt like I actually was since I'm definitely not an introvert. This explanation and advice finally actually fits!