Discovering that you are an empath, although a beautiful process, can be challenging as you are presented with new opportunities for growth – in other words, new empaths often encounter complex and unique challenges due to our high awareness of emotional energies. While you are discovering many as-yet-unexperienced blessings, talents, and levels of emotional experience, you may find that you are also unable to truly integrate these new capacities. This can manifest as emotional exhaustion, relationship confusion, depression and frustration. Many expect that they can continue living their lives as they had before and still reap the positive experiences of being an empath. This is not so! Like any ability (any art, discipline, physical sport, craft, or profession) it must be maintained with practice, care, re-prioritizing, and educating oneself on how your ability works, its strengths and pitfalls, and regular maintenance needs.
(If you are still unsure if this article is for you, check out this article: “30 Traits of an Empath (How to Know if You’re an Empath“)
1. Absorbing others’ energy and taking it on as your own unknowingly
In order to function as empaths, we must be sensitive to others’ energies. Have you ever met someone that lit up a room upon entering it? There are also others that will bring their own dark, confused, angry, violent or sad energy with them. Navigating public spaces can often be challenging for an empath that hasn’t strengthened their auric shield. In unhealthy living and/or working environments, however, it can become even more detrimental – these are spaces where we let our guard down, and rightfully so. A person does not have to have malintent or be energetically vampiric to create a negative energy field – they merely have to be holding on to negativity, sort of like a stain, or pricker from a shrub. Sometimes the negativity may be from deeply held experiences, even from past lives, and you may receive information or even feel the effects of this while you are learning to control your abilities.
Empaths can become overrought with emotional confusion, anxiety, depression, or other ailments simply by absorbing others’ negative energy. Although taking on others’ pain is a valid technique often used by shamanic practitioners, it can result in high levels of exhaustion and even manifestations of physical ailments. Either way, it is done intentionally and with understanding of the consequences. It is possible for empaths to be doing this all the time without even knowing it, though.
If you are an empath and find yourself unexplainably irritable, tired, sad, angry, stuck, or confused, these conditions might not actually be consequences of your own life situations, but a bleeding-over from others, especially those who you are close with (family, partners, co-workers, close friends, even pets). Often we can become so enmeshed with those in our tribe that we can barely recognize whose problems are whose anymore – as an empath, you may feel and “hear” so many emotions and thoughts of others that you begin to believe that they are yours. Guess what – many of them aren’t!
2. Not taking care of solo needs
Empaths, highly sensitive people, and “indigo children” serve a high function in the human tribe, and often their work is “behind the scenes” – like a referee of a sports match, an empath’s energy is often dedicated to monitoring, mediating, or mellowing the erratic and high-intensity energies of others. Thus, when an empath is upset, things often start to go haywire – it is like the adage “as long as the cook keeps cool, the rest of the restaurant does too.”
However, despite that it is often unnoticed to others that don’t take the initiative to recognize it, this work can be very tiring. The need to recharge is especially important if the individual uses more of their own personal energy than they do of energy that is channeled in from Higher Source. Time is necessary to center and build up energy (prana, mana, and chi are multiple ways of looking at this energy).
There are many ways that this recharging can be accomplished. A healthy empath will practice all of these self-care techniques in various ways, but start with what calls to you most at the beginning.
- Meditation – both sitting (silent) and movement-based (yoga asana, t’ai chi, spiritual dance, etc) are wonderful, and there are infinite schools and styles to draw your own practice from. I find in my own experience and for other empaths, certain techniques are most beneficial. Zen and other Buddhist meditative techniques help to find one’s center and become comfortable with the many emotional fluctuations we experience while remaining calm. Yoga is wonderful for learning both calming and power-inducing breath techniques, as well as how we may control our stress reactions in our body.
- Self-Shielding – this will be explored at length in future articles, but simple visualization techniques are a good place to start (after grounding your energy to the earth, visualizing a shield – round, diamond, pyramid, etc – of whatever color helps you to feel calm and protected – around your body), as well as carrying protective crystals such as Black Tourmaline, Jet, Garnet, and Labradorite. Programming your mind with mantras such as “my energy is mine, and given and taken only by my will” may also help if you notice that you have difficulty with allowing yourself to lose energy to others.
