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Judith Orloff MD Headshot

Are You an Empath? How to Stop Being an Emotional Sponge (VIDEO)

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Have you ever been labeled as overly sensitive? Do you absorb the emotions of others? There is a good chance you're an emotional empath. Empaths are highly sensitive, finely tuned instruments when it comes to emotions. They feel everything, sometimes to an extreme, and are less apt to intellectualize feelings. Their sensitivity is the filter through which they experience life. Empaths are naturally giving, spiritually attuned and good listeners. If you want heart, empaths have got it. Through thick and thin, they're there for you -- world-class nurturers.

As a psychiatrist, many empaths come to me overwhelmed by the world. Their trademark is that they know where you're coming from. Some can do this without taking on people's feelings. However, for better or worse, others, like myself and many of my patients, can become angst-sucking sponges. This often overrides the sublime capacity to absorb positive emotions and all that is beautiful. If empaths are around peace and love, their bodies assimilate these and flourish. Negativity, though, often feels assaultive and exhausting. Thus, they're particularly easy marks for emotional vampires, whose fear or rage can ravage empaths. As a subconscious defense, they may gain weight as a buffer. When thin, they're more vulnerable to negativity, a missing cause of overeating. Plus, an empath's sensitivity can be overwhelming in romantic relationships; many stay single since they haven't learned to negotiate their special cohabitation needs with a partner.

When empaths absorb the impact of stressful emotions, it can trigger panic attacks, depression, food, sex and drug binges, and a plethora of physical symptoms that defy traditional medical diagnosis from fatigue to agoraphobia. Since I'm an empath, I want to help all my empath patients cultivate this capacity and be comfortable with it.

Empathy doesn't have to make you feel overloaded too much all the time. Now that I can center myself and refrain from shouldering stress, empathy continues to make me freer, igniting my compassion, vitality and sense of the miraculous.

To determine whether you're an emotional empath, take the following quiz from my book, "Emotional Freedom," which explores empathy in great detail.

QUIZ: AM I AN EMPATH?

Ask yourself:
  • Have I been labeled as "too emotional" or overly sensitive?
  • If a friend is distraught, do I start feeling it too?
  • Are my feelings easily hurt?
  • Am I emotionally drained by crowds, require time alone to revive?
  • Do my nerves get frayed by noise, smells, or excessive talk?
  • Do I prefer taking my own car places so that I can leave when I please?
  • Do I overeat to cope with emotional stress?
  • Am I afraid of becoming engulfed by intimate relationships?

If you answer "yes" to one to three of these questions, you're at least part empath. Responding "yes" to more than three indicates that you've found your emotional type.

Recognizing that you're an empath is the first step in taking charge of your emotions instead of constantly drowning in them. Staying on top of empathy will improve your self-care and relationships.

Emotional Action Step: How to Find Balance

Practice these strategies to center yourself.

1. Allow quiet time to emotionally decompress. Get in the habit of taking calming mini-breaks throughout the day. Breathe in some fresh air. Stretch. Take a short walk around the office. These interludes will reduce the excessive stimulation of going nonstop.

2. Practice guerrilla meditation. To counter emotional overload, act fast and meditate for a few minutes. This centers your energy so you don't take it on from others.

3. Define and honor your empathic needs. Safeguard your sensitivities. Here's how.
  • If someone asks too much of you, politely tell them "no." It's not necessary to explain why. As the saying goes, "No is a complete sentence."
  • If your comfort level is three hours max for socializing--even if you adore the people--take your own car or have an alternate transportation plan so you're not stranded.
  • If crowds are overwhelming, eat a high-protein meal beforehand (this grounds you) and sit in the far corner of, say, a theatre or party, not dead center.
  • If you feel nuked by perfume, nicely request that your friends refrain from wearing it around you. If you can't avoid it, stand near a window or take frequent breaks to catch a breath of fresh air outdoors.
  • If you overeat to numb negative emotions, practice the guerrilla meditation mentioned above, before you're lured to the refrigerator, a potential vortex of temptation. As an emergency measure, keep a cushion by the fridge so you can be poised to meditate instead of binge.
  • Carve out private space at home. Then you won't be stricken by the feeling of too much togetherness.

Over time, I suggest adding to this list to keep yourself covered. You don't have to reinvent the wheel each time you're on emotional overload. With pragmatic strategies to cope, empaths can have quicker retorts, feel safer, and their talents can blossom.

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