View this post on Instagram
As a child, I learned to lean into empathy, but only in later years did I realize it was in an imbalanced way.
I have always been highly sensitive to mood changes in others. I notice the frowns, energy changes, unhappiness, and anger bubbling up. When someone is brewing inside, ready to implode or explode, my body fills with dread.
I can sense things coming from a mile away, like rainy clouds slowly drifting over the sky—I know something is erupting. It’s like smelling the rain long before it comes.
And for so long, I would leave myself behind to help others, cheer people up, and overextend grace and understanding. I would take on people’s pain and carry it around. I thought this was the Christian, spiritual thing to do—to be kind, caring, and moral meant always helping others and putting ourselves last. So many people I have encountered in life have felt the same way.
As soon as I could sense a shift in someone’s mood, I would act overly happy, accommodating, and available to ease the other person’s pain. But also ease my own discomfort. Only in recent times did I realize I was doing this—for most of my life, it was unconscious behaviour. I’d worry that they would get angry at me, leave me, or be disappointed in me. So, I’d try to always be there for others and hardly ever put my needs first or express myself as not to be a burden.
When we have grown up in an environment where we were taught to discount how we feel and take on other people’s problems or emotions, we become accustomed to this way of being. When we have been guilted for crying, or blamed for doing something that wasn’t our fault, or told to “suck it up” because “others have had it worse” (sometimes even referring to themselves), we learn that our feelings don’t matter—we don’t matter.
When our emotions and needs have been a burden, we begin to think that they are. When authority figures have discounted our vulnerable moments and blamed us or treated us with disdain, we learn that our feelings are ugly, too much, and should be shoved aside. We also learn that other people’s problems are more important than our well-being, and therefore, the blurry line of being empathic begins—and follows us into adulthood.
So, we become highly sensitive to others’ needs, and the mere thought of putting ourselves first makes us feel guilty and worried that we are being selfish. We’re likely to attract people into our lives that reaffirm this belief too. The minute we speak up or put ourselves first, people ghost us, put us “in our place,” or let us know how selfish we are. And if we don’t have a healthy sense of self or haven’t challenged this notion, we are bound to repeatedly end up in the same dynamics.
For those of us who tend to neglect ourselves for others or become consumed with other people’s needs, emotions, or problems, we end up losing our power—even our empathic power.
This is why it’s essential to challenge our understanding of empathy and the notion of being an empath.
Is this truly about others, or is there something more to it?
When we become grounded in ourselves and learn to remain centered, no matter what is happening around us, we soon discover that it is not our responsibility to lose our balance to help or cater to others.
And it is possible to be overly empathic.
Empathy does not mean loss of oneself.
Empathy is to endeavor to understand things from another’s point of view, even if it’s not the same as our own. It is to be kind and love unconditionally without carrying other people’s burdens, emotions, or troubles. It is also being firm, assertive, and truthful in how we feel and what we desire in life, never placing ourselves above or lower than others.
The true power of being empathic is to remain still within ourselves—while also connecting with others. It is discerning between what is ours and what is someone else’s and not placing ourselves in situations where we become saviors to people—we are not God.
And it can be challenging, so these are my tips for learning why we may resort to empathy at the cost of ourselves and how to remain grounded while also being empathic. I have also included 11 responses from readers to the question I asked on Facebook, “Empaths/highly sensitive: how do you stay grounded & not take on others energy?”
Four ways to remain grounded and not take on other people’s emotions and energy:
I’ll be frank; I hesitated, made excuses, and took a long time to surrender to meditation. I preferred walking, journaling, and praying—a playful, active way of meditating. This was because of anxiety and the feeling that I am not doing enough if I sit and meditate.
However, the journey has led me to practice regularly and cultivate my life meditatively. Meditation has helped me discover things about my past, childhood, and beliefs I have taken on that I don’t need to carry with me anymore.
I always thought meditating was about trying to be calm, which is why I wasn’t too fond of it because it hardly worked. But after pressing in, it is more about cleansing my mind, exploring my brain, and rewiring my beliefs. It’s a place to listen, connect, and deepen my relationship with myself. It provides space in my life to balance my logical side and creative side. And it also helps me to be aware of unconscious behaviors or habits that are not serving me.
It has also taught me not to be afraid of thoughts and emotions. I have learned that no matter how powerful our feelings are, they are still only emotions. It can sometimes feel like the end of the world in the moment, but through meditation, I learned that this might be due to unhealed trauma, not understanding ourselves, or taking things personally. And this is why a meditation practice can be a fantastic tool to understand our emotions or learn to let them pass before acting.
