Empathy is a trait that anyone can learn, but natural empaths have a unique ability to go below the surface and see your soul, and accept you where you are.
If you fall into this category, chances are you’ve felt the weight of the world on your shoulders. By becoming the person that everyone turns to, you suddenly know the depths of everyone around you, and often, it’s heavy stuff. Some empaths even go as far as feeling the depths of the world’s problems—they see the hurt, pain, and confusion caused by war, greed, and injustice, and they feel all of it, too.
While having the gift of empathy can be challenging, it can also provide benefits to you and those around you. To reap those benefits, it’s necessary to understand how to make empathy work for you so you don’t become a victim to other people’s emotions and thought processes.
Here are five ways to help you stay emotionally balanced while practicing empathy.
Put Yourself FirstThe idea of putting yourself first will go against the grain of anyone who has a strong ability to empathize. However, by making sure your needs are taken care of, you will be better able to take care of other people. Your gift of empathy only works if you aren’t completely depleted. As the proverb says, “One cannot pour from an empty cup.”
Make sure your cup is filled at all times. If it’s not, there’s a greater possibility that it will be filled by other people’s needs. Discover practices that allow you to be the best version of yourself:
- Attend a daily yoga session
- Meditate in your favorite spot
- Take an art class to awaken your creativity
- Go to the gym or for a run or walk to push your physical body
- Make dinner with a loved one
- Get a good night’s rest
- Commit to being a pen pal with your best friend
Set Boundaries with OthersThere are only so many thoughts and feelings that can exist inside your head and heart. Limit the amount that comes from other people by accepting that you are human and that you can’t be all things for all people.
When someone wants to use you as a sounding board to process his or her divorce, layoff, or loss, set a time limit. This isn’t done out of lack of love; it’s done so that you can offer support the best way you know how. If you become exhausted, you’re likely to shut down and not be able to offer any empathy—to anyone.
Also, be aware of how much information you consume. The world is filled with a lot of happiness, but also a lot of sadness and injustice. To avoid riding the rollercoaster of emotions, limit your time on social media and news sites. As an empath, you are prone to getting caught up in another person’s story and avoid your own emotional needs, even when it’s the story of someone you don’t know.
Let It GoIt’s fun to be able to celebrate with someone who is happy and excited. As someone who can feel what they’re feeling, you can experience the joys of a wedding, job promotion, or new baby. It can feel good to experience that kind of emotion. In contrast, it can feel hopeless when you’re sharing in someone’s sadness in losing a loved one, breaking up with a partner, or getting a negative diagnosis.
That’s when you need to practice separation. The truth is, you didn’t lose a loved one, you aren’t breaking up with your partner, and you’re not fighting a disease. When you’re with someone, you can offer incredible acceptance by allowing them to feel like they are known and loved. But realize that you don’t have to hold onto their situation or embrace it as your own.
Feel it and move on. Find a practice to release the emotions, or identify someone who can help you offload some of the second-hand emotional junk. Since they are even more removed from the situation, chances are they won’t hold onto it, and they can help you let it go.
There will be plenty of hurt in your own life to deal with; you don’t have to hold onto everyone else’s.
Process Your Own EmotionsThose who are good at empathizing with others can often neglect their own emotional needs. By taking on the heartache and joys of other people, they can start to be numb to their own inner stirrings. Stop the cycle and start processing your own emotions with others.
No one is meant to be an island. Just because people come to you to process their feelings and thoughts, doesn’t mean you’re meant to rely solely on yourself for emotional support. Everyone needs people around them for support and guidance.
Processing your emotions can be done both formally and informally, but the key is to make it a regular practice:
- Set up a weekly coffee date with a trusted friend
- Walk through the day’s emotions with a spouse before going to bed
- Go to a trained therapist once a month or every other week
- Attend a group counseling session
- Hire a life coach
- Talk to your spiritual leader
- Journal before bed each night
Practice CelebratingAs someone who empathizes often, you intimately know what it feels like to experience joy and what it’s like to know the depths of pain. Oftentimes, it’s the pain that seems to stick around and weigh on you. While feeling hurt and sadness is a necessary part of being emotionally balanced, carrying the pain of others isn’t helpful.
Just as you create rhythms of taking care of your mind, body, and soul through various practices, implement a rhythm of celebration. Regardless of what’s happening in your life, there is always something to celebrate. Try:
- Throwing an impromptu party to commemorate a fitness milestone
- Taking yourself on a date just because you’re worth it
- Giving your spouse a small gift for taking care of the house
- Treating your co-worker to a drink for a job well-done
- Letting your kids stay up past bed-time to spend more time with them
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