How To Control (But NOT Stop) Being An Empath: 16 Tips

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Empaths can gain a lot from speaking to an accredited and experienced therapist to help them handle the emotional load they carry. Simply click here to connect with one via BetterHelp.com.

Being an empathic person can be exhausting on so many levels.

But you know this already or else you wouldn’t be reading this article.

When you’re able to not just pick up on the emotions of those around you, but also feel what they’re feeling as though you’re going through these things yourself, you can end up being overwhelmed.

Furthermore, you may end up feeling brittle and resentful. This can lessen your desire to spend time with others, or even venture into public places in case you end up feeling awful again.

Some people counteract this by numbing out and shutting down completely, but this isn’t an ideal option. Shutting down like this means rendering yourself unable to feel anything at all – including love and joy – and that’s an awful thing to experience.

What we’re going to focus on in this article isn’t how to stop being an empath entirely. That would be like shutting down an integral part of who you are. Instead, we’re going to focus on how to reduce the impact that other people’s emotions have on you so you’re not overwhelmed by what feels like an emotional hailstorm from all directions. This will involve learning how to create shields and boundaries, as well as how to release emotions that aren’t yours.

What does it mean to be an empath?

The term “empath” gets used a lot these days, but many don’t necessarily use it correctly. Any person can be empathic with regard to what other people are going through, but that’s different from being AN empath.

First and foremost, let’s take a look at the different ways that empathy can manifest.

Cognitive empathy means that you can theoretically understand where another person is coming from even if you haven’t experienced such things firsthand. For instance, someone might understand that their partner is feeling physical pain from a broken limb, even if they’ve never broken a bone themselves.

Similarly, affective empathy means that a person can understand what someone else is experiencing, can sympathize with them, but can also end up feeling what they’re feeling emotionally. As an example, when someone finds out that a friend’s parent or partner has died, they might be overwhelmed with grief and feel that loss as if it were their own. They’ll want to help alleviate their friend’s suffering, but will need to have their own emotions tended to as well.

Finally there’s somatic empathy, in which a person might physically manifest symptoms due to what another is feeling. This is common in children who live in dysfunctional families: they’re so hypervigilant about what their parents are feeling that they can sense things physically, thus clueing them into when they need to make themselves scarce to avoid abuse. Alternatively, this can also manifest in one partner feeling another’s labor pains in pregnancy, or people physically sensing – and experiencing – another’s injury or illness.

Empathy VS Emotional Contagion

As mentioned, most people can (and will) experience different types of empathy at some point in their lives. In contrast, a person who’s known as an empath will feel all of them by default. This is beyond their control and can be quite overwhelming to them, especially in public spaces.

For example, a walk through a busy shopping mall can end up in total emotional and psychic overwhelm. They’ll sense the feelings of hundreds – even thousands – of people swirling around them, to the point where they can’t think straight. They’ll feel other people’s anger, irritation, anxiety, excitement, etc. all at once, as though they’re caught in an emotional hurricane.

This is the difference between conscious empathy and emotional contagion. It’s rather like the difference between making soup and tea for someone who’s feeling ill because you feel for their suffering, and catching whatever lurgy they’re battling so you’re coughing and sneezing along with them.

One of these is beneficial, while the other one makes everyone sick and miserable.

Learning How To Control Your Empathic Abilities

Below are some of the best ways you can control your empathy for the sake of your own emotional health and wellbeing.

1. Spend time alone.

While there are many techniques you can use to control being an empath, the most important one depends on spending time in solitude. This is because you won’t be able to learn how to discern between your own emotions and those belonging to other people unless you have a solid idea of who you are.

When you spend time by yourself, you can clearly determine how you feel about different things and situations. This might be difficult to work through, especially if your feelings have been influenced by others over a long period of time.

So, take a block of time in which you’re completely alone for a while. Then use that time to think about various things that are going on in your life. Try to choose things that normally trigger an emotional response for you.

