Empaths unwillingly, unwittingly absorb, intuit and feel other people's emotions -- from joy to misery -- by as-yet-unknown means. Vibrations? Electromagneticism? ESP?
It's like being naked at a theme park, light-sensitive at Burning Man or having pollen allergies inside a greenhouse.
Not knowing why this happens and/or that it happens, dazed and drained while mistaking random weird feelings for their own, many empaths doubt their own sanity.
Do empaths have a sacred gift, a psychic talent, an annoying hypersensitivity, a biological anomaly or a disease? How can an empath safely navigate this crowded, sad, mad world?
Emmy the Empath is a highly empathic cartoon character who wants to know. She's scoured the Web and asked friends for empathy-management techniques. Let's detail some she's learned and tried, and what she thinks of them:
"Grounding" -- Visualize a cord, root, anchor-chain or beam of light extending from your body deep into the earth. Imagine "flushing" unwanted bad energies down this cord and away.
But: Emmy pictures her cord becoming snarled undergound with those of other empaths and with plumbing pipes, high-voltage cables, gas lines, turbine generators, tree roots, weapon-smuggling tunnels, sewers and stalagmites. She also imagines her cord savagely bisecting moles.
Also, she wonders: How long and elastic are such cords? What happens to empaths on planes?
Grounding makes sense -- if you enjoy visualization and believe energy can be moved around. (Those are big ifs.) Other grounding techniques: Touch trees; imagine shooting bad vibes down their roots. Walk barefoot on sand, grass or unpaved earth (ringworm alert!); imagine bad vibes draining through your soles. Wade, swim, bathe or otherwise touch water, ideally saltwater, perhaps because salt is a natural disinfectant.
Wearing crystals and other gemstones can allegedly repel bad vibes and generate good ones. Agates for courage; amethyst for healing; bloodstone for protection; tigerseye for joy -- or so they say.
To Emmy, this technique holds infinite appeal.
Another popular strategy is "shielding": picturing oneself sealed inside an impenetrably emotion-deflecting substance: a fiberglass bubble, say, or spiked steel or a hazmat suit.
Such shields block all vibrations, bad and good -- rendering empaths relatively numb. Appealing as that sounds, Emmy asks: Are we meant to feel and use our powers for some higher purpose? Is disabling them wrong?
For calibrated quasi-numbness, some empaths suggest:
"Filtering": Picture yourself ensconced by not an impermeable substance but a porous one -- sponge, say, or insulation foam or windowscreen -- which blocks (because you tell it to) only bad vibes.
Emmy's favorite among such methods entails picturing herself surrounded by potent, protective pale blue light. Like rain falling around her in sheets. Made of light. She finds this image easy to maintain.
Most of the foregoing techniques boil down to focused fantasy. This feels to Emmy sometimes effective, sometimes as silly as playing Mystery Date. Skeptics and others might prefer strategies aimed at decluttering and decompressing (Emmy calls it "desperate soul retrieval") before, during and after human contact: For instance, listening to music. Emmy likes techno, bells and binaural beats.
Other popular decompressors include art. Exercise. Nature. Prayer. Meditation. Food. Sleep. Animals. Venting with fellow empaths. Labor. Laughter, which is of course a matter of taste.
All these techniques require trial, error, practice and faith. Of course, the foolproof solution is arithmetical. The fewer people near you, the fewer emotions you'll absorb: aka abstinence. This makes life extra-hard for extroverted empaths. Asocial Emmy would love to be a hermit living in a hollow log.
Empaths, never forget: You absorb not just sorrow, terror and anxiety from others but also hope, glee and grace. Learn to detect these feelings (also: hilarity, awe and exultation) wherever you can. Intensify your positive-emotion receptors as you might tone muscles for sports. Locate all "positive emoters" in any environment you enter. Shy? You needn't meet them. Simply siphon their bliss, secretly.
All illustrations are by Anneli Rufus.