This is the second article in this series about empathy.
The first article in this series was: ‘Is Overactive Empathy Ruining your Life?’
Please note that this series is meant to be read in order so you’ll want to read that article first to understand what I mean by ‘overactive empathy’ if you haven’t already.
That way you can identify if you could be someone with the gift of empathy who doesn’t know how to turn it off – because if you’re not an empath, this article probably won’t be of interest to you!
So, there are three steps to overcoming overactive empathy:
1. Centering yourself – as an energy management tool, to learn to turn off your empathy in the moment and to train yourself to be more centred in general.
2. Raising your awareness of empathy triggers – Understanding your external empathy triggers – that’s to say, understanding which situations and people trigger your empathy in any given moment.
3. Moving from unconscious empathy to conscious choice – understanding why you may not be turning your empathy off; overcoming limiting beliefs and unconscious choices around empathy and setting new intentions for the management of your energy.
As you can see from these steps, managing overactive empathy is probably not something you are going to do overnight. I actually thought about putting this material into an mini e-course because I think it’s best digested gradually and some of these steps you can go into much more deeply than I have here.
But ultimately, how far you will want to go with this will depend on how much your empathy adversely affects your life. If overactive empathy is a minor problem for you, you won’t be as motivated to follow what I am going to recommend for each of the three stages above. On the other hand, if overactive empathy has been something that has affected you for a long time more severely, as it has me, then you’ll probably want to consider all of the three stages that I outlined above.
Step one: Centering yourself on a regular basis
This is the most important part of the turning off overactive empathy process. You can read everything else I have written in this article, but if you don’t actually practise centering, you won’t get any more control over your own empathy.
What’s centering and why is it important for controlling empathy?
So, we know that when your empathy is activated, there are openings in your energy field which allow your energy to leave you and the energy around you also enters your energy field via these ‘openings’.
Centering is when you close those energetic ‘openings’ and bring your energy back to you. It’s essentially using focus and mindfulness to become what what Eckhart Tolle would call ‘present’. This is a state where you are profoundly aware of yourself and your own feelings; where the inner state is louder and speaks to you more clearly than what is going on around you. In this state of being centered, it is more difficult to become distracted and get swept along energetically by the emotions of the people around you.
How can you centre yourself?
The principle behind any energy management exercise is the same – your intention. You centre yourself through the power of your intention.
Let’s think about this for a moment. Did you know that you can open and close your chakras by visualizing it? Your energy field responds to your intentions and thoughts.
You command it, and your energy responds.
Most of us are doing this unconsciously. You think a negative thought that depletes your energy, and your energy field contracts. If you tell a lie, your energy contracts. On the other hand, if you say something that is empowering or comforting, your energy will relax and expand. Your energy is responding to everything you do and think and say.
That is something you may know theoretically, but the experience of it in reality will probably feel quite different. Controlling your energy is much easier said than done. Heck, if we were such experts in controlling where our energy goes, we’d probably never think anything negative at all.
So, this is where centering techniques come in handy for empaths – regular centering trains you to get control of your own thoughts and energy on an ongoing basis. In particular, it reminds you what centredness feels like and then you tap into and remember that centredness when you suddenly notice yourself getting swept along by what’s going on around you. And you can bring centredness into that moment of empathy out of control – and turn it into a moment of empathy under control.
So, here are the components of a good centering meditation that you do on an ongoing basis:
1. Quietening your mind initially through observing your breath for 1-2 minutes
2. Grounding yourself (I do this by visualizing the energy of your root chakra shooting through the Earth, wrapping itself around the Earth’s core and returning to you the same way.)
3. Then I call my energy back to me. This is a kind of energy retrieval. Thought energy can be woven into people, loved ones, fears, and past events. I wait for a few moments for all that thought energy to come back to me.
4. Then I actively close any ‘openings’ in my energy field (I do this by visualizing a white light burning at the heart chakra, which reaches out (I see lots of hands doing this!) and closes the openings, at this point I hear doors closing.
5. Next, I just experience my energy contained within me. I experience some moments of being present, self-aware and silent within. I might remain like that for as long as I can, or as long as I want.
6. I affirm to myself that I can recreate this state as I need it just by allowing the light at the heart chakra to reach out and close those ‘openings’ if I notice that my energy field has opened itself up – in social interactions, in public places (for example, if I’m walking down the street in a big city and am overwhelmed by the energies that I can pick up on.)
The more you practise a centering exercise like the one outlined above, the more control you get over where your energy goes in your life – including empathy.
If you want, before you centre yourself, you can release old energy. Empaths have energy fields that are full of other peoples’ ‘stuff’. You can go through the following steps to remove it:
- Close your eyes
- Say ‘God’ or if you prefer, ‘Archangel Michael’ – say this out loud
- Then say:I now call on the power of Source/God to remove from my energy field all energies that do not belong to me. It is done, it is done, it is done.
