Tools for Empaths: Part 1
My favorite character on the old Star Trek series “The Next Generation” was the ship’s counselor, “the empath”–Deanna Troi.
In the show, Troi’s race is known for its interspecies telepathy and its emotional empathy with most other species of life, whether on board the ship, in a ship at close proximity, or on the planet below.
Long before I was able to understand myself as an empath or someone who was energetically and intuitively sensitive, I resonated with Counselor Troi’s character, and I knew that there was something for me to learn and understand about telepathy, intuition, and reading energy.
The term “empath” has received more publicity recently, and in my opinion, that’s a good thing. For those of us who have had difficulty understanding why it can be hard for us to be in the world, the awareness and education about what it means to be energetically sensitive has done us, and those who love us, a great service.
I’m particularly grateful for the work of Dr. Judith Orloff, M.D., Karla McLaren, and others who have found language with which to discuss emotional and energetic sensitivity in a culture that all too often values neither. The Human Design System has also been a great help to me in learning to understand my energy system and the energy systems of other people. (For more information on Human Design, I recommend Karen Curry’s book, free resources and classes: Human Design for Everyone.)
Not all people who are intuitive, “psychic”, or telepathic are also energetically sensitive in the same way that empaths are, and this has nothing to do with their ability to receive clearly and do excellent intuitive work. I’ve known many wonderful students and colleagues whose energy systems are much less permeable and porous than mine is, and who do fantastic work as intuitives and healers. (Sometimes, I must admit, I envy them.)
That said, in this field, there is probably a greater percentage of empathic and energetically sensitive people than in the general population. Our sensitivity is the source of the gifts we share with the world, and it can also make it challenging to live in the world, to be around other people (even those we love dearly), and to manage our energy in ways that allow us to live vibrant lives, rather than lives characterized by constant overwhelm and depletion. (For more information on empathic sensitivity, see Dr. Judith Orloff’s excellent article: Are You an Emotional Empath?)
Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about working with my own energetic and empathic sensitivity, and how to take care of myself. I also teach a lot about this topic in my mentoring programs and classes, and have included it in my online class, Ethics and Energetic Boundaries. In this series of posts, I’ll share some simple and important tips that are helpful for me, with the hope that they may be helpful for others, as well.
I know that I have a short leash with my self-care. If I don’t stay awake with it, I fall apart pretty quickly. I’ve learned over the years which practices are the most important for me, and I do my best to give them priority in my life.
Here are some tools that I use in my daily life that are really helpful in taking care of my sensitivity.
3 Daily-Life Tools for Empaths:
1. Limit exposure to media, and limit the use of tech devices.
I haven’t owned a TV since 2006, and dumping the TV was one of the best things I ever did. I limit my exposure to print, radio, social, and television media, especially and most importantly, news media.
I’ve taken all news apps off of my phone and tablet; I no longer see news on my browsers on my laptop, and in general, I take a “need to know” attitude toward the news information in the world. Ironically, this applies to both “bad” news and “good” news. I can feel just as overwhelmed by the latest “feel good” story as the painful, sad ones…in terms of riding the waves of collective energy, it functions the same in my nervous system.
I read books, watch a very, very small number of streaming movies and shows on my laptop, and rarely go out to movies unless it’s something really special. This is what works for me and my energy.
I’m super selective about what I allow in. Violent books, movies and shows are out, mediocre quality anything is out, and anything that doesn’t feel good to me at the time is out. This saves my energy for the things that are really important to me.
With regard to social media, it’s a little trickier, because I use social media for both my work and for keeping in touch with people close to me. It’s hard to find a balance, and it’s something I am always tweaking. I block or delete any posts or person that publishes disturbing images such as abused or neglected animals. In my opinion, even if well-meaning, these kinds of posts don’t do anything to help ease the suffering in the world, and do a lot to hurt sensitive people who could potentially be in a position to help. I turn them off, and keep them off. I also delete, block, or ignore anything that depletes my energy in any way.
