When you’re an empath, feelings, even other people’s feelings, can be so powerful they become overwhelming.
Empaths are notorious for feeling ALL THE THINGS. Which is both a blessing and a curse. For some, emotions can get so overwhelming that they become frightening. When negative feelings show up, there’s often a fear of going out of a control and feeling that way forever. When loved ones are in pain, there’s this need to fix it because you’re feeling it, too. Trying to fix things for people gets exhausting and can eventually lead to really restrictive ways of interacting with people. Emotions you perceive as negative, both within yourself and others, become intolerable. You might try to control your feelings, and maybe even other people’s feelings. You try to block out the bad and embrace the good. Unfortunately, you can’t banish pain and get only joy. So with this avoidance of the bad feelings, you tend to lose the full impact of the good feelings, too. And so the tension builds. Your shoulders get tight. Your stomach hurts. Your head aches. You might be able to express your emotions when you paint, write, or sing, but you find it hard to be truly vulnerable with those you love.
Think about a time, probably when you were a kid, when you felt you could express yourself freely. Remember how loose you were? How easily you could move between utter devastation and vibrating joy? How you could ache with someone else and then move on to gleefully play with another? You just naturally knew that feelings were nothing to be afraid of because feelings were temporary.
As you got older, you started to learn that adults had to “keep it under control” or “suck it up”. You got messages about certain feelings being appropriate only at certain times. Or maybe you saw first hand how destructive anger, sadness, or fear can be when they aren’t handled well. Maybe you’ve been stuck in your own depression or anxiety before and you’re terrified of going back there. So you try to move away from the bad feelings and try to make sure others don’t have bad feelings either.
But here’s the irony of it all: Feelings only become dangerous if we try to change or deny them.
Sadness, anger, and fear are not inherently bad and in fact, are necessary to our wellbeing. Pain tells us when we need to take care of ourselves. Or when we need to change something. We prolong our suffering when we avoid our pain.
You can learn to feel negative feelings without letting them take over your life.
You already have many, many times. You really can handle the full range of emotions from yourself and from those around you. Here are a few tips to help you through the process:
1. When a negative feeling arises, take a deep breath, feel it, and allow yourself to just be. If you get scared or anxious that you might get stuck there or go off the deep end, tell yourself, “This is only temporary.”
2. Empaths in particular tend to have a lot of guilt around feelings like anger and frustration. You can see the other person’s perspective, so you know why they’re being the way they are. But just because someone has been hurt before or has learned to cope in a certain way, doesn’t mean they have a right to treat you badly. If you feel guilty, remind yourself that you have the right to feel whatever it is you feel. Try to remove the judgment and self-talk about what you should be feeling. Instead, think about how you can take care of yourself. Do you need 10 deep breaths? Do you need to talk a walk? Do you need to engage in your art? Do you need to call a friend for support? Sharing your guilt over your feelings to the right friend can help alleviate the pressure.
3. When you have trouble knowing what’s your feeling and what isn’t, take a moment, breathe, and assess. Ask yourself, “Is this mine?” If you find that you’re feeling something that isn’t yours, remind yourself, “I am not responsible for other people’s feelings.” Then do something physical. Go for a walk or run or do some yoga. One trick I like is to rub my hands on my arms and legs in a sweeping motion, like I’m dusting the bad feelings off of me. Like this!
Feelings are fleeting. Thoughts are temporary. If you get anxious about something, it doesn’t make you an anxious person. If you get angry at someone, it doesn’t make you an angry person. If you’re sad, you’re not automatically a depressed person. The same goes for the people around you. It’s ok to feel however you feel at this moment. It’s what you do with your feelings that matters.