- note: this paragraph, in the past, recommended energy healers and Reiki. I no longer recommend either one – perhaps, if absolutely necessary, a non-Reiki healer, unless you have a very good reason to trust your “healer.” As a former Reiki practitioner who had very, very terrible experiences with “the magic number 3” Reiki masters, I have now figured out that there is something very unhealthy in the Reiki lineage. There is other information on the internet about this, and perhaps in the future I will write more on it, but for now, this edit will have to suffice.
- Releasing acquired negativity – sort of like if you work at a restaurant you end up coming home smelling like whatever food is made there, and so you shower, you must clean yourself of acquired energies that aren’t yours. There are many techniques to do this, and one way of thinking about accomplishing this task is to consider the five elements – fire (such as smudging with sage or incense), water (such as showering or taking a bath), air (breathing exercises, such as the cleansing Yogic technique Breath of Fire), earth (sitting on the ground or at a tree and allowing the earth to absorb and transmute the energies), and spirit (allowing any higher beings you have connection with to cleanse you).
- Solo Time – this also includes holding meditative and/or sacred space, but even if you’re working, or exposing yourself to art, or just hanging out – spending time outside of others’ energy fields is necessary to recharge – to not have time where you don’t have to hear anyone elses’ thoughts but your own is necessary for an empaths’ sanity!
- Diet – Everyone’s body and lifestyle require different diets, but generally, following a diet that is as energetically unadulterated as possible is most beneficial. Whether you prefer light & leafy salads, thick and rich nuts, filling grains, or vibrant smoothies, in terms of maintaining empathic health, the actual foods don’t matter as much as the emotional energy the food contains. Local organic produce has a more enjoyable life and doesn’t have to be subject to as much shipping and manipulation as conventional produce. If you eat meat, consider the energetic imprint of the meat – pasture-raised will have led a happier life than factory farmed meat. Can you feel good about it? Do the people involved in its production give love to the food? Was the food itself vibrant and healthy while alive? Remember that the emotional experiences of the life you are imparting will be taken into your body and energetic field.
- Exercise – whatever works for you, but a healthy balance of yin and yang exercising – such as restorative yoga & biking, or t’ai chi & weight lifting – is important. The article Ten Tips from a Shaolin Monk on How to Stay Young Forever, written by a Gong Fu master, suggests QiGong as a healthy yin exercise program, but find what works for you.
- Getting Enough Sleep – everybody’s body is different, and on top of that, we go through cycles. Don’t be fooled into thinking you can consume something to replace sleep, either. Whether your feel-good zone is 6 hours or 10 hours, make sure that you give this to yourself. I’ll be addressing the ins and outs and whys and hows of this in a future article.
- Self – Taking stock of your life and taking the time to redirect, set intention, and self-assess at regular intervals. Oftentimes we feel like we are swirling and unable to see our own progress. Maintaining the balance of going with the flow and intentfully remaining on our path is challenging. Many tend to use the moon cycle to do this work, setting intention on the New and assessing progress on the Full, but paying attention to more long-term progress is essential as well. What has been serving you? What hasn’t? If you think you haven’t made any progress, just take an honest look at yourself a few years ago and you might be surprised.
- Nature – Getting in tune with the rhythms of the earth by practicing earthing, stargazing, nature walking, gardening, relaxing in wild spaces, studying moon cycles, landscaping, swimming in natural bodies of water, or any other of the infinite ways Nature allows us, takes you out of your individual life and connects you back to the dust from which we came. I walk barefoot outside every day – yes, even in winter – and I cannot imagine life without this practice. Once you start connecting with Earth in this way you will wonder how you ever survived without intimate contact with nature.