Learn to recognize how these emotions manifest in your body so they become familiar to you. If you feel anxiety, does it make your stomach tighten and your hands tingle? When you’re sad, does your throat constrict? Take note of these responses, even if that means writing about them in a journal.

This way, if and when emotions manifest differently than they normally do, you can recognize that they aren’t your feelings. They’re other people’s.

Once you’ve determined that, you can work on learning how to block out these other emotions as needed.

2. Shields to maximum!

One of the most important skills to learn for any empath is how to shield yourself energetically. This might sound like so much woo-woo, but it isn’t.

Our bodies are basically electromagnetic fields that send energy throughout every cell. Furthermore, that field extends beyond the skin and can be measured scientifically [1]. This is one of the reasons why we can sense when someone else is upset, or if someone is giving off “creepy” vibes.

Other people’s energy can interfere with and even overwhelm yours, which is why it’s important to create barriers against them. How you choose to envision or manifest this kind of barrier is up to you. Some people like to create a shimmering bubble around themselves that energy will bounce off.

Meanwhile, others will use a protective effect similar to electrons orbiting a nucleus. They’ll have orbs spinning around themselves that will reflect or bounce back anything that comes close to them.

Put these fields up when you know you’ll be in a high-energy situation that’s threatening to overwhelm you, or when you find yourself feeling smothered or otherwise affected by someone else’s emotions. It’ll create a tangible-feeling barrier between you and the onslaught, and you should be able to feel a noticeable dampening effect.

3. Use accessories and tools to help you.

If you’re a naturally empathic person, chances are that you pick up on things via auditory and visual stimuli, not just waves of emotion.

Whether you’re having difficulty with energetic shielding, or you just need a bit of extra help creating a buffer zone to avoid being overwhelmed, certain personal accessories and tools might be incredibly helpful.

For example, I use earplugs every time I go shopping, or if I have to be in a busy public place for a long period of time. The ones I use don’t block out sound completely, but instead just dampen the peripheral noise so I’m not overwhelmed from all sides. I can still hold a conversation with someone, but all other peripheral sounds are muffled.

Other people find that wearing certain clothing items or jewellery can help them manage their exposure to other people’s energy. Sunglasses, corsets and vests, wraps, hats, and pendants all have the potential to make you feel calmer, or dampen sounds, images, and emotions that you don’t want to be exposed to.

4. Focus on your own boat.

If you’ve ever been on a boat, you’ll know that you have to move with the boat so you don’t fall over. It’s difficult at first, as you need to keep all your concentration focused on the boat’s movement, and how to work with its lurches rather than against them. You might lose track of what others are saying to you because your attention is fixed on finding your balance.

It doesn’t take long, however, until these movements become second nature to you. Then you’ll be able to easily navigate your way from stem to stern, with drink in hand, while holding conversations.

When you’re first learning how to control your empathic abilities, it’ll feel a lot like you’re just starting to find your “sea legs.” It takes concentration and effort to keep your focus on your own energy, and to maintain the protective bubble. You may get headaches or shoulder and neck tension, and you may also find that you need to either take naps or get more sleep at night.

Be gentle with yourself when this happens and don’t feel guilty about needing to rest and rejuvenate. This is no different from learning a new type of exercise routine like running or circuit training. It’s going to exhaust you more than energizing you at first. But before you know it, the routine will feel like second nature, and you’ll find much more joy in it than frustration.

5. Practice selective detachment.

When was the last time you went to a buffet? When you were there, did you eat a bit of absolutely everything that was on offer? Or did you pick and choose from the various dishes? It’s likely that you ate some things that you knew you already loved, and also tried out a few dishes that were new or interesting to you. But you didn’t eat all of them. In fact, you likely steered clear of some of the items that didn’t appeal to you, or that you knew would make you ill.

Learn how to practice this same type of discernment with emotions. Just because they’re on offer and have the potential to be felt doesn’t mean that you need to taste them yourself.