My guiding questions for media are:
1. How much of the world can I take in? (right now, in this moment, and in my life in general)
2. Does this add value to my life?
If I can’t take it in, or it doesn’t add value, it goes. Simple.
I’m sensitive to the EMF’s of most of the devices that I use in my daily life: computer, smartphone, iPad. I’ve learned that I need to limit my exposure and time with my tech “stuff.”
On my recent retreat/sabbatical, I had no contact with technology or media, with the exception of my phone for conversations with those people who are closest to me, for 3 weeks. I didn’t check email, Facebook, my website, my online accounts, or the news. I turned everything off, and spent time with other people, my animals, and in the natural world. And do you know what happened?
Really. Nothing at all. The world went on, my business went on, my relationships continued, nothing changed.
Well, nothing, except that I was more balanced, less stressed, more present, and more engaged, more embodied, more connected.
The constant demand for attention and multitasking required by our devices is detrimental to us, and there is the science and research to prove it.
Unplug, read books, listen to music, or better yet, play it yourself…your nervous system will thank you for it.
2. Uni-task, rather than multi-task.
I’ve had well-meaning people tell me,
You just need to get better at multi-tasking.
Uh, no. Multi-tasking depletes me almost as fast as too much tech and media does.
I’m a big fan of uni-tasking–doing one thing at a time, with complete presence and focus.
I can’t, for example, listen to music and have a conversation at the same time. I track the energy of both, and it’s too confusing and overstimulating for me.
Even if I’m doing something “mundane” like cleaning my house, I prefer to do it with focus, presence, and attention. I don’t like to talk on the phone while I eat, or listen to a podcast while I’m folding my laundry…same principle. One thing at a time.
If you pay attention to the animal world, you’ll notice that animals don’t multi-task. Think about it. When your dog chews a bone, she chews a bone. She doesn’t try to chase the mail carrier or the cat at the same time. 🙂
3. Listen to our own bodies, energy, and being.
I tune into myself several times a day and check in with my energy, how I’m feeling, and what I need to do to take care of myself. I’ve learned how to be conscious of my own energy, and to adapt accordingly.
There are days when I can’t be in crowds, I can’t shop, I can’t go into the world. Sometimes this is inconvenient. I’ve learned to let that be okay, and to make allowances for it, by doing things like shopping online, buying in bulk, and avoiding big box stores like the plague.
I live in a tourist area, and so I usually don’t go to town on the weekends. It’s just too much energy for me, and it exhausts me. So I use my weekends for quiet time alone or with those close to me, and I do the “in the world” stuff during the week.
I live in a quiet, rural neighborhood, where the loudest noises are generally the donkeys across the street. This works for me. Not all sensitive people have the freedom to move to the country, but no matter where you live, do your best to create a quiet, nurturing environment for yourself that supports your energy system.
What I need varies depending on the day and what’s happening in my world. I’ve learned to “make hay while the sun shines.” If I have energy for work, I work. If I need to rest or meditate or do more yoga, I do that. If I need to be outdoors, I do that. Each day is different, and my needs are different. Listening, tuning in, and responding on a regular basis prevents the build-up of stress and overwhelm that can do me in.
I don’t do this perfectly. Lots of times I don’t give myself what is needed, but I pay for it. And then it’s a bit of a game of catch up. But I’ve learned over the years to be proactive, and for the most part, it works.
In our culture, energetically sensitive people are often told to just “toughen up.” Clearly, if this worked, we would have done it already. Learning how to take care of ourselves is a game-changer, allowing us to be in the world without shutting down our sensitivity, our gifts, and our essential nature.
In the next post in this series, I’ll talk about some of the physical and spiritual practices that I use to stay balanced. Tools for Emapaths: Part 2.
Also, feel free to check out Dr. Judith Orloff’s course, The Empath’s Survival Guide Online Course: Life Strategies for Sensitive People. A Special Invitation for Highly Empathic & Sensitive People from Judith Orloff, MD. In this course, you’ll learn potent methods for dealing with the unique challenges of empaths — and enhance your life in many key areas. Get more info here.