Empaths are sensitive, caring and compassionate people — they can feel other people’s emotions and absorb their energy. Because of this, they have to actively shield themselves from negative or overwhelming situations so they won’t get overwhelmed or drained out.
In this article, we asked experts to share their insights on how to deal with being an empath and what you can do to help yourself.
Remind yourself whose emotions you are responsible for and where that responsibility stops
When you have an ability that you can’t quite explain to see into someone else’s heart and mind, it can be exhausting. We’re only built to handle our own extremes of emotion. Experiencing someone else’s can sometimes be too much to bear.
As a leadership coach, I say—but empathy is not a disability! It’s the opposite; it’s a superpower!
I once told someone that I found leadership was easy. Just think how you would feel in your employees’ shoes – what fears you’d have about the workplace, what expectations for your career, what hopes for your future, what needs for recognition and encouragement – and then behave as you would want to be treated.
Related: 24 Best Leadership Books of All Time
She looked at me like I was talking a foreign language. It was then I realized that maybe not everyone could do that automatically? Oh.
I have led teams of people through a huge change – mergers, disposals, reorgs, political and social crises, and even a pandemic – using my empathy as a guiding principle.
- What would I need to hear of I were them?
- What would I want to know?
- What would keep me up at night?
- Would I want the objective background about corporate ambitions or a simple recognition that change is hard, but someone was there on my side to help me through it?
The answer, of course, is both, either one or something else, depending on where the person starts from.
Now I use my empathy to coach clients, meeting them where they are, and help them get in touch with their own instincts in their leadership roles. You could say empathy is my professional life!
As the article is about how to deal with being an empath, I’ll finish with what I’m sure many people will say. To survive:
- Create boundaries. You may understand how someone else feels, but that doesn’t mean that you have to feel it with them.
- Remind yourself whose emotions you are responsible for and where that responsibility stops.
- Learn to recognize when the balance has tipped and know your signals that it’s time to take a step back.
- Remind yourself that the way we truly learn is to go through something, not be protected from it.
- There are times when the best thing to do is the hardest, to understand but remain an outsider to the problem.
Empathy on tap. Wouldn’t that be something that could change the world?
One of the most important things I like to tell people to keep in mind is that your empathy is an asset. Empathy is the fabric that holds communities together.
It’s a skill—educators are paying attention to ways of incorporating teaching empathy in the classroom, listening to people like Neil deGrasse Tyson, who says, “Part of our formal education should be training in empathy. Imagine how different the world would be if, in fact, it were ‘reading, writing, arithmetic, empathy.”
You have more empathy, naturally. Partners and loved ones of empaths would not want to give up the deep empathy they get from their empath beloveds. People value you because you listen to them and take in their experience rather than jumping to a fix-it mode. You are holding communities together.
Your empathy also helps you to feel more connected with other people. Being tuned in and aware of your friend’s, partner’s, child’s, and community’s sorrow and joy weaves together a solid connectedness that you thrive on.
Your brain has more active mirror neurons (what the brain uses to empathize with other people) than non-empath brains. This is a gift and also something to protect. It takes skill to discern whether you’re picking up on your own distress or someone else’s.
Sometimes it’s obvious. You might walk into a room and feel something is off, or you meet someone and know you will not click. Other times it might feel like something hit you out of nowhere, and you’ll need to do some detective work to figure out where it came from.
Practicing some kind of grounding helps buffer those active mirror neurons. This can be your favorite guided meditation or holding a cup of tea. I like Donna Eden’s energy exercises, specifically Heaven and Earth and the Zip-up for grounding.
Some people like to practice envisioning a protective shield around them so that they can intentionally choose what to take in.
Control your news intake
You can still be informed and not ingest every awful detail. Because the awful details affect you more than other people, they can lay you flat in a heartbeat. Maybe read the headlines and only a few articles. Maybe balance one bad news article with one good news article. Maybe disable notifications so that you are the one in charge of choosing when you read something.
In addition, think about which aspects of the news are important to you:
- Do you want to know what’s going on in your community?
- Is there an issue that is close to your heart?
- Do you want to see at least one hopeful story each day?
You are in charge of what you read.