The way you do this is by deciding to say “no” and stepping away from energy that you don’t want to experience. If you’re being bombarded by an unwanted type of energy, make the conscious effort to reject it and step away from it. You can even envision yourself holding up a shield between you and the source to protect you from it.

Alternatively, you can say “this energy is not for me,” and refuse to absorb or even acknowledge it.

Taking action like this isn’t being selfish, nor does it mean that you don’t care about other people. Instead, it’s a form of protective self-care that will allow you to be more functional in future. This will allow you to stay strong and keep your own energy well filled so that you can be helpful to those you care about.

6. Create (and maintain) strong boundaries.

This goes along with the previous tip about knowing how to offer support without throwing yourself into the situation firsthand. Basically, it involves offering support without getting personally involved.

It’s an empath’s nature to want to help and heal others, even when one’s own well is dusty and echoing. So it’s important to be aware of your own patterns, as well as determining when and how you end up feeling empathically overwhelmed.

This is where you take a look at your interactions with others, how those interactions make you feel, and how you can have healthier ones moving forward.

Do you have friends or relatives who continually turn to you for help with their problems? Okay, take a look at the dynamic that occurs when this happens.

  • When they reach out to you, is your immediate response to offer help?
  • Did they even ask you for help? Or did they just want to vent their frustrations to anyone who’s willing to listen?
  • Furthermore, if you do offer them help, do they ever take it? Or are they comfortable spinning around in the rut they’ve created for themselves?

The answers to these questions will help you determine how much time you want to spend with these people, and how much of your own energy you’re willing to pour into them.

Also important is learning how to say “no” when you don’t want to get involved, or when you don’t have the energetic bandwidth to share. You’ll undoubtedly get grief for doing so, especially if people have gotten used to having you as their confidant and energy booster on a regular basis.

I had a friend who would call me at all hours of the day or night because she “needed my energy.” And it got to a point where I would feel my life force dip every time I saw her number on my phone. Finally, I had to tell her that I needed space because I felt that our friendship was one-sided.

Although she sent a particularly scathing and resentful email, she respected that and kept her space, and it was a huge relief to not have to deal with her constant drama all the time.

Many empaths are confrontation avoidant and prefer to sacrifice their own happiness and wellbeing for other people’s sake. Create healthy boundaries and protect them fiercely, and you may be surprised to see how much better and more energized you feel

7. Recognize that it’s not your responsibility to heal or fix anyone/everyone else.

If and when you find yourself taking on other people’s emotions as if they were your own, take some time to examine why it’s happening, and what your choices are as far as involvement goes.

  • Do you feel obligated to take on their emotional burden out of a sense of responsibility?
  • If your love language is “service to others,” is doing this a way that you feel useful and appreciated?
  • Are you sure that they’re asking for help rather than trying to express what they’re feeling?
  • If you offer help, is it because you sincerely feel that they need assistance? Or because it makes you feel good to help other people?

It’s possible that you’re feeling overwhelmed and drained by other people’s energy because you’re getting involved in situations and burdens that aren’t yours.

Most empaths are incredibly caring individuals who want to help others as much as possible. This is why so many empaths end up in healthcare, charity, animal rescues, and other outreach work. Since they can feel the suffering of others so deeply, they want to help however they can.

The problem with this is that there’s always more to do, and suffering in inevitable.

It’s wonderful if you have the ability to help others, and if you have the inclination to do so. But in many cases, “saving” other people from experiencing difficulty actually does them a grave disservice.

We learn from our hardships and grow exponentially from our experiences with them. After all, it’s only by learning how to deal with them that we develop essential coping skills. By taking on others’ difficulties and modulating their emotions for them, you’re keeping them from growing into the people they’re capable of becoming.

Offer sympathy and encouragement from afar if you want to, but let them feel their feels on their own. On a similar note…

We really do recommend that you seek professional help from one of the therapists at BetterHelp.com as professional therapy can be highly effective in helping empaths to control their abilities and tame even the most difficult emotional overload they might experience.

