Do you catch others’ emotions or moods like some people catch the common cold?
When you’re socializing in a group of people or even just shopping by yourself in a public place, have you ever experienced your energy bottom out for no reason?
When with friends do you feel that other people’s feelings, emotions, and experiences are more vivid than yours at times?
Have you ever felt completely ONE with a loved one (or complete stranger) either emotionally, intellectually, or physically to the point that their emotions, thoughts, or body aches begin to manifest in your body or mind as if your own?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are almost certainly an empath.
What an empath is and isn’t
While many empaths require extensive time alone for recharging, clearing, or processing after socializing, being an empath is not synonymous with being an Introvert or a Highly Sensitive Person. In fact, for many years I considered myself a “frustrated extrovert” in the sense that I actually prefer to be with people, but find myself experiencing a myriad of symptoms while socializing. Also, being an empath is not the same as having a high level of emotional intelligence. Being able to label emotions and read body cues is a teachable skill, whereas one can’t learn how to be an empath–it’s just the way 5% of the population is born.
An empath is a person who can experience the thoughts, emotions, energy, and direct experiences of others. According to Rose Rosetree, there are fourteen kinds of empathic gifts and they all share this one thing in common: an ability to connect on the level of consciousness with people, animals, or the environment to the point of a complete merge. During these most often unintentional merges with others on an energetic level, Rose explains that STUFF is transported into the empath’s aura. Meaning, empaths absorb a great deal of emotional and energetic energy outside their own direct experience of life into their beings. While referred to as a gift, for many people being an empath feels like anything but it. When not properly understood or utilized, this ability can manifest in both physical illness as well as emotional suffering. While non-empaths consider strategies to improve feelings of oneness with others, empaths have a different struggle: how to meet the basic human need for human connection while maintaining a healthy sense of self.
My experience as an empath in a close relationship
For many empaths, maintaining a connection in intimate relationships is a delicate dance. First, there is the pure joy and happiness that comes with deep feelings of oneness and intimacy. Oftentimes, empaths are experts at falling into deep, soulful love at record speed.
I met my husband on a blind date at a local movie theater on a blistering, summer day in June—his idea. I wasn’t insulted at his suggestion to meet for the first time in a dark room that prohibited conversation. I figured he was a bit like me and perhaps relied on his blink-speed intuition to evaluate the existence of a potential connection with someone. Later he confessed he didn’t want to end up stuck at an entire meal with someone he wasn’t interested in. I considered this quite reasonable. Doesn’t everyone know in less than five minutes if they want to ever see that person again?
Contrary to the proverbial wisdom that love finds people when they are NOT looking for it, I had a different agenda. Sure that kind of serendipitous love had found me several times before. For instance on a snowy day, I struggled to shovel my car when my cute neighbor strolled over with a shovel and got to work. Later that night I stopped by his apartment with homemade chocolate chip cookies and thus began a 2.5 year romance. Sure, it was a great story. But it turns out I was believing less and less in the longevity of fateful encounters. So when I was single again, I made a bold decision to approach finding love directly. I set the intention in my heart for who I wanted. I visualized him. I allowed myself to listen to the ‘no, not him’ for 22 first dates (another post…or entire book) without even trying once to persuade myself to give it more time beyond that instant gut reaction. So while some may have found my husband’s approach to our first encounter as a red flag, I recognized him as someone like myself—with clear focus and keen perception.
After the movie was over, I was delighted when he asked me to join him for a midday bite at a nearby restaurant. He was hot. The kind of I can’t find a single flaw on you kind of attractive. And smarter than me–just what I needed. But there was something more. Something I couldn’t put my finger on. As I stared at the pile of food on the table between us and sipped water with a lemon wedge, we talked—and I listened with my whole body—like I always do when searching for answers to something. At the end of that first conversation, I was convinced he would be my last first date in a long time. That was when I stumbled upon another timeless cliché in love: When you meet the right person you just know.
Our connection felt instantly deep, even spiritual—telepathic. When we were dating a mere weeks, we mused how it felt as if we had always known one another—years at least. After nine years together this June—seven of which we have been married, we still share a very deep, strong connection certainly aided by the fact we are BOTH empaths. We know each other beyond the telling, deeper than what we have ever shared about ourselves. In him I found pure relational happiness. Meeting and marrying my husband was the fulfillment of my deepest soul-heart yearnings.
The challenge I’ve found as an empath in an intimate relationship is this: there’s no place to hide and absolutely no room for bad attitudes. My empathic abilities pertain to emotional oneness and emotional intuition. His gift is intellectual empathy. So imagine. I can feel everything he’s feeling and experiencing to the point it’s hard to tell who is feeling what—and he always says “he’s in my head.” Need I say more? Fights can erupt without a single word being spoken, as whole conversations often ensue on an energetic level. Needless to say it took several years to figure out how to properly navigate being an empath in love and marriage.
Psychology told us to work on our individuality and set up better boundaries. For heaven’s sake just stop being so enmeshed. First we tried to structure our lives around strict boundaries. Monday nights we did our own separate thing. Thursday nights we spent together in a meaningful way. When that didn’t work I started to join a bunch of social groups apart from him, and as we began to go our own ways we nearly lost our marriage. Because while we pursued individual experiences and led separate lives, it didn’t stop us from feeling merged with what was going on with us on that deeper, energetic level. And what was brewing was a whole lot of frustration and resentment that we couldn’t figure it out.