Use your exquisite attention to your advantage
The attention that you give to other people, the honed-in awareness that you have to other people’s needs, is truly exquisite. It combines all that thoughtful processing, awareness of nuanced details, and depth of empathy into your interactions.
It might feel second nature to you since it is just part of who you are, but pay attention to the complexity and value of it. Other people spend lots of time and energy practicing what is biologically already your make-up.
And it doesn’t need to be given only to other people – this exquisite attention can also be extended to yourself for really deep self-awareness. You thrive on deep self-awareness, and it leads to getting your unique and nuanced needs met, which means you are more fulfilled.
Kate Fraiser, M.Ed
Parent Coach, Connect Point Moms | Director of Early Childhood Ministries, Grace Point Church
Being an empath can be a gift as you can deeply feel what others are feeling and therefore share in their joy and pain. However, this trait can also negatively impact your life if you are constantly tossed to and fro in the waves of all the emotions of those around you.
Here are tips to help you get the most benefit from your gift while lessening the detrimental effects:
Ground yourself by S.I.F.T.ing
This acronym (S.I.F.T.) stands for – Sensations. Images. Feelings. Thoughts. Just ask these questions to encourage an awareness of our thoughts and feelings in this present moment:
- Sensations – “What sensations do you notice in your body right now?”
- Images– “What are the pictures you see in your mind right now?”
- Feelings– “What feelings or emotions do you notice right now?”
- Thoughts– “What are you thinking about, or what are you telling yourself right now?”
Create and maintain your boundaries
Boundaries are the limits of who we are, what we do, and which behaviors we’ll accept or not. They allow us to separate who we are and what we think and feel from others and their thoughts and feelings. They matter a whole lot.
As an empath, you are going to need to make sure you create and maintain boundaries for your mental well-being.
Related: 10 Powerful Ways to Build Your Mental Strength
Some things to think about include:
- How often am I going to see this or that person?
- How long will I spend in his/her presence?
- How much time will I need to spend alone to recharge before or after?
Once you answer these questions, you’ll be better able to create your boundaries.
Identify your emotions
Sometimes you may get caught up in asking why you feel this way or that way – which isn’t necessarily unimportant, but first, you need to identify your emotions without ‘judging” yourself.
You can recognize that you are judging if you find yourself thinking something like this:
- “Why do I feel sad? There’s nothing to feel sad about!”
- “I shouldn’t be feeling grumpy right now – I have everything I need!”
- “I am angry, but I shouldn’t be. There’s just no reason for it!”
Spend some quiet time breathing in and out and searching for words that describe your feelings right now in this moment. Start with just a two-minute-moment each day and work up to doing this several times a day.
Dr. Emily Stone, PhD, LMFT-S
Owner and Senior Clinician, Unstuck Group
The word “boundaries” is overused these days, but for an empath, the development of both internal and external boundaries is crucial. It is a matter of health and quality of life.
Internal boundaries are boundaries we create around our emotional absorption and cognitive processing. Internal boundaries work in tandem with external boundaries around space and time. Here are some important areas where the need for these safeguards shows up:
Be your own nurturing parent
Be your own good mom or dad: nurturing, with boundaries, caring, intentional, a good schedule. Put yourself to bed like a good parent. A good parent knows their child and parents accordingly.
Sometimes that means letting yourself stay in bed, sometimes that means telling yourself, “Ok, time to go out and get some sunshine.”
Routine and rhythms are your friends
Routine is your friend! Life rhythms help your body, mind, and emotions know that you are safe. Create routines for mornings and at night. Give yourself small rituals through the day (like a break for tea) that give yourself some grounding.
Make sure there is space in your life
Pay attention to life’s tendency to fill up to the brim. If you don’t give yourself margins, it won’t happen. This goes for margins around stimuli and energy exertion as well.
Make space for quiet; just because you still have energy doesn’t mean you should exert it. Protect it.
Self-care is crucial
This can vary by person. Intentional care for your senses and your body—warm cups of tea, weighted blankets, mindful walks, deep breathing, meditation.
Let yourself know that you are listening and paying attention to yourself by naming your feelings. You can do this through writing exercises, therapy, etc.
Ask for what you need
Seek out relationships where it is safe to express yourself. The other day I touched my daughter’s shoulder. She asked me not to touch her without permission. It stung for a moment, but I want her to be able to trust she can ask me for those things.
