Empaths have nervous systems that are hypersensitive to external stimuli, including the emotions of others. This makes them susceptible to overwhelm and other forms of distress like depression and anxiety.
If you’re an empath, it’s helpful to gain a deep understanding of what it means to be an empath and how it affects your energy. Doing so will empower you to embrace your authentic nature and make aligned choices for your well-being.
First, let’s clarify the difference between having empathy and being an empath.
Having empathy means caring
Empathy is the ability to recognize and have concern about the emotions of others. This skill of being able to “stand in someone else’s shoes,” generates caring, connection, and collaboration.
For example, you’re standing in the checkout line at the grocery store, and you notice that the young mother behind you is trying to juggle the shopping while caring for a fussy infant. You exercise empathy towards her by pausing a moment and imagining what it must be like to be her. As a result of “putting yourself in her shoes,” you’re inspired to invite her to skip ahead of you in line, and you help unload her grocery cart at the register.
While some people come to it more naturally than others, empathy is a faculty that most people can cultivate within themselves with focus and intention.
Being an empath means feeling
Empaths, on the other hand, not only care about the feelings of others, but also feel the physical sensations and emotions of others in their being. If you’re an empath, then you experience the feelings of others as if they were your own.
Imagine for a moment stepping onto an empty elevator. You’re at the lobby level and heading to the 34th floor. On the way up, the elevator stops at the 5th floor and a stranger steps in. Right away, as the stranger stands next to you, you feel an intense sense of overwhelm and confusion, as if a thick fog surrounds you. The elevator continues to the 12th floor, where the stranger gets off. As soon as the stranger leaves the elevator, the fog around you lifts along with the confusion and overwhelm.
Experiences like this are daily occurrences for empaths who absorb the physical sensations and emotions of others.
Empaths are also sensitive to other sensory input from the external world. Loud and dissonant noises, chaotic public spaces, pungent odors, and harsh lights can cause an empath to feel under assault. These are just a few of the characteristics that set empaths apart from other souls.
Of course, no two empaths are alike. Some empaths may be more sensitive to certain stimuli than others. Nonetheless, for the empath who is unaware, their hypersensitivity can be both mystifying and destabilizing.
Empaths are like radio receivers for energy
For a deeper appreciation of what it means to be an empath, it helps to consider what spiritual traditions have been telling us for millennia and what quantum physics now demonstrates, which is this: everything is, at its source, energy. That means you, me, the planet, the oceans, your coffee cup, and so on. Everything is energy at its source.
Each of us is surrounded by our own energy field (aura bubble), radiating our own unique energy signature or frequency. Emotion is energy too, and every emotion (e.g., anger, sadness, joy) has its own energy signature.
When you experience sadness, the energy signature or frequency of sadness can be detected in your energy field. Similarly, when a stranger on the elevator is in a state of overwhelm and confusion–as in our example above–they will radiate the frequencies of overwhelm and confusion.
Empaths are like radio receivers. They are so highly sensitive to energy that they (often unwittingly) tune into the emotional frequencies that others emit. Empaths resonate with and absorb the emotional frequencies of others.
Grounding clears and soothes your over-stimulated nervous system
If you’re an empath, you may feel that your extra-sensory abilities are a liability. You may feel as though your nervous system is continuously under assault from all of the external stimuli of our modern world. Absorbing the emotions of everyone you encounter is taxing to your system and can lead to all kinds of emotional and physical challenges.
One simple yet highly effective way for empaths to manage the onslaught of energy to their nervous systems is to have a grounding practice. Grounding helps you to connect to the earth and to feel rooted. When you ground, you release excess or unwanted energy into the earth for composting.
4 steps for grounding:
- Begin by sitting in a chair with your feet on the floor.
- Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Relax your body with each breath.
- Imagine a beam of light extending from your tailbone to the center of the earth. Allow this beam of light, or grounding cord, to attach to the center of the earth.
- Sit peacefully in this position for several minutes as you experience a release of excess energy down your grounding cord and into the center of the earth. (The earth will compost and transform the energy, just as it composts and transforms old decaying leaves into vital nutrients for new growth.)
The more you practice grounding, the more agency you’ll have in managing your empathic talent.
And, the more you understand what it means to be an empath and how it affects your energy, the more you’re able to embrace your true nature. As you do, not only will you learn to manage your sensitivities as an empath, but you’ll also discover the great superpowers like intuition and compassion that lie within you.