8. Don’t feel the need to emote when you’re not actually feeling it.

One of the things that exhausts empaths the most is performance for other people’s benefit.

Much like neurodivergent people, empaths often have to learn how to show various types of emotion when others expect it from them. For example, if someone is feeling down, you might feel obligated to play jester in order to lift their spirits. Or someone who’s telling you bad news might watch your face intently to ensure that your facial expressions show sufficient sadness on their behalf.

Trying to anticipate what other people expect of you, while feeling your own emotions, and trying to keep theirs from overwhelming you, can be absolutely exhausting.

Instead of feeling the need to perform, practice saying phrases that offer support and understanding without personal involvement. For example:

  • That must be incredibly difficult to deal with right now
  • I’m sorry you’re going through such difficulty
  • This sounds like a challenging situation, but I know you’ll get through it with grace
  • I appreciate you trusting me enough to share this with me

All of these express sympathetic emotion without you feeling that you need to be a performing seal. By doing this, you can keep your shields up and your own emotions guarded, while still letting others know that you care about them and support them as a friend.

9. Choose a mantra or action to ground and refocus your energy.

If you’ve learned how to discern between your own emotions and those of others, you’ll start to recognize when you’re in the early throes of being overwhelmed.

Consider creating a mantra or physical gesture you can do to bring you back to center when you find that other people’s energy is getting to be too much for you. This can be something discreet that you do when in a crowd, or a phrase you repeat mentally when you can retreat to a quieter location.

Some people like to wear an item of jewellery that they can hold or toy with. Others choose acupressure points around the hand or wrist that they can press into in order to ease anxiety and tension.

10. Release excess emotions (especially when they aren’t your own).

When you’re feeling stressed or otherwise overwhelmed, what technique do you use to work those emotions out of your body? Different methods work for different people, depending on their personal preferences, ablebodiedness, etc.

For example, go for a run or do yoga to physically move excess emotion out of your body. As you move, try to literally push that emotional energy out of your body, into the earth. Alternatively, you can use baths to help you release these emotions. See the energy moving out of your body and into the water, and then watch it swirl down the drain, taking the excess away and out of sight.

Other options for letting go of these emotions can include journalling, writing letters and then burning them, singing, or even screaming into a pillow. Just find a way to let go of them so they don’t back up inside you.

11. Create a calm sanctuary to retreat to.

When you’re feeling empathically overwhelmed, the spaces you’ll find yourself in will have different effects on you. You’ve undoubtedly found yourself feeling dizzy or claustrophobic in some environments, while others inspire a great sense of calm and peace.

If there’s a room in your house that you like to retreat to in order to replenish yourself, make it as calm and peaceful as possible.

Try to make it an electronic device-free zone: no TVs, no tablets, and leave your cellphone in another room. Choose a wall color that’s a soft, neutral earth tone rather than anything too dark or garish. For example, try sage green or sand instead of crimson or sunshine yellow. Also aim for natural fabrics such as linen, silk, cotton, and wool.

Bring in candles for gentle light, and get some potted plants to help clean the air. If you like scents, choose some that help you relax. Some people find lavender or eucalyptus soothing, while others prefer sandalwood or oceanic scents.

12. Choose your company wisely.

You’ve likely noticed that some of the people you spend time with deplete you more than others. They might have a number of hardships in their lives that they perpetually need help with. Or their lives are always filled with drama that they want to discuss and chew on with you.

Take note of the people in your life who drain you versus those who replenish your energy when you spend time with them.

In fact, make a list of everyone you know right now. Then rate them on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being not draining at all (or even replenishing as far as energy goes), and 5 being utterly exhausting to contend with.

Once you’ve done that, determine why you continue to spend time with these people. Then figure out how to reduce your exposure to them.

13. Take regular breaks.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with excusing yourself from a situation that makes you uncomfortable.

You may have felt guilty or ashamed in the past if and when you’ve had to excuse yourself from an event that overwhelmed you. In fact, you may have even received negative feedback from others when you’ve needed some alone time to reset.