If you need some quiet, ask for it. If you need to be alone, ask. If those things aren’t possible for some reason, it is ok to let people know that it is bothering you and you are struggling.
An empath is a highly sensitive person who doesn’t just feel for others; they feel with others.
This is great if you are around happy and emotionally healthy all the time, but no one is. As only about 20% of the population are born with the ability to be attuned to others, this means 80% may not understand you and even call you “too sensitive.”
One of the reasons research thinks this is true is because empaths are very good at keeping others safe but may not be so able to help themselves. Others can be insensitive to your sensitivity, so here are seven ways to handle being a highly sensitive person.
Pay attention to your tension
You have a vagus nerve that is a parasympathetic nervous system that causes physiological reactivity. Empaths tend to pay more attention to others’ feelings than their own. Begin with noticing your body and where you may feel tense, feel your heart pound or get butterflies in your stomach.
This may not be your feelings, but you may be feeling the emotions of others, and your body is the first line of defense. Keeping the vagus nerve calm may take some education, but it is well worth the time spent to learn about why you are so overactive around others.
Notice your emotions
How you feel about yourself when you are around other people is more important than how you think others feel. At first, you may feel guilty shielding yourself this way, but you must separate yourself from taking on the burden of other people’s emotions, particularly if they are negative. You have plenty of your own.
Beware with whom you share
As said, not everyone understands you and may even make fun of you. You don’t have to let anyone know about your uncanny sense of “knowing.” Make sure you are around other empaths or people who will treat you with respect.
You have mirror neurons that reflect your emotions to others, so be wise to protect yourself around anyone you feel may be using your empathy to gain your sympathy.
Keep codependency in check
Many codependents are empaths, but not all, so be very self-aware to self-care if you are the kind of person who is moved to rescue, fix, cover up or have compassion for someone that can turn into a compulsion to forgo what you need in order to help others.
Related: How to Break Codependency Habits
Walk in nature
Nature is the best reset place to restore. Water, mountains, and quiet private areas will help you to recoup and regroup from too much neural input from others.
Meditation is the mediator between your conscious and subconscious brain. You will get more in touch with you, and it is one of the best ways to control your vagus nerve from becoming overly reactive.
You can take a break anywhere, even if for a few seconds or minutes. Find quiet areas and slowly breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth three times.
It is imperative for an empath to reduce too much neural overload. This doesn’t mean to isolate, but to insulate and get back in touch with yourself.
Surround yourself with people that remind you of who you are
Being an empath is an incredible gift and, at the same time, can often feel like a curse. When coming from an empowered space—meaning boundaries are established, knowing your needs, trusting yourself, manifesting, being surrounded by respectful people and relationships—life can feel beautiful, alive, and electric.
When unempowered, life is often exhausting, draining, full of constant negotiating needs, people-pleasing, and feelings of being manipulated that can quickly lead to very dark places.
With a world full of constant distractions and opportunities for sensory overload, the only way to stay empowered is to stick with a very clear plan of self-care and creative pursuits. It can often feel selfish to an empath to mandate time to take care of themselves.
However, a true empath knows the risks of ignoring their needs. Physical illness, depression, and severe loneliness can set in quickly, which all may have life-threatening consequences.
While many people can likely understand or identify with these feelings and emotions, an empath experiences these things to an extreme. They may feel misunderstood and out of place, and this is often the toughest part. Many empaths sense and feel everything, even other’s pain.
While you can learn how to manage this, it is the times that work gets busy, or you haven’t had enough sleep or eaten properly, that out of nowhere, an empath can get hit with completely debilitating overwhelm. In this space, empaths are still sensing and feeling everything, yet it’s so much that you can’t ground yourself to make a true connection.
The genuine connection is what grounds many empaths to heal and shift out.
Surround yourself with people that remind you of who you are, your true potential, and of your healing capabilities so that when you are stuck in a situation that throws you for a loop, you have preset tools in place that can help you get back on track as quickly as possible.
Dating Challenges as an Empath
Dating can be a particularly tough spot for an empath. Connecting with someone on an intimate level brings up plenty of attachment issues for anyone, and for an empath, these attachments can be overwhelming and anxiety-fueled.