When we are highly sensitive and find ourselves overly empathic, whereby we lose ourselves in helping others or taking on people’s energy, meditation can help us have boundaries within ourselves. We often hear or read about having boundaries with others, but we also need to learn how to pull back and not become drawn into others’ “stuff.”
When we learn about ourselves, we have an opportunity to discover the truth of why we are the way we are. And we can also challenge belief systems and patterns that were taught to us. Meditating also helps us remain in our own power. We can learn how to be empathic without losing our grounding.
I visualize myself staying still no matter what is happening around me. I say to myself, “I am grounded; I am whole.” When I understood that I was overly empathic and started to change this habit, I felt uncomfortable. I felt my worth was tied up in being “there” for others. And I was a savior to those who seemed to be struggling. The ego may like this idea, but we must challenge this notion.
This mantra reminds me that I don’t need to lose myself to be accepted by others or be a good person. We may feel guilty for putting ourselves first because we believe we are selfish, mean, or unkind by taking care of our needs, and repeating these words helps the guilt diminish.
We are whole, whether or not we can help or support others. We do not need to prove our worth.
When situations happen where I am tempted to react, give my advice, or overly help, I silently repeat that line and breathe. It’s important to take slow, conscious breaths, especially when “triggered” or when our thoughts are about to go wild. It takes practice, so we need to be persistent and hold a firm stance. This always requires having boundaries with our thoughts or temptations.
I also visualize a bubble around me or glass between myself and others. It allows me to see myself connecting with others without transferring energy. I can see them, empathize with them and care about them, but their energy cannot pierce the glass. For me, taking on someone else’s energy feels heavy and causes high anxiety within, and I end up feeling consumed with worry or drained. And how is that being of service to others by jumping in the same sinking ship?
This has also taught me to be mindful about dumping my stuff onto other people and learning how to handle my emotions before speaking or needing to vent.
Another technique I do is to visualize my body as a tree with long, strong roots extending into the ground. When I feel anxiety around someone or my thoughts take me off course, I think of myself as the tree—grounded, rooted, and staying still. I visualize my feet firmly on the ground, understanding that what goes on around me does not need to uproot me. I can watch it and learn from it, but I do not need to lose myself, my grounding, and my focus because of the external.
There are many ways to journal and techniques that are useful. Writing down exactly how I feel and letting it pour onto the page without filters helps me release pent-up worry, frustration, anxiety, and stress. I like the privacy of journaling because it’s the one place we can honestly speak our minds, hearts, and souls in a messy, unorganized way without worrying about offending anyone. It helps me determine what my anguish is and what may be someone else’s. It’s also been a significant component in learning about myself, who I want to be, and what I will and won’t accept in my life, and developing healthy boundaries.
Handwriting has been found to bring balance to the left and right sides of the brain. This is important, especially if we are too logical and disregard those magical moments of inspiration as being “too wild.” Our brain thrives when it has an opportunity to be both creative and analytical, adventurous and organized, diligent and free. Journaling helps us explore, imagine, and be free with our thoughts, ideas, worries, and dreams. It can also help us create goals and figure out how to implement them.
We need this freedom in our lives to discover our boundaries and our desires, and what we truly want. When we have been led to believe that we need to put others first, our dreams and aspirations are often pushed to the side. Journalizing can remind us of who we are at the core and spark that love for everything we wish to experience in life. It’s like coming back to Earth, to ourselves, and feeling, if even for a moment, that nothing else matters but our truth. The more we practice this, the more it has an opportunity to come to fruition.
When we are overly empathic, it’s easy to lose ourselves in other people’s worlds. We need to practice coming back to our own path, journey, and mission. Journaling is a powerful way to realign with our soul.
4. Letting people go.
Letting go of people can be challenging, especially if we think they will be in our lives forever. I have been through the process many times as I evolved and developed healthier boundaries. The more grounded I became, including being more outspoken, the more I started to p*ss people off, or so it seemed.
I remember the first time someone ditched me after years of friendship for simply letting her know her actions were not okay. It was also the first time I had spoken up to her (or anyone for that matter), and it was the last time we hung out. This continued many times throughout my life with different people. It wasn’t until much later that I realized that many of the relationships in my life were built on me being submissive, taking on others’ burdens, and dealing with treatment that wasn’t kind or fair until I finally spoke up. The more I learned to speak up, be firm, and request balance and equality in my relationships, the more people dropped off.
We cannot confuse being empathic with a lack of boundaries. I don’t believe it’s our responsibility to carry the weight of people’s stuff at the cost of our voice, well-being, and soul journey.
There are many grieving processes and times when we may wonder if we did the right thing or not by letting people go. So I check in by asking myself if I am kind, respectful, and moral when I approach a situation. And well, if we are (and as empathic types, we most likely are because we don’t like being mean to anyone), then when people ghost us or unfriend us, it may mean we no longer align.