I’m thrilled to say that at this point, my husband and I are finally thriving to the point of enjoying the benefits of a deep, soul connection without half the hiccups we used to endure. It wasn’t achieved through psychological tools, but rather understanding and navigating our relationship on an energetic level—the level where things were going amuck. While I still enjoy the social groups (i.e. book clubs, girl time) what I really revel in is how peaceful and loving our home feels, and the calm, healing energy in my marriage.
Here are the top strategies I’ve learned for managing the need for (and resistance to) maintaining blissful connection in intimate relationships as an empath. You’ll notice that the strategies aren’t so much as how to “get along” with a spouse as much as they are tools for how to be. Because this isn’t about psychology…it’s how to manage one’s own energy in such a way that peace, love, and generosity of heart are natural expressions of one’s being.
Strategies to cope with too much connection
1.) Don’t build walls. Empaths are very skilled at building walls and avoiding people, places, and things that can hijack energy levels. Now I’m not saying put yourself intentionally in upsetting situations. For me, I cannot and will not watch violent television. I DO avoid triggers. But while walls prevent unwanted emotional information from burdening us, walls also prevent love, joy, and connection. Remain open to giving and receiving love. Make it a daily intention to pursue this open posture towards people.
2.) Do practice energy clearing and grounding techniques. Staying connected to one’s own experience of life and energy prevents taking on others’ unwanted energies. Here are the best techniques I’ve found taken from Rose Rosetrees’s book, “Your 30-day Plan for Empath Empowerment” and Dave Markowitz’s “Guide for Highly Sensitive People, Empaths, Intuitives, and Healers.”
The Keyhole technique to avoid taking on unwanted energy: Imagine your heart chakra opening and visualize a small opening the size of a keyhole straight to the other side of your body, forming a tunnel. Activate this “tunnel” in your mind’s eye anytime you’re with people or in situations where negativity has the potential to stick to you. The heart chakra is already an active spiral, so envision a tornado on its side, pulling negative energy in and right out the back. I have personally tried this one on several occasions and find it to be very effective!
Wake-Up Call technique to clear any unwanted energy: Take a minute to sit comfortably and close your eyes, noticing what it feels like to be you, right now. After you tune into yourself silently pray to whatever higher power you believe in (God, Jesus, Higher-self, angels etc.) “Remove from my aura whatever does not belong to me. Fill me with self-knowledge, self-love, spiritual light, and spiritual power. Dave Markowitz also outlines a more involved meditative technique called, “Return to sender.” I feel his technique is appropriate for deeper energetic attachments, and worth checking out if you have long-standing struggles with depression or anxiety.
Smudge often to clear any accumulated energy in your dwelling. Smudging is simply the act of burning a bundle of sage leaves while declaring an intention for peace or harmony etc. I used to have resistance to doing this because I associated it with magic, but rest assured sage has been used by a myriad of cultures (Native Americans, Peruvians to name a few) for clearing unwanted energies–and I’m not talking demons here. Just energy memories. I make it a habit to smudge the house every weekend when I clean the house, and more often if either one of us is particularly stressed.
3.) Do spend time alone. For many empaths spending time alone is necessary to learn what it feels like to be themselves. Spend time alone in your own energy so you can tell the difference between what is you, and what is someone else. Rose Rosetree suggests devoting each day to developing one of the seven inner states of awareness: mind, body, spirit, intellect, soul, emotions, and environment. Many empaths spend most of their time in their bodies and intellect—because the rest gets on overload and is harder to control. But it’s important to become familiar with all aspects of ourselves. For example, it’s through getting in touch with our own emotions that we can begin to tease out what is ours vs. what we may have absorbed from others.
4.) Do let go of responsibility. This is a huge one for me. Dave Markowitz explains how many empaths feel a burden to alleviate the suffering of the world. While this desire may be altruistic, in many instances actions towards relieving others’ burdens is a low-vibrational energy rooted in fear and pain avoidance. Many empaths are motivated to alleviate the suffering of others to prevent themselves from vicarious suffering. Fueled by what they believe are good intentions, many empaths take on way too much responsibility for others’ soul journeys. Empathic responsibility tries to manage, manipulate, and persuade others to change and grow. The correct response is to allow empathy to cultivate greater compassion towards others. Simply put–offer unconditional acceptance and love. Empathic compassion holds space for others to feel the safety of that unconditional love, remembering that true healing (change and growth) almost always occurs in the presence of unconditional acceptance and love.
5.) Do call on Divine energy. This is another big one for me. There are times I can’t bear the suffering of those close to me to the point I’m tempted to intervene from a low-vibrational place of fear or pain avoidance. Sending unconditional love feels too passive in these moments. Rose Rosetree suggests a) calling on a Higher Power to take the suffering from our loved one—if appropriate. We must remember that in MOST instances, pain is brought into our lives to help us grow. It may not be helpful to the person we care about for it to be removed, which is why calling for spiritual discernment is key. b) Clear our own energy (Wake-up call technique outlined above) of pain we may have absorbed so that we can endure others’ suffering more passively.
Are you an empath? What techniques do you use to keep healthy, open connections with loved ones?
*This post is in response to the 1000 Voices Speak May writing prompt: Connection. Join over 1,000 bloggers each month by participating in a monthly topic inspired to flood the blogosphere with GOOD. Learn more here.