Related: The 4 Different Types of Attachment Styles
Many times, it feels better to just be alone because risking the heartache of someone being untruthful or unkind can be too much to bear.
Empaths’ hearts break daily; it can be something as simple as seeing an elderly woman struggling to walk home with her groceries unassisted or a dog that looks thirsty with no caretaker in sight. So, when it comes to opening their heart to a relationship, this is something very serious to an empath.
The tough part is the beginning of a relationship is often light, fun, and carefree, yet to an empath, this is a place of deep discovery of trust, safety, and security. It takes a certain kind of person to fall in love with and whether the empath’s deep desires for solving problems and passionate pursuits.
But if you become the object of their desire and are open to exploring with them, being a part of their wild ride provides an ever-expanding list of opportunities for adventure and growth.
Certified Corporate Wellness Specialist
This is a very personal topic for me because, over the past few years, I learned what it meant to be an empath, and I struggle with mental health challenges, but many challenges were rooted in the fact that I’m an empath.
Here are some tools to help navigate this journey:
Check your energy
It’s important to check in with your energy because, as empaths, we pick up energy from different situations, conversations, communications, and things that come from out of nowhere with how we feel, so be aware of where you are at with energy.
Always ask yourself:
- What am I feeling?
- Where am I feeling this in my body?
- What do I need right now?
Understand the difference between managing energy vs. managing time
You can’t manage time, but you can manage energy. You learn patterns of energy cycles throughout your day, such as when you are productive and least productive when you need space, and learn to manage your life around that.
When I wake up, my wife likes to talk, and I need my space to recharge and ease into my day. We communicate that, and she knows that and doesn’t talk as much, or I am flexible and talk more, but either way, I know I have that time because it’s important for my energy.
Setting boundaries with people
We empaths receive energy from other people and take it on. Not just spending time with certain people, but in a situation you know there might be toxic energy, so doing what you need to do to have an energetic shield around, so you don’t take on that energy.
For example, most of my presentations are on mental health and are heavy with emotion. I need to be able to deliver the presentation but not take on other people’s energy and switch into being myself after the event.
An empath is a person who feels the emotions of others very strongly. It is almost like they soak up the emotions of the people around them. At its strongest, they feel others’ emotions as if they are experiencing them personally.
An empath has to be careful about feeling the feelings of others because they can easily get burnt out and overwhelmed.
They might come to feel overly emotional without really understanding what is influencing them. It can cause them to avoid others, particularly those who don’t have much control over their emotions. If you are an empath, you might need to be intentional about how much you let those emotions in.
What to do about it?
Frequently check your emotional level
It is when we blindly go through life without being aware that the emotions can build up and feel like they overwhelm us. When they are starting to wear on you, you need to do something to let them go.
Notice whose emotions they really are
When you notice that you are feeling overly emotional, think back through your day and identify who you came into contact with who might own the emotions. Sometimes this awareness is enough to release the emotions.
Have a good plan to deal with the overload of emotions
Most empaths need to plan time alone when they are not bombarded with other people’s emotions. They need a plan for how to let go of the emotions, usually through exercise, journaling, or talking with someone who understands.
Think ahead when you want or need to be around others
They also need to think ahead for times when they want or need to be around others. They may plan some rest and quiet to prepare for times that are likely to be overloaded.
Set some boundaries
There are going to be situations and people who will always cause an overload of emotions. It is important to recognize them so that they choose whose emotions they want to feel.
Being an empath can be a great gift.
It helps some of us have very deep and quickly formed connections with others. Empaths bring special skills to jobs that need true empathy. But they have to be careful with that ability so they can continue doing the valuable work they bring to society.
Dr. Brenda Wade
Clinical Psychologist | Relationship Advisor, Online for Love
Pay attention to what emotions you soak up and allow yourself to have your limits
Being an empath is a great quality to have. You often understand and deeply connect with those around you.
You can easily identify with and experience the feelings and needs of others. You have the intuition, nurturing ability, and comforting presence that makes you a great friend and family member. Empaths sometimes even experience the feelings of animals.
What most energizes you as an empath and makes you feel good is being around joyful, exciting people.
However, most often, empaths face a very real challenge—their feelings can also tune into the anger, sadness, and despair that others may project towards you, making you a great friend and listener, which can also become a curse.
Too much negative input can lead to anxiety and depression.
