How to Survive (& Thrive!) as an Empath
[Published in Natural Awakening’s magazine, March 2017 edition.]
On my professional Facebook page, I recently posted a link to an article by the famous holistic practitioner, Deepak Chopra, on how to be emotionally healthy as an “Empath”. It got nearly ten times the number of likes my posts usually get! This means there are a lot of people hungry for learning how to survive living in world that is complex both externally and internally.
For those of you who don’t know, and “Empath” is someone who is sensitive to pretty much everything. An Empath feels things deeply, knows what others are thinking and feeling often before that other person does, and is highly sensitive to their environment. Empaths are hyper-aware of things like body language, words used to communicate, and the emotional experiences of others.
Do not mistake Empaths with those who are offended easily. Empaths are sensitive not because they are easily offended. They just feel everything, even the emotions of others, very deeply and often physically in their bodies. This sensitivity is thought to explain why Empaths have higher rates of chemical sensitivities and chronic illness/pain than the rest of the population.
In the field of psychology, there is a term for this experience: a Highly Sensitive Person (i.e. “HSP”). Psychology Today published an article in 2011 titled “Sense and Sensitivity” describing the science behind this 20% of the population. If you know an HSP, I recommend you give it a read.
But, for those who are highly sensitive, the point is not to understand it. The important thing is learning how live well with such a powerful experience. Here are a few tips on how to not only survive, but thrive as an Empath.
1) View your sensitivity as a gift
Hearing “you’re just too sensitive” is the ultimate slap in the face for an Empath. Being sensitive is not a curse. It is a blessing! Empaths are creative, loving, and make up a large portion of the helping professions because of their natural tendency toward care-giving. They see the needs of and can connect to others quickly.
For the average person, life is lived in shades of grey. But, for an HSP, the world is full of millions of vivid colors, emotions, and sensory information. This different view on the world is what makes HSPs so special. They see a world others can’t comprehend.
2) Stop your own critical self-talk
For those who identify as an Empath, the dialogue of “just get over it” can be internalized. But, don’t believe it! Don’t scold yourself for feeling or reacting a certain way. Listen to what your body and mind is telling you. And, heed that advice.
3) Know your limits
To heed our body and mind’s advice on how to be healthy as an Empath, we must know our limits. Give yourself permission to set boundaries with others who drain your energy. When you turn on the news and, after 15 minutes of watching, you feel sick to your stomach, turn it off.
For HSPs, our own bodies are the best tool to use when identifying what is healthy for us. Use it as a way to take the temperature of the situation to know if it is something that will add to your wellness or draw from it.
4) Pick your surroundings wisely
In addition to knowing your limits, surround yourself with a supportive environment. Take social media, for example. If scrolling through your news feed makes you anxious, stop. Maybe follow only things that are inspirational to remind you of all that is going well. Or, maybe don’t be on social media at all.
No one knows what you need but you. So, surround yourself with others who understand and encourage you to be your amazing self, allowing you to disconnect when you need to recharge.
5) Care for your Self constantly
Not all HSPs are introverts. But, often those who identify as Empaths need to spend time alone with their thoughts to be able to process through their emotions and identify their own needs. This is particularly the case as Empaths tend to give to others constantly but forget to give to themselves, too. As the saying goes, “You can’t pour from an empty cup. Take care of yourself first.”
This should be the personal mantra of the HSP. Think of energy as a bank account. You have to have money in order to give it. Self-care is a foundational part of how to live well as an Empath so that we can continue to share our gift with the world.
5) Skip the apologies
Not everyone is going to understand the need to separate from things that create strong emotional reactions. Others may criticize “why can’t you come to the party tonight?” or “I don’t see you around much anymore”. Resist the urge to justify or apologize for your self-care. Respect yourself enough to not have to explain why you have made a certain choice. Others may not understand. But, they aren’t you. And, you wouldn’t tell Superman how to fly, would you?
Here’s what I hope you take away from this article: self-care isn’t selfish. It is self-preservation. As an Empath, give yourself permission to feel your experiences and share your gift with as many as you know. But, also know your limits and give yourself permission to respect those boundaries. Only then can you truly thrive as an Empath.
~Ashley Carter Youngblood, LMSW, LMFT, CADC, ADS
Ashley Carter Youngblood is both a Fully-licensed Clinical Social Worker and Marriage and Family Therapist who has been in the field since 2007. She offers counseling in Kalamazoo, Portage, Mattawan, Battle Creek, Paw Paw, and the surrounding areas of Southwest Michigan. She is passionate about her work with clients, whether it’s providing individual counseling, couples counseling, family therapy, or life coaching. Her specialties include holistic healing/mindfulness, counseling for women, anxiety, couples counseling, and addictions/substance abuse.
I welcome you to contact me or leave any questions or feedback you have about this post. Please keep in mind that the above information is the opinion of an individual, should not be considered medical advice, and is for entertainment/educational purposes only. I write these blogs as an expression of my passion for wellness and with the hope to be able to help as many people as possible. Therefore, I would encourage anyone seeking mental health advice to contact a therapist in your area who can better evaluate your situation and provide you with case-specific information for treatment. Also remember, if you are experiencing an emergency, contact 911 or present yourself to your nearest emergency room.
Thanks for reading.