I used to try to save relationships, friendships, and connections with my entire heart and soul until I realized I was often the only one doing so. When I stopped, I soon understood I was the one keeping things alive. And this is not healthy for either party. It’s not empathic to remain in unhealthy or unequal relationships. If we find ourselves in these dynamics, we need to look within and check in with our worth—do we not deserve wholesome, loving, equal connections?
A few extra tips for letting go of people and situations:
>> It’s okay to grieve while going about our life. We don’t need to “get on with it” and pretend it hasn’t affected us, even if we know it’s for the best deep down. We are allowed to cry, talk about our pain, and ask ourselves if we could have done anything differently. I like to self-reflect and ask these questions, but I don’t remain there too long and aim to move forward with forgiveness, grace, and kindness toward myself and others.
>> Limit the contact or go no contact because this helps the healing process begin. It will also create space for the truth to come forward. So often, we have rose-colored glasses on when we lean into empathy too much, and through time and space, those glasses can come off. This is when we can see the dynamic for what it was. It also allows the truth to come to the surface, and we can see if we were ignoring manipulation, gut instincts, and red flags.
>> Chant a mantra or affirmation or prayer that helps the brain understand that this mourning process is needed to grow, evolve, and welcome what is best for us. Our brains love comfort, and this is why we can slip back into unhealthy habits and dynamics. It’s important to confirm to ourselves and our brain that there is nowhere to go back to; the space is where we are, and it is the place where what is meant to be can find us.
The prayer I say to myself is, “Help me let go of what does not serve me, and welcome that which does.”
11 responses from readers to the question: “Empaths/highly sensitive: how do you stay grounded & not take on other’s energy?”
1. “Through therapy, I learned to take a moment and remind myself—this is not my burden. This is not Mine. I am here to support.” ~ Kathleen
2. “I imagine light covering and radiating all around me when I’m with others. I also do not engage in long “small talk” conversations because they drain my energy to 0%. Breathwork helps when I feel like I’m getting unhinged too.” ~ Abigail
3. “First thing when I get up is to visualize a bubble around myself. I say, “My energy is mine today, and no other can fux with me today.” ~ Terri
4. “I definitely take on other people’s energies being an emp. I have learned over the years that taking time when I’m overwhelmed to stop everything for a few minutes to refocus and be thankful for each blessing I do have. Being thankful helps redirect the mind. I remember that God gives me the strength to help others but not solve their problems. I can advise, but it’s their job to choose their own path. In that, I’m reminded to pray. Pray for peace and have faith that they’ll make the right decisions for their journey. While I’m being thankful, it is easier to release these burdens. It reminds me that we are not in charge. He who is greater than I already knows where that path will lead. Blessings.” ~ Lynn
5. “Sometimes, I visualize myself as a colander, not a sponge.” ~ Barbara
6. “I learned a technique from a friend. When I encounter unnecessary vibes in my mind, I visualize 7 hand in front of me, and I say, ‘I give you your energy back; it does not serve me.’ It’s helped me immensely.” ~ Naomi
7. “To a certain extent, I can shield and choose not to take on too deeply, choose when to engage and when to pull back. Which sometimes makes me look cold. Another part is letting things wash through you and drain away like an ocean wave. You’re in it as it comes, but you don’t hold it—let it pass, let it flow away. And then there is post-exposure recovery: solitude, tea, book, walk outside, bath, stretch, journal, meditate, pray, or a glass of wine. You can mix and match those.” ~ Hilary
8. “Take your shoes off and walk in the grass. There is science behind that. Try it.” ~ Dan
9. “I once heard a definition of empathy that has always stayed with me: ‘Empathy is walking in someone else’s shoes but keeping your own socks on.’ Also, ‘Boundaries are the distance at which I can love you and me simultaneously’ by Prentis Hemphill.” ~ Beth
10. “Be selective where you spend your energy. Burn more bridges. Spend some of your time in peaceful places such as a library, park, or museum. Ask yourself, ‘What do I want?’ more often. Keep a pet. I wear tigers eye, hematite, and sometimes quartz. I read once that wheat is grounding, and for extreme emergencies, I grab a pack of saltines at work. Never let yourself get too low. Pay close attention to your own needs.” ~ Tammy
11. “The energy that flows through and from each of us all comes from the same source. If I am not blocking that flow through myself and from myself, why would I block that energy that flows through and from them? We are each divine manifestations of One. So I let myself be. So I let them be. So I let all that is be. I do so with great trust, compassion, love, grace, and virtue.” ~ Sara
How do you remain grounded while also being empathic? Share in the comments.