Self-care is essential for all empathic people. When you mindfully and lovingly practice it each day, your sensitivities will flourish.
The self-care practices, perspectives, and meditations I present as daily offerings in Thriving as an Empath will support you in being a compassionate, empowered empath without shouldering the suffering of others or trying to “fix” them. All people deserve the dignity of their own paths. Day-by-day, l offer gentle reminders about how you can be loving without becoming mutually dependent or a martyr.
As a psychiatrist and empath, I am fierce about my own self-care practices and teach these principles to my patients. I feel strongly about them because I want to keep enjoying the extraordinary gifts of sensitivity—including an open heart, intuition, and an intimate connection with spirituality and the natural world. Shallow emotional waters don’t appeal to me. I love going deep, and my sensitivities take me there.
Still, a big challenge for all sensitive people is how to be compassionate without absorbing the stress of others and the world. We don’t have the same filters as most people. We are emotional sponges who feel everything and instinctively take it in. This differs from “ordinary” empathy, where your heart goes out to others in pain or happiness, but you don’t take on their feelings.
Empaths are helpers, lovers, and caretakers who often give too much at the expense of our own well-being. Research suggests that our mirror neuron system (a part of the brain responsible for compassion) is hyperactive, which can burn us out. This is not how I choose to live. I want to be loving, but over-helping or absorbing someone’s distress just put me on sensory overload, which is painful to my sensitive body and soul. It also doesn’t serve the other person in any lasting way.
To stay healthy and happy, you must be prepared with effective self-care practice so that you’re ready to deal with stress. What helps, for example, is keeping yourself balanced and whole by trusting your intuition, setting boundaries, and protecting your energy.
The secret to an empath’s well-being is to break the momentum of sensory overload before it consumes you. These strategies and attitudes have been life-saving for me, and bring me back to the center when overwhelmed or emotionally triggered. Here are some tips:
The Gift of Being Different
Like many empaths, you may feel as if you don’t belong in this world. You experience life so intensely, and love so deeply, it’s sometimes hard to find kindred souls to whom you can relate.
As a child, I always felt “different” from my peers. Other kids loved going to crowded parties and shopping malls whereas I preferred climbing trees with my best friend or writing poetry. As an only child, I was alone a lot and found companions in the moon and the stars. Often, I felt like an alien on Earth, waiting for a spaceship to take me to my true home.
Similarly, Albert Einstein said, “I am truly a 'lone traveler' and have never belonged. I have never lost… a need for solitude.”
As I’ve grown as an empath, I can appreciate the gift of being different. I am moved by this anonymous quote: “If you feel you don’t fit into this world, it’s because you’re here to create a better one.”
Sensitive people are meant to bring light into the world. Empathy is a strength, not a weakness. I applaud everyone who looks different, feels different or thinks different. The world needs the difference you will make.
Set your intention. I will honor the gift of being “different.” I will fully be my unique self and not let anyone take my power away. I will shine my light brightly.
It’s Not My Job to Take on the World’s Pain
As an empath, you have an open heart. You don’t have the same emotional guard up that many others do. You feel people’s pain, both loved ones and strangers, and you instinctively want to take it away from them. In fact, many of us have been taught that being compassionate means it’s our job to remove other people’s pain.
This is not true. You can hold a supportive space for someone without absorbing their distress in your own body. Finding this balance is the art of healing. Inwardly you can say, “This is not my burden to carry.” It is impossible to fix someone and it is really none of your business to try. More than 20 years of being a physician have taught me that everybody deserves the dignity of their own path.
Set your intention. I can be compassionate without becoming a martyr or taking on another person’s pain. I can respect someone’s healing process without trying to “fix” them.
Excerpted from Thriving as an Empath: 365 Days of Self-Care for Sensitive People and The Empath’s Empowerment Journal, its companion book.
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