Well, consider this your official permission slip to take a break any time you need to. You’re under no obligation to stick around and perform for other people’s benefit, nor be a sponge or dampening field for their dramas.

Taking care of yourself is priority #1. Those who truly care about you will be understanding and supportive when you need to withdraw and regroup. In contrast, those who are unsupportive or who guilt-trip you are showing you their true colors.

14. Practice activating and shutting down your abilities in a controlled environment.

Or in other words, create a “safe space” in which you can turn your empathy on and off. If you have a good friend or a trusted partner who can help you with this, that’s ideal.

It’s a similar technique to the one we mentioned earlier, in which you practice feeling different emotions in order to determine what each one feels like. Only this time, you’re learning how to deal with other people’s emotions: how they affect you both emotionally and physically, and how you respond to them.

By doing this, you can practice blocking these emotions out.

See this rather like sparring when you’re learning to fight. You’re practicing with an opponent whom you trust, so there’s no danger. By doing this now, you’re getting your defensive moves down so they’re second nature. This way, when you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation, you’ll know exactly what to do.

15. Spend more time in nature.

Do you live near a lake or ocean? Or somewhere close to a forest? If you’re in an urban environment, is there a large park you can visit where you won’t hear traffic and other man-made sounds for a while?

Natural sounds, sights, and scents are far more healing and less oppressive than those created by humans. Better yet, it’s unlikely that you’ll be thrown into empathic overwhelm mode by a nearby oak tree or passing newt.

Nobody will make any demands of you, nor will you be forced to hear or feel any emotions that aren’t your own. Lie down on the earth and feel its solidity beneath you. Watch clouds pass by, observe the leaves trembling overhead. Listen to the wind, or waves crashing against the shore. Be utterly present and let everything else just fall away for a while.

16. Take care of your health.

Last but not least, make sure that you take proper care of your health.

You’ll be much better equipped to deal with anything life throws at you if you’re well rested and well nourished, and that includes empathic overwhelm.

Try to eat regularly and get to sleep on a proper schedule whenever possible. Get whatever exercise you’re capable of doing, and enjoy sunshine and fresh air on a regular basis. You may be pleasantly surprised to discover how much stronger and more grounded you feel when you have a solid foundation to build upon.

Still not sure how to control your empath abilities? Talking to someone can really help you to handle whatever life throws at you. It’s a great way to get your thoughts and your worries out of your head so you can work through them.

We really recommend you speak to a therapist rather than a friend or family member. Why? Because they are trained to help people in situations like yours. They can help you to manage your emotions and the situations you may face in life that trigger your empath nature.

A good place to get professional help is the website BetterHelp.com – here, you’ll be able to connect with a therapist via phone, video, or instant message.

While you may try to work through this yourself, it may be a bigger issue than self-help can address. And if it is affecting your mental well-being, relationships, or life in general, it is a significant thing that needs to be resolved.

Too many people try to muddle through and do their best to overcome issues that they never really get to grips with. If it’s at all possible in your circumstances, therapy is 100% the best way forward.

Click here if you’d like to learn more about the service BetterHelp.com provide and the process of getting started.

You’ve already taken the first step just by searching for and reading this article. The worst thing you can do right now is nothing. The best thing is to speak to a therapist. The next best thing is to implement everything you’ve learned in this article by yourself. The choice is yours.

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References:

  1. Kafatos, M. C., Chevalier, G., Chopra, D., Hubacher, J., Kak, S., & Theise, N. D. (2015). Biofield Science: Current Physics Perspectives. Global advances in health and medicine, 4(Suppl), 25–34. https://doi.org/10.7453/gahmj.2015.011.suppl

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About Author

Catherine Winter is a writer, art director, and herbalist based in Quebec's Outaouais region. She has been known to subsist on coffee and soup for days at a time, and when she isn't writing or tending her garden, she can be found wrestling with various knitting projects and befriending local wildlife.