Why do empaths often experience overwhelm?


Being an empath in the emotional sense or a highly sensitive person can be draining enough as because of your other-directed nature (and additionally upbringing, if you are female) you will have a tendency to notice what is going on with others and spend a great deal of your energy processing and (emotionally and often practically) responding to their needs, feelings, thoughts, life events, in addition to your own.

Being a psychic empath adds an extra layer of icing on top of this cake, as in addition to thinking about and reacting emotionally (with your own emotions) to everything that is going on with everyone, you literally feel what they feel in the moment, often with a similar intensity (which can appear even greater, since they had all their life to get used to the flavour of their emotions, while for you it just hits you in the moment).

This happens not because you are making an effort to empathise and put yourself in their shoes, deliberately generating similar emotions in yourself (which are still your own), but – at least this is my understanding – because having a connection (of any kind, from merely looking at them to an intimate connection) in your case often automatically leads to an energetic transfer or “synchronisation”, or as I like to call it, “attunement”, in which somehow you somehow, in part, in a way, temporarily, “become them” a little bit – with respect to their emotional mood or feeling-of-being.

This is exhausting and overwhelming on several levels.

  • You may experience stronger and more intense emotional shifts than if you were merely feeling your own emotions, even if your own emotions are already vivid. As you know if you have ever been on an emotional roller-coaster, emotional shifts cost the body a lot of energy (over time this can literally lead to physiological depletion). (see my article on nutrition)


  • You may feel a lot of confusion or even a kind of blurring (or in the worst case, loss) of identity if you fail to recognise what is going on. Because some (or many) of the emotions you experience are actually generated not in your own mind-body-system, but in systems and life-story-lines outside yourself, you may go to great lengths to weave “your” (which isn’t really yours) emotional life into a coherent narrative and still fail, dazed and confused (see this article for a somewhat humorous fictional account)


  • If you take others’ emotions to be yours, you may also act on them. This can lead to a mess, because they were meant as a message to the other person (in whose system they arose), not to you. On top of that, you may feel confused and bad about yourself not understanding why you did what you did. Examples are getting angry just because someone near you is angry, or feeling like you are in love just because someone near you is that, and then acting either of those out.


  • If you aren’t doing anything to deliberately counter this trend, it is likely that many of the other-generated emotions you go through are negative (see this post on the negativity bias). That means that you are just experiencing a lot more negative emotion than would arise from your own life situation, which is of course burdening.


  • Even if you are aware of what is happening and have some skill in telling your own emotions apart from what comes in from the outside, it may still be exhausting-by-way-of-distracting to always have part of your attention and focus occupied by having to physically sense emotions, moods and states that do not arise within your system and thus are not directly relevant to you.


  • All this takes your attention away from yourself and reading your own emotions and needs and acting on them, which can negatively affect your wellbeing – e.g. you may forget to eat or forget that you have emotional needs, too.

With so many external stimuli pulling you away from your inner signals that would otherwise push your own needs in your face, you may fail to recognise and act on your own needs and end up depleted. While this can happen to anyone, for a psychic empath this actually sets your system up even more for tuning into specifically the negative emotions of others – when you are tired and in bad shape, your psychic “skin” feels even thinner than usual as you resonate more easily with the negative energies in others rather than the positive ones; and they reverberate more strongly through you.

I am not sure how this mechanism works, but many empaths confirm that this happens … thus generating a vicious circle that can gradually drive you to the ground.

When this goes on for too long, you can end up with seemingly inexplicable symptoms of fatigue, deep (emotional) exhaustion, but also irritability, depression, anxiety, and generally emotional chaos. You may also manifest a psychosomatic “mystery” condition like CFS or fibromyalgia. Or you may simply grow feeling more and more overwhelmed in the presence of people without understanding why.

I have put together some of these typical signs (and what they can be confused with) in this post: Sings of empath overwhelm compared to some similar conditions

If this is you, there are definitely ways to help yourself short-term and long-term. You can check my how-to series for a start, or the quick-fix article for some pointers to resources by others that I’ve found useful. Get well!

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