It’s essential when you are dealing with your empathy not to judge your feelings. When you start to judge your feelings, you’ll start to feel worse about yourself. Learning to accept your feelings and allowing them to pass without judgment is essential to your self-awareness.
Make sure you pay attention to what emotions you soak up and allow yourself to have your limits.
If you feel like you have taken in too much to where you feel overwhelmed, sit alone to breathe deeply and rest. Try out some meditation and breathing techniques to help you heal from all the emotions soaked in. Developing a daily mediation practice is a great way to systematically nurture yourself and restore your energy.
Another thing is to spend time in Nature soaking up natural energy to help quiet the mind and bring you peace. Spending time outdoors can be a reset that allows an empath to take in only their emotions instead of taking in other’s emotions.
Limit how much you give to others
In my experience, most empaths developed this ability as children. Typically they were living in an environment that demanded a lot of attention and support from them, most often to a degree inappropriate for a child.
This might be due to a needy adult, violence in the home, substance abuse by a parent, abuse of the child (including any treatment that harms self-esteem), or other similar issues.
As adults, many survivors of these environments find it challenging to achieve a reasonable balance between self-care and care for others. I encourage these patients to imagine a child they care about growing up exactly as they did.
This can help them better recognize elements of their early life that were dysfunctional.
I recommend they then admire the heroic perseverance needed to endure these experiences. As they begin to think of themselves in more positive terms, it becomes easier to:
- set boundaries limiting how much they give to others
- being more comfortable with how much they care for themselves
J. A. Plosker
Licensed Master Social Worker | Mindfulness and Self-Discovery Coach
Get grounded and get mindful
Empaths let a lot of people into their heads and a lot of extra energy into their space, so it’s important to know where “others” end and “I” begin. One way to do that is to take time each day to reclaim your space through grounding and mindful meditation practice. Commit to 5-10 minutes a day if you can. Schedule it in!
Here’s how to start: Find a quiet place and sit or lie in a comfortable position. Then, notice how your body fills space.
In your mind, tell yourself that you are here, at this moment, and that you are letting go of what isn’t yours. Feel any negativity and unwanted energy draining away and dissipating. Just let it happen. Once you feel clear, place your attention on your breath and its natural rhythm.
Focus on the flow: in and out. If your mind wanders, gently return it to your breath. Get to know your mind, your body, and your space again.
Inspirational Author | Spiritual Teacher | Meditation Teacher
Lately, there’s been lots of information about the negative side of being an empath. If you’re an empath, you can easily sense and feel other people’s emotions. Sometimes even their thoughts. You immediately pick up on their energy, their vibration, the frequency that they happen to be in.
That gets translated into your body and mind! You feel it as an emotion, and you feel it as a thought. What an empath is really doing is picking up on energy or a frequency.
We choose to pick up on that, whether we realize it or not. We can kind of be lazy with our awareness. That’s not a slap on anybody’s hand, but we can be going about our day, not really paying too much attention and then pick up on a loved one’s, coworker’s, or anyone else’s energy that’s in our vicinity and start to take that on as our own.
We really feel the emotions and the thoughts within our body, within our own ecosystem. What happens is a lot of empaths will take that on as their own and then personalize it.
They’ll start to add their own personal story to it, which makes the emotion or the energy cling on even more because then we’re really focusing on it by giving it our conscious awareness.
There’s a couple of things that someone can do if they’re an empath if they don’t like feeling all these emotions:
Become more aware of what you’re feeling and when
That awareness alone will help to know what is theirs and what is not theirs because they’ll know what they normally feel like, what their normal frequency is.
If they do pick up on someone else’s stuff, they can quietly ask themselves in their own mind, “Is this mine?” Then they will get an answer. They’ll get a yes or a no. And if it’s not theirs, all you do is invite that energy to pass through you.
Saying, “Okay, this is not mine. This is not mine to focus on. This is not mine to deal with. I don’t have anything to do here. I just happen to be feeling something that’s in the atmosphere.” Then they can detach from it, and it can pass through their ecosystem.
What I’d really like to focus on is the positives of being an empath. What makes us super sensitive to other people’s frequencies, which we take on as emotions or thoughts, also makes us super-sensitive to those higher frequencies.