If you are going to practise being centred in the moment that empathy occurs, so that you can get it under control, you need a high level of awareness of your empathy triggers, which brings us to the second key to controlling empathy.
Step Two: Raising Awareness
Most empaths have little awareness of the empathy process, and that can be one of the biggest reasons why some empaths never learn to turn empathy off.
Let’s just recap on what happens when you’re ‘picking up on’ other people’s energies empathically.
1. Your empathy gets triggered by something
2. Your energy field opens up and you get a glimpse into someone else’s experience, for the better, as this helps you to relate to the person.
3. Your energy field should close its boundaries so that you can come back into yourself, but it doesn’t – it remains open and often you don’t even know it (that’s what happens for unskilled empaths.)
So, here’s what you need to do to turn empathy off if you’re an unskilled empath – you must become aware of what is happening as it is happening. This means a high level of awareness that this blog post probably can’t give you just by reading it. You have to practise it.
Firstly, you need to become aware of your empathy triggers.
Mine are: people in pain or distress, violence on the television, people disagreeing with me (so I can put myself in their shoes), people needing me for something – what are your empathy triggers? Are you triggered mostly by loved ones or by anyone?
Then, you need to observe the empathy process. Next time, notice how much you’re focusing on the other person in any given situation – whether it’s emotional counselling and listening to someone’s problems; interacting with someone in a social setting; walking down the street and just observing those around you or whatever. For you as an empath it will be second nature to you to focus a great deal on others, so you might not have ever noticed how much you do this. When you notice that you’re over-identifying with another person and their energy, it’s best to bring your energy back to you. You can do this very simply by pinching yourself, noticing how YOU feel in that moment, or by noticing something that you like ‘ie. I like that colour’ or ‘I like how comfy this chair is’. Making these steps a habit can really help you in the moment to bring your empathy under control.
You can also consciously will your energy to return to you, and your boundaries to close in the moment. Take a moment to feel how you feel and become aware of your inner being. If you can do it in that moment, visualize the ‘openings’ in your energy field closing. If it helps, hear the doors closing and the hinges creaking. Otherwise, just affirm that it is happening in the moment.
Step Three: Moving from unconscious empathy to conscious choice
If you practise centering yourself and turning off empathy as you notice it’s happening, but it doesn’t work very well, then you need to look at what is stopping you from fully getting control of your own energy.
Sometimes, you’re not fully turning off empathy because there is a part of you that doesn’t want to.
When I wasn’t motivated enough to get control of my empathy, it was because of a part of me which believed that:
“As a healer/ friend/ girlfriend/ daughter/ sister (or whichever role I thought my empathy was helping me in) overactive empathy enables me to serve everyone better. It allows me to anticipate and fulfil the needs of others. It motivates me to help others. In fact, it would be downright selfish to turn it off!”
I felt guilty if I turned empathy off. Like I was disconnecting from others. Sound familiar?
Just in case it does, and that’s demotivating you from fully getting control of your own energy, here are some ideas and perspectives to counter the fears relating to overactive empathy:
- Overactive empathy is an act of self-sacrifice. Is it fun to absorb a load of negative energy that isn’t yours? No! What is negative and what does not serve you cannot serve someone else. It’s called spreading the fear instead of the love. I wrote about this in my article ‘How to get rid of low self-esteem’ – acts of self-sacrifice (like putting someone else’s needs above your own) deplete you. Instead look for a win-win situation, not a win-lose situation for you. Self-sacrifice is never in the highest good of all. It’s not win-win.
- Empathy was never designed to be used in a prolonged ‘always-switched-on’ way. I realized this when I was struck by a sentence that I read in Byron Katie’s book ‘A Thousand Names for Joy’. She said: “What I like about separate bodies is that when you’re hurting, I’m not” (and vice versa). Separation on the physical level serves us to some degree.Yes, empathy is great for getting a glimpse into someone else’s world, but it’s terrible if we have to remain in that painful world with them! Why? Because then we become useless, to ourselves and to others! How can you possibly uplift someone if you’re in exactly the same negative state that they are? You can’t. That’s why overactive empathy doesn’t serve you. You need to be able to snap out of whatever state you’re absorbing in order to bring the good energies that you so naturally bring into the world. You live by example, through those energies that you bring. That’s how you heal and uplift others.
- Overactive empathy is also linked to co-dependence. If you are feeling someone else’s pain, you may also try to take responsibilities for that person because it becomes your pain. You may try to force them out of it and become very attached to a situation or emotional state that isn’t yours – because you want it to be over. Those situations can be quite messy because boundaries become blurred, especially when there are two empaths involved, both trying to take responsibility for one another.
If you are interested in more detailed ‘how-to’ information on becoming a ‘skilled empath’ (someone who is able to turn their empathy on and off at will), check out my book recommendations on overactive empathy. The two books in that section greatly improved my quality of life and helped me to stop suffering as an empath, and I highly recommend them for all empaths.
I hope you found these tips useful and I’d love to hear your comments if you have something to say about what I’ve written here.