That overwhelming sensation of other people’s emotions invading your inner space…
That indescribable discomfort of experiencing the pain, physical or emotional, of other people…
That nagging intuition that says being around other people isn’t necessarily safe for your energy and soul…
If any of this sounds familiar, you might already know yourself to be an empath.
The term ‘empath’ has been often over-simplified and misdiagnosed as only high levels of sensitivity for too long. If you are an empath, you know that being empathic means much more than being simply sensitive; it can be a blessing and a curse on emotional, intellectual and even physical levels.
Empath expert Judith Orloff explains this on her website:
The trademark of empaths is that they know where you’re coming from. Some can do this without taking on people’s feelings. However, for better or worse, others, like myself and many of my patients, can become angst-sucking sponges…If empaths are around peace and love, their bodies assimilate these and flourish. Negativity, though, often feels assaultive, exhausting.”
Because empaths often play the role of ‘purifier’ to other people’s negativity, pain and dissatisfaction, as Dr Christianne Northrup puts it in her book: we are all the more susceptible to being exhausted by time spent in the social world. A sure sign of this dynamic in relationships is if you always leave time spent together feeling drained, while your friend leaves feeling energized and renewed. For example, you leave a coffee date exhausted and maybe even a little sad while they skip away leaving their baggage on your shoulders.
While both Orloff and Northrup champion boundary-setting as a way to protect yourself from burnout, there will be of course areas of life we won’t have a choice but to keep dysfunctional relationships functioning, for the sake of work, family, etc. For these cases, it’s good to have an action plan for healing and giving back to yourself what you’ve over-extended to others.
Cleaning the slate of your subconscious (a necessary form of self care) on a daily or weekly basis ensures that the emotions of others don’t linger and fester in your heart, soul, chakras and even physical body like your muscles and joints. It also allows you the time to rejuvenate intimately so as to have more energy to protect yourself the following day. The tactics below are tried and tested by yours truly; multiple times, in fact. They offer fast relief in ways that don’t require too much more energy, empathy, money or effort.
Epsom Salt Baths
Acupuncturist, reiki practitioner and medicine woman Margarita Alcantara says that highly sensitive people can cleanse the negativity that gets caught up in their aura with simple epsom salt baths as a relaxing, restorative practice. Epsom salts replenish the body and help to alleviate anxiety and muscle tension (even that caused by being an empath, and the body’s reactive response to clenching and tightening muscles in the face of negative influence). But on top of this, they help to cleanse the aura itself from head to toe when used in a bath, meaning you can release not only the body’s physical response (muscle soreness, stiff necks, etc), but also release the emotional and metaphysical response of having caught too much energy from another.
Being an empowered empath means being clear about the difference between your energy field and others’ energies, and cultivating healthy energy boundaries!” says Alcantara.
Your neighborhood pharmacy or grocery store will likely sell epsom salts for baths for a reasonable price, but they can also be bought online. To up the balancing act and make your bath all the more enjoyable, add your favorite essential oils to the water like lavender.
Intentional candle lighting
We all know the effects of blue light at night; think of candle light as the opposite. Candle lighting has been used for centuries across many faiths as a sign of setting intention and reaching the divine. In modernity, you might have noticed the healing benefits of even just one candle in your apartment; the warming red glow, the ritualistic act of lighting, the sensory experience of heat, smell, and the flame dancing.
While many faiths use lighting candles as an invitation to send wishes through prayer, more meditative approaches means using the act of lighting a candle to create energy in an intention of your choice. What’s more intentional and profound than creating light with your intentions and literally burning off what you don’t need anymore? You are creating light with the subject of your focus, both literally and metaphorically.
Create your own ceremony of lighting a candle to burn off the negative energy you’ve been exposed to through the day. Or set aside a special candle you light each night when you come home, closing your eyes briefly to state your intention or a message of gratitude before creating energy through fire. Example: “I intentionally create safe space for my renewal tonight, and to feed the light of my own soul.”
Sage or palo santo also have cleansing effects with their smoke and can be a great ritual for welcoming yourself home at night. It’s all about shifting around the energy, creating an intentional path for the negativity to leave your physical plane.
Dance & Movement
You might be (literally) able to ‘shake it off.’ I can easy and happily say this is one of my favorites, and arguably the most liberating.
Dance therapy is defined as the “psychotherapeutic use of movement to promote emotional, social, cognitive, and physical integration of the individual, for the purpose of improving health and well-being… It is a holistic approach to healing, based on the empirically supported assertion that mind, body, and spirit are inseparable and interconnected; changes in the body reflect changes in the mind and vice versa.”
While you might not be an expert in dance therapy, you surely know a song that makes you feel good, and now is your chance to turn it into your own personal rejuvenation ritual.
I found that the most important part here is to find a song that has only positive messaging and doesn’t stir up too much anger or too much angsty energy. Think body-positive, upbeat music but not too raucous (“God is a Woman” by Ariana Grande, or “Because I Am A Queen” by India Arie).
It’s also important to be in a place where you can really let loose and not worry about trying to look attractive. Let out the emotional energy from any limb or place you feel it, in any way that feels instinctual. It might mean shaking out your arms, jumping up and down and out of the negative energy, or it might mean a series of full body rolling movements to really let it flow out from the top of your head. Let loose, don’t judge, and enjoy the physical movements until you feel thoroughly refreshed and freed, and happy to inhabit your beautiful body on your own again.
Meditation is an obvious choice, but as a regular meditator I sometimes feel that it’s hard to simply sit in silence after a hard day. When I started using meditation to clear my energy at the end of the day, I first tried meditating on the idea of being forgiving and resilient, but found myself too angry, hurt and tired to be forgiving. I found affirmation meditation worked much better, allowing me to refocus myself without too much pressure. Here’s a great reset meditation you can do anytime, anywhere:
Sit in a comfortable position in a place you won’t be disturbed, where you feel safe. Close your eyes, and take ten long breaths, counting to five as you inhale, and taking five counts to exhale as well.
When you feel ready, imagine a white light at the center of your heart space, emitting a soft, glowing and healing light. Imagine the light growing bigger and brighter in your heart space with every breath in, as if you feed it with your breath. If a color comes to mind through the light, go with it (say it starts to grow orange, trust your gut and allow it to glow in whatever color comes up for you). Allow the light itself to grow bigger, and bigger, encompassing your entire body, through every vein, cleansing your blood and bones and muscles and burning off any bad energy.
Now imagine that light glowing beyond your physical body, until it makes a glowing bubble around you. Notice how this bubble of light feels safe, nurturing, and calm. Notice how safe and accepted you are in this glowing bubble, how nothing can reach or disturb you here, and how the bubble protects you. See it glowing in light around you.
Repeat a mantra of your choosing. I like: “I am protected by divine light” or “I am safe to replenish my own pure energy.” But find what words resonate with you.
Stay in your light bubble, repeating your mantra until you feel refreshed, safe, and a little stronger than before. Then open your eyes leaving the bubble invisibly around you.
Whatever your mind, body and spirit call for and respond to, indulge in it. It might be chocolate before bed, a glass of wine, or a good long cry. Being an empath is a super power; be sure you’re using your own powerful abilities for your own health and happiness as well and not spending it all on others.