- Community – Engaging with other empaths, indigos, and psychics and building a network means that you can consult others when you’re struggling, and can exchange knowledge and ideas, but most importantly, know that you are not alone! Often when someone is awakening as an empath, they are confused as to what they are experiencing or have no loved ones that can relate, even in worse case scenarios be labeled as wacky or straight-up crazy. Having other empaths you can call, write, or meet is imperative to helping to guide you on your path. There are online communities easily found with a google search – try the keywords “empath,” “indigo,” and “lightworker.”
3. Remaining emotionally attached to charges (those whom are on the receiving end of our empathic, psychic, or energetic offerings, services, or abilities)
Many (although not all) of our closest relationships are with those who we are contracted to assist: for example clients, customers, recipients of charitable actions, but also friends and others with whom we share personal connections. This is a direct reflection of the nature of our relationships: they are arenas for us to grow in love, evolve, and progress along our life path.
Some of the time our closest relatives are also our charges: parent, spouse, siblings, children, and cousins may all, at some point in their life path come to you for assistance with psychic or spiritual struggles. Sometimes they won’t come to you at all, but the unspoken dynamics of your relationships will place you in such a role – just like one family member may do the landscaping and another the cooking, empaths often find themselves in the role of the caregiver, advice giver, shoulder to cry on, or calming presence. You will come to realize that this is indicative of a cosmic relationship in which you are connected and one is responsible for the emotional well being or emotional education of the other. sometimes both can be both at different times or at the same time in different ways. We all have different skills, and continue discovering and increasing them throughout our lives. Please keep in mind that whatever relationship dynamic you fund yourself in, if you consistently find yourself feeling sick, drained, upset, pained, or hurt in feelings, that such experiences indicate abuse and you should find a safe and harmonious, but most importantly safe, way out of the dynamic or even relationship. If you find yourself outright and visibly or audibly being abused with words or physical acts, please take your safety and well being in your hands and seek safe harbor and further support from the authorities and/or victim support services. Do not let your compassion allow others to hurt or take advantage of you or your self esteem.
Even without becoming abusive, empaths can find themselves in fatiguing relationships when they give too much – in spite of (or because of) our love for these people, we can often end up feeling responsible for them beyond our means, or become so enmeshed in our emotional connection that we become too attached, rendering us unable to keep our hearts completely open for others in need, or even ourselves. Practice taking a step back and ask yourself these questions:
Do I feel obligated to help this person?
Are they asking for my help, or am I forcing it upon them?
Am I falling into old-paradigm relationship patterns based in ownership or dependence?
Do I need to feel needed in order to love or be loved?
If someone else is feeling badly, do I feel like I can’t be happy?
If you are feeling a “yes” to any of these questions, emotional attachment may be complicating your empathic abilities. Like attachment to material goods, outcomes of events, or anything that makes us feel good, this can put an empath in a situation in which they doom themself to not only being unable to differentiate between their own emotions and others, but puts them in voluntary bondage to another. It is a form of emotional martyrdom, and can result in the empath becoming inadvertently dependent on others’ need of them to feel valuable, as well as becoming so entangled in others’ emotions we can no longer be of assistance. Nasty!
It’s the difference between handing someone a tissue box, and blowing their nose for them.
I’ll explore this complex phenomenon at more depth later on, but for the meantime, this article “Emotional Detachment Can Improve Your Life” as well as this video of Buddhist nun Pema Chodron on attachment are good places to start.
Although awakening as an empath can be overwhelming – rife with everything from uncontrollable psychic input, to emotionally draining experiences, to physical exhaustion and confusion as to where your life is going and how you’ll cope with your newfound abilities – your gift is one that will aid you in both helping others, but helping yourself along the course of life. Empaths are highly perceptive – you might find yourself able to make more well-informed choices as to who to associate and form relationships with, with, where to go on your daily or more long-term travels, which items will be of benefit to you, when to arrive at, or leave an event, and more. Your abilities will guide you and help you to become more compassionate and loving to those around you and to yourself. Think of it like a superpower – it might feel strange in the beginning, but after a while you’ll be more confident and well-equipped to say Yes to life more than you ever have.