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Empaths and Mental Health

Many of my clients know that I consider myself to be an "Empath." And, I am fortunate enough to have many clients who are also empaths (but aren't familiar with the term or in tune with their gift). Since this topic has come up several times in the last week, I decided that it was time to shine some light on the subject. However, I assure you, this blog is much more difficult to write than my previous posts.

Being an empath is a beautiful gift; however, I didn't always feel this way. It took years to figure out that even though I am different than others, being different does not mean being weaker. As a mental health professional, it is a challenge to toe the line between being evidence-based in my approach to therapy and being viewed as a "quack" by talking about intuition, energy, and empathic abilities in the same sentence. As I write this, I can imagine some of my supervisors from graduate school cringing at the thought of discussing energy or spirituality with my clients. But, I have become more in tune with who I am as a professional and a person.

There are other professionals in the field who also have similar gifts and have gracefully bridged the two areas. Dr. Judith Orloff is a psychiatrist who specializes in treating empaths and highly sensitive people. Dr. Orloff is also an empath and has written number of wonderful books (Emotional Freedom, Positive Energy, and Guide to Intuitive Healing) at integrate her knowledge and experience in the medical field and her intuitive abilities.

What is an empath?

Some people refer to empaths as "highly sensitive people", but we are much more than that. Empaths are highly tuned in to the feelings of others and can even absorb the emotions or energy of others. We tend to feel overwhelmed and drained when we are around many people. Empaths often attract people who "dump" their problems into their space because they make people feel connected and heard. Empaths also have "gut" feelings and a strong intuitive ability (that can be scary for some who aren't sure what to make of if). Being an empath can also result in feeling depressed, anxious, or emotionally exhausted.

How do you know if you are an empath?

I have come across several amazing resources for people who are exploring empathic abilities. The books I enjoy the most are:

Before you judge the books by their "spiritual" or "awakened" titles, know that being an empath does not necessarily mean that everything will resonate with you. However, each of the books I listed have overlapping information about what it means to be an empath, as well as strategies for setting boundaries, protecting your energy, and learning how to be the best version of yourself.

The following "Empath Wellness Self-Assessment" from Awakened Empath (Luna & Sol, 2017) may help you discover if you are, indeed, an empath.

Answer the following questions with "Yes" or "No"

  1. Do you feel overwhelmed, anxious, dizzy, or sick when you walk into crowded places?

  2. Do you constantly feel responsible for other people's happiness?

  3. When you feel anxious, do you turn to food, shopping, alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, video games, TV, or other addictions to make you feel better?

  4. Do you struggle with chronic physical illnesses such as headaches, migraines, colds, flus, etc.?

  5. Do you feel fatigued for most of the day?

  6. Do you experience frequent insomnia?

  7. Do you have a lot of muscle tension in your neck, shoulders, and back?

  8. Do you experience a rollercoaster of emotions each day which interfere with your ability to be happy and content?

  9. Do you have dissatisfying, toxic, or abusive relationships in your life?

  10. Do you hoard things and surround yourself with clutter (as a way of insulating energy and creating a protective "wall")?

  11. Do you struggle to distinguish your emotions from others?

  12. Do you frequently feel "taken for granted" or "used" by other people?

  13. Do you feel anxious and/or depressed each day?

  14. Do you feel like the "emotional dumping ground" of other people?

  15. Do you feel like you're going crazy or like there's something fundamentally wrong about you?

If you answered mostly "yes" to each question, you are likely an empath who is struggling and needs support.

If you answered a balanced mixture of "yes" and "no", you are doing OK in some areas, but need help in others.

If you answered mostly "no" to each question, you are doing just fine!

As adults, we learn to drown out our emotions by doing one of three things: a) using substances (i.e., caffeine, drugs) to ignore our emotional needs, b) we develop mental health issues, such as depression or anxiety, as we try to try to mold ourselves into what everyone needs from us, or c) we suppress our emotions and appear "normal" to everyone else, only to discover that we have developed chronic health issues such as IBS, fibromyalgia, lower back pain, and weight issues (Luna & Sol, 2017).

When I see individuals in therapy, many of them were not allowed to be emotionally vulnerable because the people around them were emotionally immature and viewed emotions to be a "weakness". Empaths have an "emotional radar" and can pick up on the emotions of others. It can be tempting for empaths to try to "fix" others, which results in poor boundaries. I would have to say that setting boundaries are one of the top 3 core issues my clients struggle with. Many of their symptoms (i.e., anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, emotional/binge eating) stem from their struggle to set healthy boundaries with their loved ones.

Being an empath can be a beautiful gift; however, it may seem like the quickest way to emotional burnout if you don't have effective coping skills and aren't in tune with yourself. If you resonated with any of the issues above, I highly recommend checking out the resources I listed.

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