Every now and then, I like to read my horoscope. Whether its 4am and me and my girls are putting the world to rights, or I need some vague reassurance that I’m going in the right direction, a horoscope can be just the ticket. I don’t swear by it, I don’t obsess over it, but it gives me a buzz (or a reality check). I am, according to most definitions, a ‘typical Pisces‘, acting from intuition and sensitivity, as well as having my head in the clouds and being naturally disposed to melancholy. Empathy is another trait strongly associated with water signs, like Pisces. Astrology aside, empathy is a powerful but painful thing.
With the exception of psychopaths, we all have empathy to some degree. It’s the ability to sense and experience other people’s emotions. Some people claim to physically feel others’ pain. Being an empath means that it is a struggle to switch off from other people’s problems or hurt. Being with large groups of people can often be emotionally draining and exhausting. It’s common for highly empathetic people to also suffer with depression or anxiety. We’re not called Sensitive Souls for nothing.
Empaths especially need to have good self-care practices to help maintain healthy boundaries between themselves and others. Empathy helps to build deep bonds with other people, but it can also complicate relationships. Empaths also have the unfortunate tendency to be attracted to, or to fall into relationships with, narcissists. This can be particularly damaging as empaths are natural nurturers; narcissists will absorb this attention but rarely return the favour. Do yourself a favour and ditch Narcissus.
Here’s a quick 12-step plan for Empaths Anonymous:
- Home bird: Lots of empaths are quite introverted – if this applies to you, make sure you get time on your own to recuperate and focus on your own emotions.
- Not my stuff: Learn to separate your baggage with that of those around you. If your friend is very socially anxious, support them but do not take responsibility for them. Process your own stuff first.
- Big, bad world: Don’t let the big bad world get you down. We’re living in a scary, depressing world. Don’t forget that the personal is political. Small actions make real impacts on others’ lives and your own.
- Hang about: Surround yourself with a community of socially engaged, positive people. It will help you to understand your pain as well as lessen it.
- You may confer: Ask a (more or less) impartial friend/ relative to help you assess problems – they will be able to advise you on where to draw the boundaries.
- Hard lines: Be strict with people who tend to overstep the line or who don’t give anything back to you. It might be that they need to be unceremoniously deleted from your life or it could be that a gentle word will help the situation.
- And… release: Maybe you need a good cry to get it all out of your system. Maybe you need an endorphin hit. Maybe you need an orgasm.
- Suck it up: Absorb some positive energy instead. One positive of being an empath is that you can glory in other people’s joys, as well as struggle with their pain.
- New and used: Try something different to get a new perspective on things. Get recommendations or get back to something you miss doing.
- Hibernate: Take a sabbatical and hunker down for a while. Take some annual leave…
- Somewhere only we know: Pit-stop somewhere familiar or that feels safe and take regular breaks during the day. Safe could be a group chat that you check into, or a cafe that you spend your special moments in.
- Film fiend: Watch a movie marathon, remove yourself from the current/ real world.
Maybe the best advice is the most general: Be kind to yourself, whatever that looks like!