A year ago, a new friend told me about the book The Empath’s Survival Guide by Judith Orloff, MD. I glanced at the book at the time but was too busy to dig into it. Fast forward a year, after having spent it all in heavy duty yoga teacher training, and I was in much need of some me time, self-introspection, soul renewal and personal in-depth growth. Something I saw or read a few weeks ago triggered my memory of the book, and I was ready to delve deeper.
I chuckled at myself taking the questionnaire in the book because I already knew the answer. But of course, it doesn’t hurt to confirm it with a questionnaire, right?!
Yes, the questionnaire shows me as a full blown introverted empath.
I’m not sure at what point in my life I was able to put the word “empath” to my emotional and relational characteristics. It’s only been in the past 3-4 years that I have understood the power (pleasant and unpleasant) this personal characteristic has had over me, my life, and my well-being.
I am a firm believer that we must understand ourselves in order to grow and do better, be better, feel better, and live better. I believe getting to know oneself and being at peace with oneself is absolutely and imperatively critical in order to understand others and be at peace with them and in order to have better relationships.
On pages 15-16 of the book Judith lists the advantages and challenges of being an empath:
Some of the ADVANTAGES of being an empath
--feeling the flow of energy in the world
--able to read people
--can experience the richness of being open to life and nature
--natural instinct to help others in need
--in touch with own emotions
--sees the big picture
--appreciates the feelings of others
--becomes loyal friend and mate
--spiritual and can easily sense energy
--special appreciation for nature and feels at home within it
--resonates with nature, plants, forests, gardens, and water
--feels water as energizing
--strong intuitive bond with pets or other animals
Some of the CHALLENGES of being an empath
--becomes overstimulated, raw nerves, burn out, sensory overload
--absorbs stress and negativity of others which lead to physical and emotional symptoms
--feels things intensely
--observing violence and brutality hurt deeply
--carries the weight of the world
--feels the pain of others
--experiences emotional and social hangovers, sensory overload lingers on
--can feel isolated or lonely, perhaps due to feeling overwhelmed
--may cause others to see you standoffish, hypervigilant
--freezes up around inauthentic people
--may prefer socializing online to protect emotions
--experiences emotional burn out
--people flock to you so it can get overwhelming
--must set clear boundaries with others and not over-give
--increased sensitivity to light, smell, taste, touch, temperature, and sound
--must make needs known to partner regarding “space”
--must be authentic in relationships with others in stating our empathetic needs
In reading the lists of advantages and challenges, it’s like someone sat down watching me and took notes on my behavior and feelings. With the exception of me NOT preferring online socializing (that is really scary to me because people can be so mean online while hiding behind their keyboards), the lists pretty much explain a great deal about me. I wouldn’t say people “flock” to me because my Puerto Rican “spiciness” and strong passion can sometimes scare people off, but I have said in the past that I must have a sign on my forehead that invites others to “tell me all about it”. I’ve had strangers tell me all sorts of personal things out of the blue. I think they are able to sense that I truly care and will empathize with them.
“A female empath who is balanced knows how to set boundaries with her time and energy…She learns to give and receive in a balanced way, a powerful combination.” (Pg. 20)
“Being an empath is a huge asset when you can learn to manage it. Empaths are not crazy, neurotic, weak, or hypochondriacs. They are wonderful sensitive people with a gift, but all of us need tools to cope.” (Pg. 21)
“…empaths often see things as ‘all or nothing’. Either we’re on the go or retreating to the safe haven of home.” (Pg. 21)
For most of my life I have been an empath who did not understand what an empath was and what I needed in order to remain emotionally healthy. I did not create necessary boundaries with myself or others or have the right tools to cope. That brought me much unpleasant emotional and physical pain. I am now in active pursuit of learning more helpful skills to allow the advantages of empathy to shine brighter and to subdue the challenges that they may be a little less powerful and painful over me. I think at the root of many illnesses and diseases, especially autoimmune ones, lies unresolved and deeply stored emotional pain. Empaths must especially take care of themselves to prevent this from happening to them. I’m speaking from experience.
Being a healthy empath requires taking time out for extra self-care, self-understanding and awareness, self-kindness, and self-love. I wish I had known these things much earlier in my life. Yet, I know them now! Yay! Every day I am given a fresh new start with new opportunities and blank slate for new choices in my life. I am so thankful for that! I am grateful for the gift of being an empath; I wouldn't want to be any other way. Now is the time to begin to earnestly learn how to skillfully and healthfully live with that gift.
Maybe reading this will help you too. At the heart of every one of my posts is my utmost desire to be of help to someone else while I'm in the process of helping myself.