Being an empath or a highly sensitive person might sometimes indeed seem like both a blessing and a curse. In a world where information is shared freely and the human population is constantly growing, it is difficult to avoid seeing pain and suffering. Turning on the television, listening to a sad song, reading the news, or even going outside opens us up to different people, feelings, emotions, and energies. For empaths, this can be much more emotionally draining than for the average person, as they tend to be more sensitive to perceive and sometimes get affected by the emotions and feelings of others. Negative energies are absorbed, negative feelings are felt, and negative experiences are internalised. However, this is also true for positive feelings and experiences, which results in what may seem like an endless emotional rollercoaster for an empathetic person. So how can you tell if you are an empath, and what can you do about it if you are?
Traits of an empath
- You are sensitive to physical and emotional pain in yourself and in others
- You get emotional over “good” events as much as over “bad” events
- You find it difficult to be surrounded by negative people and energies
- You find that people try to take advantage of your sensitivity
- You are an introvert and often need time alone to recuperate
- You find it easy to connect with others on an emotional level
- You are intuitive and can sense other people’s emotions and feelings
(See The Mind Unleashed for a detailed description of empaths.)
The traits listed above can be present to varying extents in people of different empathetic abilities. But while some empaths stay open to these experiences, it is not unusual for an empath to attempt to block out negative emotions and energies for the sake of self-perseverance. In fact, opening one’s awareness to external and internal stimuli may be extremely challenging, which often results in empaths isolating themselves from people or simply “tuning out” from all feelings and emotions. This is not at all surprising considering how draining it can be to be highly sensitive to other people’s problems.
But is tuning out the best method for protecting yourself? Or is staying present through mindfulness and meditation practice a better alternative? If being mindful means being more present, more aware, and more observant of our surroundings, then is meditation and mindfulness practice really something that can be recommended to empaths? And if it can, how can it benefit people who identify themselves as empaths? These are the questions I am devoting today’s blog post to, and as always I am writing to you from my own point of view – as an empath and a novice mindfulness and meditation practitioner.
How mindfulness and meditation practice can help
As I have written about in previous posts, the main focus of mindfulness and meditation practice is present moment awareness. This is therefore the opposite of tuning out from your surroundings or distracting yourself with other activities, but is potentially more beneficial to a person of high empathetic ability. Below, I list some ways in which mindfulness has helped me better cope with the emotional stress that often comes with being an empath.
- Non-attachment. Practicing mindfulness has enabled me to become less attached to my thoughts and feelings. This has consequently helped me become less attached to feelings and sensations that are external to me as well, such as the energies and experiences of others. Instead of internalising the emotions of others, I am now better at letting them come and go, much like my own.
- Non-judgement. Instead of judging feelings and emotions as “good” or “bad”, mindfulness teaches us to simply observe these experiences in an open, non-reactive, and non-judgemental way. This may help empaths remain relaxed while perceiving extreme emotions of others.
- Self-love. Mindfulness training does not require a selfish focus on yourself by avoiding people and social situations. It simply helps us be aware of our own wellbeing needs. Surround yourself with positive people as much as you can, but also take time for yourself to meditate, re-charge, and re-balance. Don’t sacrifice self-care for the needs of others. Simply put, learn to say no.
- Protection. I find that meditation can offer some protection against external influences. Imagine a protective bubble that is transparent. You are still able to observe everything that comes and goes, but you do not interact with it or let it penetrate your safe space.
- Groundedness. For many empaths (me included), there is a tendency to want to tune out from the surrounding world, to avoid this emotional rollercoaster. This can lead to a way of living that is on “auto-pilot” – going through the motions without really being present in each moment. Mindfulness and meditation practice helps me stay present, in my own body, so that I can experience every moment without being overwhelmed by it.
- Disconnect to connect. Connecting to my breath while meditating allows me to stay focused on the now, as I let thoughts and emotions come and go without attaching myself to them. Also, meditation helps me disconnect (or take a break) from external sources of stress – such as television, news, social media, emails, and work.
- Mindful movement. Sometimes a mindful walk, some gentle stretching, or yoga practice can do wonders to ground me in the present moment and help me de-stress and re-balance my energies.
In conclusion, it is important to remember that you cannot care for others until you care for yourself. Feeling someone else’s pain or understanding what they are going through can only take you so far in helping them if you become overwhelmed by these emotions. Removing yourself from negative people and social situations can also be a great strategy, when this is done mindfully and with kindness and compassion towards yourself and others. Or, as the image below advises: