The Empath Problem
I have read a few articles recently which have identified empaths as people who put others first, and emotional martyrs. While these can be traits of an empath, they are not the defining characteristics.
These traits can be seen as admirable and also as a weakness, and it is important for an empath to guard against those who will use them and take advantage of their giving nature – if they are not to sacrifice all their personal power. My focus is always to feel better, heal from any hurt, dump emotional baggage which may hold you back, in order to go forward positively and allow yourself to live well and to enjoy life. With this in mind this article is about identifying where empaths often go wrong, self-protection and registering those behaviours in others which weigh an empath down.
I didn’t know I was an empath, for many years. What I did know was that I didn’t do well in big gatherings of people; I’d find myself clamming up – despite the fact I am not a nervous or unsociable person; I didn’t enjoy the en-masse environment, preferring instead one on one, or small group interactions. I also knew I read people well – When they’re being authentic and also when they’re insincere, and can feel it when they swear they will deliver on something, but actually haven’t the will or intention to do so. It seems strange that it wasn’t until a fascinating session with an excellent psychic medium, that I finally understood. She remarked on my sensitivity and explained some of my disorientation was due to picking up on the strong emotions in the environment of mega egos, in which I spent my days. Clang! It was a real ah-ha moment, and there I was wondering if I was suffering some kind of volatile emotional dysfunction! It suddenly made sense as I felt the truth of it.
In fact the moment I understood this was a major step in my healing journey where I investigated all sorts of methods to protect myself against the sorts of personalities and environments which created imbalance. I have spent years working on protecting myself, and asserting myself. It’s truly important for empaths particularly to do this, as aside from the fact they can feel overwhelmed in crowds of people, they can attract those who will take advantage of their sensitivity.
Empaths tend to be big hearted and see the potential in people, but in doing so, can attract broken people who damage them, and sap their strength. A broken person will often use others for energy (as they don’t have the will or capacity to generate their own), and an empath will often continue to give and give their energy, to the point of exhaustion.
This is a lesson I learnt along the way; I continually attracted partners who were energy vampires, and who would deplete my reserves to the point where I would feel exhausted all the time. People are not fixer uppers. You can’t repaint and refurbish with your good intentions and faith in their potential. Unless a person truly wishes to change and heal, they will simply take and absorb all the attention and energy you have to give until you are spent, and more broken than they are.
On this same premise, an empath can also change their own life experience if they take control of their response to people. Empaths are so accommodating and sensitive to the needs and emotions of others that they are liable to trample over their own needs in order to serve. However this is counter-productive to your own mental and emotional health in the long run (and those who depend on you – like children), and therefore one of the most positive things an empath can do is to learn to prioritize their needs and also to protect their space. Protecting your space as an empath is something one can learn to do, and with practice, will keep your head and heart quieter.
I learnt to do this when working in an environment of big egos, and a lot of them. Many of these people wore ‘work masks’ to bolster themselves and hide their fears and self-doubt. At the end of many a working day in this place any feel-good I had started the day with was derailed and I felt tired, unsettled and downright grumpy.
When I learnt to build a bubble around myself, life became far more peaceful. This doesn’t mean an empath ‘loses their power’ ;-), but it does mean they don’t adopt those feelings which come from outside of them; they don’t saddle themselves with emotion that is not their own.
Even a consciousness of what was happening helped me enormously. You’ll find a lot of writing on building a protective bubble, in various books and on the internet. For me, I would start the day with a short meditation practice where I would surround myself with bright white light, and feel it all around me. I would then expand it, as wide as the room, or even to encompass my whole town, and then I would pull it back close, and feel it around me. And for a while, I wasn’t convinced it was working – it even seemed like a silly fluffy idea dreamt up by some hippy! J However one day, I realized it had started working. It suddenly dawned on me that I had a new confidence, and I was steadier in my feelings and emotions. I also easily spotted when people were operating from behind a mask, and I became better at differentiating the feel of my own emotions from those I was receiving from another.
One day I was at a ballet performance run by a young dancers group, and the room was full of proud parents, watching their children perform before a large gathering. I suddenly felt a lump in my throat and my eyes well up, and I realized it was their collective emotions bumping up against my shield, challenging it. As I brought my consciousness to it, and breathed back into my bubble, I gradually felt the swell of the other emotions recede, and I had the quiet of my own experience once again. I realized that that was the first time in a long time that I had felt that again. I find those sorts of emotions, and also strong messages like anger and frustration will cause me to have to re-establish the bubble. I do this as simply as bringing my consciousness to what is happening, and why, and then breathing deeply. With this practice, I have found my bubble is self-sufficient, and I no longer have to put it in place every morning.
In a previous blog, I have written about narcissists and this is one type of person an empath is liable to attract, and must guard themselves against, as a narcissist is certainly a person an empath will not fix (much as they might try) – as narcissists do not realize or accept there is anything wrong with them, and constantly project onto everything and everyone surrounding them.
There are a lot of other behaviours which you may find in a person who will wear an empath down, and the reactions to these people can be felt emotionally and physically. Use your emotions and feelings within your body as a barometer as to whether a person is healthy to be around or not, and trust the feelings.
Below are some examples of toxic behaviours which you might live with and tolerate on a daily basis, but you do not have to:
Interrupting – If you are not allowed to finish what you are saying, your feelings are not being listened to and you are not being regarded. You’ll feel anxious and hurry to get your words out.
Correcting – When a person constantly corrects you, this affects your self-esteem, and you are uptight and fearful around them as you worry about your next mistake
One-Upmanship – This person will make you feel disappointed that your experiences or achievements are not valued. You may feel tension and resentment building up in your body as you are not heard or valued.
Neediness – These people will make you feel like a prisoner with their clinginess. They will seem like they depend on you, and the weight of responsibility will weigh heavily on you until you seem to constantly run your life to ensure they are not unhappy. You will never fill their bottomless pit of neediness. Even if they are at your side, they will seek all of your attention and you will be unable to turn your attention to anything or anything else.
Guilt Tripping – Guilt trippers will manipulate others into doing what they want because they are the victim and you owe them in some way. You’ll feel an increase in internal resentment at being manipulated.
Anger – Some people are addicted to being angry and you’ll walk on eggshells around them as you constantly look to protect them from anything which will have them flying off the handle. You will take the blame and apologize to ease their wrath, leaving you with tension and resentment building up inside. You’ll likely feel a knot in the pit of your stomach and tension in your neck, shoulders or hips.
Grumpiness – This is a little like dealing with angry people, and the constant black moods will eat away at your self-esteem, and more likely lead to depression.
Noisy People – Empaths are often sensitive to noise, and therefore being around a person who is generally at top volume is an uncomfortable and incompatible place to be. The noisy person is seeking attention, which you will try to give them, but they will likely have you uncomfortable and feeling exhausted.
Victim / Martyr Behaviour – The poor-me syndrome; where a person feel hard done by and always unfavoured or unlucky. You’ll find yourself astounded at the bad luck they have had, and the terrible things they have had to deal with. These people are often self-sabotaging and have a can’t-do attitude. You will end up helping them continually and will end up drained.
Controlling – There’s lots of different behaviours adopted by those who seek to control others. They usually act out of a deep-seated abandonment issue, and can be outright domineering and demanding to passive aggressive and poor me; but all of them – if they sense their control is threatened, will act out with anger, violence or silent treatment. You’ll be anxious and resentful after too long around these behaviours, feeling the effects physically and emotionally.
These are just some examples of toxic behaviours, none of which you have to tolerate. Some people either have lived with these behaviours so long, they do not see them as unacceptable, or assume they are to blame for the behaviours. The result of existing with toxic influences like this can be depression, loss of self esteem, and even physical illness. It is therefore so important that empaths add to their exceptional skills by learning to be assertive and recognize what is acceptable and what is not.
An empath's sensitivity is wasted when it is being swallowed up by dysfunctional people, so protect yourself and remember to enjoy life and surround yourself with those who honour you rather than use you.