“Like many empathic children, I never fit in. In fact, I felt like an alien on earth waiting to be transported to my real home in the stars,” writes Judith Orloff.
For empathic people, the world is both excruciatingly painful and exquisitely beautiful. They feel the emotions of others with a potency that often becomes overwhelming and exhausting.
And yet their highly sensitive natures — their ability to intuit the emotions of others and experience the world with vibrant clarity — can also be the source of some of their deepest passion.
In her new book, The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People, Judith Orloff, MD, uses her experience, wisdom, and intuition as an empath in the highly demanding and often caustic medical field to offer a guidebook for sensitive people to protect themselves in an overwhelming world and help them recognize their sensitivity as the gift it truly is.
“As an empath, we actually sense other people’s emotions, energy, and physical symptoms in our bodies without the usual filters that most people have,” writes Orloff.
While there are several types of empaths – such as dream empaths, emotional empaths, intuitive empaths, and animal empaths – they all share hyperresponsive mirror neurons that enable them to deeply resonate with other people feelings.
Empaths also often experience “mirror-touch synesthesia” which causes them to feel the emotions of others in their body, as if they were their own. And because the world seems so overwhelming, empaths can often feel isolated, lonely, and misplaced. They can also turn to drugs or alcohol to numb their sensitivity.
However, learning to cope with the challenges of being an empath is the foundation of embracing the many gifts it offers. Orloff writes, “We empaths have many marvelous traits. We have huge hearts and the instinct to help others in need or who are less fortunate. We are dreamers and idealists. We are also passionate, deep, creative, in touch with our emotions, compassionate, and can see the big picture.”
One important skill empathic people must learn is to recognize and deal with sensory overload when too much is coming at them. Crowds, traffic, loud environments, too much work, arguing, or toxic people can all cause an empath’s overload symptoms to become worse.
As many environments can be overwhelming for empaths, searching for support in conventional medicine can often leave them feeling overlooked and misunderstood. Orloff writes, “The problem with conventional medicine is that it lacks a paradigm that includes the body’s subtle energy system.”
Adrenal fatigue is a common symptom experienced by empaths, and for this Orloff suggests restorative strategies such as eating a whole food diet, gentle exercise and meditation, increased rest and eliminating energy vampires. She also suggests deciphering symptoms by asking: Is this symptom or emotion mine or someone else’s?
“A tip-off that you’re absorbing someone’s energy is to notice when you experience a sudden change of mood or physical state around a person,” writes Orloff.
In cases like this, Orloff suggests visualizing cutting the cord between ourselves and the toxic person, setting boundaries and limits, planning time alone to regroup, and spending time in nature.
Empaths also need alternatives to self-medicating through drugs and alcohol, and for this Orloff suggests Twelve Step Programs and finding solace in a higher power. “Instead of turning to a bottle of wine, a chocolate cake, or an expensive shopping spree, you can connect with a higher power to soothe your anxieties,” writes Orloff.
While excess weight is a way to armor oneself against absorbing other people’s stress, empaths are also highly sensitive to the way in which different foods affect them. Orloff explains, “If you are an empathic eater, you will need to pinpoint the energetic stressors that trigger your overeating, such as a draining coworker, an argument, or feeling rejected.”
Finding solace in an intimate relationship can also be challenging for empaths as they often struggle with two competing drives: wanting to be loved and adored, and wanting to be alone. “Empaths aren’t always easy to live with. Taking a break is essential for an empath’s sanity. Those close to us must appreciate this,” writes Orloff.
As a way to deflect from connection, empaths often choose partners who are emotionally unavailable, thinking that through love, they can “bring out the best in them.” Choosing the right partner, however, involves honoring the need for honest, open communication while understanding that every relationship has its challenges but carries with them the ability to teach us more about ourselves.
While living as an empath can be extremely challenging, Orloff offers a powerful yet simple idea: it is often our greatest challenges that are also our greatest sources of strength.
The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People
Sounds True, reprint September 2018
Paperback, 288 pages