So the frequency of intuition, bliss, creativity, and imagination, where we interact with the eternal part of ourselves that maintains those frequencies, and higher finer tuned vibrations can easily match those frequencies too.
This has the possibility and the potential for someone to be highly creative, highly inventive, highly imaginative and to bring new thoughts forward to help shift paradigms.
This is what the evolution of society and culture is all about: these imaginative and these inventors pick up on these finer thoughts and feelings in frequencies of a higher finer tuned vibration.
It has huge potential for someone who’s an empath. It’s a great gift, and it can become a part of their nature that they don’t even think of it as a gift anymore. Most people who are empaths think of it as almost a burden because they get overwhelmed, in places like in big crowds, or they get overwhelmed with other people.
They get overwhelmed with a lot of stimulation, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
It’s just that they’re choosing to focus on the negative part. They can choose to focus on the positive part, and if they do that, the possibility and potential are endless for someone. They can turn into guides. They can turn into intuition. They can turn into inspiration and ideas. That’s where it gets very exciting to be an empath.
Recognize that being an empath is a strength rather than a weakness
So often, the world tells us that being an empath or a sensitive person is something we need to hide or not allow to “interfere” with our roles in family, business, and community. The first part of dealing with being an empath is ignoring those voices. Instead, recognize that being an empath is a strength rather than a weakness.
In recognizing that, we can remind ourselves that while being sensitive can certainly produce some unique difficulties and vulnerability, it is also a very useful tool for interpersonal communication, manifestation, and parenting.
In interpersonal communication, being an empath is a strength because we can anticipate the needs of team members. We are also able to be extremely mindful of their personal challenges. This helps create a cooperative environment as projects come together.
As empaths, however, we must keep in mind to notice other’s emotions and feelings, but not to allow them to become ours. A good friend likes to remind me as I coach fellow empaths, “Reflect on, don’t absorb.”
A question I often ask myself is, “Is what I’m feeling mine? Or can I release it?”
In manifestation, being an empath almost provides an unfair advantage. We can tap in so easily to feelings. Not only that, we are able to amplify those feelings, which is crucial for manifesting. On the other hand, as empaths, we must be wary of what we are creating (even if it’s unintentional). Our manifestation ability is that powerful!
Have you heard the saying, “Worrying is like praying for what you don’t want to happen?” That applies to empaths several times over!
Be mindful of what you are spending your mental energy (and power) on.
- Is it positive?
- Is it helpful?
- Is it something you actually desire in your life and not just something you feel like you’re “supposed” to desire?
In dealing with being an empath, it’s important to be in tune with and intentional with our thoughts.
Parenting as an empath has personally served me tremendously well.
I can feel when my children need a little bit of a longer hug, or some extra mom time, or even just a “Good Job.” I can sense when to slow down and pay extra attention to them individually, which is extremely helpful when you have 5 kids.
Keep in mind that this also takes an energetic toll on empath parents. To help recharge, make sure you spend some time taking care of yourself, too. Whether it’s a hot bath, ten minutes listening to your favorite music, or enjoying a hobby while the kids nap, self-care is an absolute must (however that looks for you!)
As I said, the best way to deal with being an empath is to see it as a strength, not a weakness. But even with those strengths, be mindful of not absorbing feelings and emotions that are not yours, staying intentional with your thoughts, and always making time for self-care.
I like to see my empath qualities as my superpower that I have been entrusted with to do my part in restoring wholeness to the world, and to do that, I know I have to keep my superpower charged up.
Go for a walk, get in nature, and find something else to channel your focus on
Empaths have an incredible gift to reflect on their own strengths and abilities as empaths and recognize and sense the strengths and abilities in others. On the other side of the spectrum, empaths have a tendency to hold onto experiences and emotions that are not theirs to hold, which can feel heavy and hard to navigate.
To elevate your superpower of being an empath, you must recognize that being an empath is a gift that comes with growing pains, similar to the many other personality traits that make us special and unique.
When an empath is riding the heavy waves of the gift, the advice I like to give is to find whatever way you can to center and ground yourself before the wave feels like it’s out of control.
Go for a walk, get in nature, and find something else to channel your focus on.
Like dancers having to find a focal point when they are twirling in sequences, it’s important for empaths to find their focal point that elevates their strength and positive qualities.