So you are in the middle of an empath nightmare.
Your immigrant dad just dumped his life’s stresses and traumas on you in an hour long diatribe, leaving you feeling drained, powerless, insecure, and like this world is not worth living in. Your last client today was self-destructive, stuck in their life, and hopeless – now you can’t breathe and are disgusted with yourself so much that you want to peel your skin off. Or, if it’s really bad, you just walked down the street and your gaze happened to meet that of a decrepit homeless man – you can’t stop feeling like humanity dumped you in the bin (and perhaps you can’t stop feeling guilt for not helping, either).
These are all actual examples from my life.
Below is what I do, and here you’ll find a summaries of what some other people do (people I’ve learnt from mostly).
Note: by now it’s so automated that it’s often enough to notice and have the intention to disconnect from the energy. But that wasn’t always so.
Method #1: insight
This is a method for the milder cases, when you can think clearly, and and perhaps for people (like myself) who respond well to logic. See if reflecting on these statements and “trying them on” alleviates the degree to which you take on others’ feelings. While you can’t do this “in your head”, I have found that by reflecting deeply on this (in my heart and intuition, if you will), my system often responds.
Separating myself from the other person
- I become aware that what I feel belongs to the other person. (If you can’t figure out this step, this may be of some help.)
- I remind myself that this is part of their life-tree: what they are experiencing is rooted in their life situation, history, their actions, thoughts, experiences. Their situation (for a simple fact) is not my situation, even if I feel their feelings.
- I remind myself that while I just get a disconnected, de-contextualised snipped of their emotional life, for them it has a meaning, context and history that I can’t understand just because I feel how they feel. I don’t know what that snipped my radar caught means for them.
- I remind myself that emotions and feelings are there to (directly or indirectly) guide our actions. The others’ emotions are meant to alert and motivate them; or play whatever role they need to in their life. Not mine.
At this point I often already feel some relief.
- I remind myself that my insight into their situation does not come with an obligation to solve their problems. It’s usually unethical, invasive and presumptuous to try to “solve” someone’s (emotional) problems unbidden.
- I remind myself that if I want to help, suffering along with them is merely going to paralyse me. While the initial insight into their feelings may have value for understanding them better, there is no value in remaining in their feelings any longer.
- I remind myself that while my insights are just information (not obligation), if I choose to, I can utilise them as understanding fuel for compassion (which is love informed by understanding) and compassionate action.
Internalising and reminding myself of these truths (you may over time shape your own version) has over time helped me avert major empath trips in cases in which the source of the feelings was clear.
The following two methods are less cognitive and more intuitive, and also work if the source is unclear.
Method #2: running towards the monster
This method is my go-to for more hard-core energies that scare, disgust, or deeply disconcert me. It’s in a way also a hard-core method; I wouldn’t have come up with this (although it’s so simple) without having had years of meditation practice.
- Realise that even if it feels like it’s physically all over you, crawling, glueing, sticking, and infiltrating you – this energy in itself can’t actually harm you.
Just realising this – treating it as a fact without lying to myself – is often enough for my body to relax at a deep level. Relaxation means that my energy channels open up and permit energy flow. I simply let the energy flow all over me and through me without obstructions. This can feel like a deep, tantric hug with something that you’d really not choose to be intimate with. But my experience is that as soon as you’ve felt (touched) it fully for even a millisecond, it’s already on its way out.
Sometimes I deliberately face the monster head on and tell myself, hey, energy, now I’ll just feel you as closely and in as much detail as I can, for as long as possible. Paradoxically, usually the wave that looked so threatening sweeps through within seconds, and I find myself having totally forgotten about it (thinking about my next meal or whatever) within minutes.
So 3 minutes of running towards the monster resolve what 3 hours (or, worst case, 3 days) of running from it wouldn’t.
This is an adaptation of a mindfulness technique that I have learnt and practiced to deal with seemingly intolerably intense emotions stemming from old wounds. The key is to paradoxically lean into the physical experience and allow it to develop to its fullest, but without entangling myself in it (through thoughts, evaluations, resistances) – perhaps like watching a dramatic spectacle of colourful tsunami waves on a cinema screen; I enjoy the aesthetics of the colours and dynamic lines. But I don’t feel I have to fight the waves. After all, I’m just in the audience here.
This method, when it works, feels to me like becoming transparent. It feels like a giant was pushing against me, and I was countering him with great effort. But then I just made myself transparent for a millisecond and he rushed right through me, to the other side, and out of sight.
Method #3: inhabiting your body, rooting in yourself
This one works best as a preventative method (to avoid picking up others’ energy in the first place), but can also help once you’ve already got some dust on your boots.
- Become aware of your body – feel your feet on the ground, whether you are standing, sitting, lying down. Let all the different sensations from your physical body come to you – from your skin, muscles, inner organs. Feeling your breathing can also work (although for me personally this can result in anxiety.)
- Take a moment for a brief body scan – moving your attention from one body part to the next, from your feet, up to your legs, hips, belly, chest, arms, neck, head – no point getting caught up in details now, just a quick check-in with your physicality. End by trying to sense your body as a whole.
- Now the twist: instead of being aware of your body – like an Eye in the Sky that observes it from above – you take the dive and inhabit yourself.
- You can start with individual body parts. Rather than just being aware of your feet – from a distance – really enter into them and feel like you are your feet. That shouldn’t be too hard for you as an empath – after all, in a sense you enter other people’s all the time. So why not your feet? What is it like to be your feet?
- Do this with as many body parts as you can, and end again by sensing that you now vividly inhabit the totality of your body.
I usually feel an upsurge of subtle bubbling joy, vitality and motion inside every body part for which I succeed with this. That’s not the point though. The point is actually to keep your empath abilities busy with empathising with yourself, so to speak.
In my case that works because when my empath antenna is tuned to my own body-field, it automatically isn’t tuned to someone else’s. The added bonus is that I’m more in touch with myself.
So far, this has been the method most effective at keeping me grounded in my own energy.
Note: unlike many quick-fix methods, none of these is easy to describe or learn from a verbal description alone. It’s more like a gradual shift towards new ways of functioning. On the upside, I’ve found these three don’t just help with empath issues but create a deeper shift in a positive direction.
Summaries and reviews of other methods I’ve personally tried can be found here.
Was any of this helpful to you? If not, what is? Please leave comments and questions below.