Amanda's greatest passion is encouraging people as they walk the path to inner healing and self-awareness.
Being an empath can leave you feeling totally overwhelmed and living like a hermit. But it can also make you a great counselor as your empathic ability allows you to reach people on a much deeper level. If you learn to manage yourself, you can use your empathic traits to help others. This article will address how an empath can turn their abilities—which sometimes feel like a burden—into assets that can help them change people's lives.
Protect the Privacy and Confidentiality of Others
As empaths, we are constantly privy to private information about people. We just see things—we can’t help it. Often times, it is stuff the person was not intending for us to see. We have a responsibility to respect the person’s privacy and keep what we know confidential. If we do enter into a conversation with the person, it is important to keep that information confidential as well. As empaths, we are very sensitive and careful to do no harm, but we can unintentionally harm others by sharing what we know. It is also important to realize that we may see things in someone that they are unaware of and not ready to deal with. We must be careful not to push them beyond what they can handle at the moment. This is especially important in relationships we wish to maintain, such as friends, family, and acquaintances.
Prepare to Be Treated Like a Counselor
Understanding confidentiality and being a trustworthy confidant is important. As an empath, you are likely to be treated like a counselor whether you choose to be or not. People are drawn to you magnetically and tend to tell you their problems. Even if you live like a hermit most of the time, they'll find you, as you will see in my stories from the grocery store and on airplanes. You can’t hide forever. It is helpful to develop some counseling skills so that you are better prepared when people unload on you.
Example of Being an Empath on a Plane
One of the reasons I hate flying is because I always seem to sit next to someone who needs help. There is nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, and it is hard to gain any physical space from people sitting next to you on a plane. I’ve learned rather than try to ignore them, it is better to just jump in and deal with their problem as quickly as possible so that there is peace during the rest of the flight. On one occasion, I was flying with my young daughter. She had the window seat and I was in the middle. I watched the people coming down the aisle, hoping a nice older lady would sit by me and make my flight pleasant. Instead, a rough looking young man with long hair made eye contact with me and headed straight for the empty seat next to me. I was flying out of Denver and this man had obviously taken advantage of Colorado’s new law legalizing marijuana. He was stoned. He was drunk. He stunk. He was agitated because he had been pulled over for drunk driving on his way to the airport. He had a loud mouth that frequently spewed profanities. My little daughter was terrified. Well… what was I to do? Time to dive in and get to work.
As fate would have it, this young man happened to have grown up near my home town on the other side of the country. It was no accident that he sat by me. I talked to him about our shared knowledge of the area and learned that he was headed back there to visit his grandmother. Talking about his grandmother calmed him down some and he began to apologize for his appearance and poor language. By the time we got into the air, he decided to sleep off his drunkenness and was quiet for most of the rest of the flight, until we were landing and he started yelling, “crash, crash!” I informed him that I had no desire to die that day and to please think of my daughter. Man, I hate flying!
Be Aware of How Encounters Will Affect You
Having the capacity to feel exactly what someone else feels can be great for helping them. But if you are not careful, you can become too intertwined with them and will need to surgically extract yourself from them after the encounter. On one occasion, I had an impromptu and unexpected counseling session with someone who was feeling great pain. I sat with her for two hours and helped her to be okay with her feelings. The next day, I felt incredibly drained and noticed that I had picked up her speech patterns and walking gait. In other words, I was literally walking and talking like her. We have to be careful not to become the person we are helping.
Another problem is that in helping others, we may develop a bond to them and remain tied to them for years after our encounter with them. It is important to recognize these bonds and break them so that we free ourselves and the other person. If you find yourself dreaming about a person you helped once, or notice that you are still feeling their emotions, you may have a bond that needs breaking. Sometimes bonds stay in place because you have business with that person that is unresolved, perhaps you will meet again in the future. So, inquire of yourself whether this is a bond that needs to be maintained for some reason, or if it is one that you should break. In breaking that bond, bring the person to mind and wish them well. Then make a point to disconnect from them, as if you are ending a phone call. You may leave it open, for them to “call you back” in the future if they need you, but for now, you are done sharing their burdens.
You may also want to "call back" parts of yourself that you inadvertantly gave away to other people. Often, when we have deeply felt another's pain, we leave a piece of our heart with them. Or maybe we gave them some of our strength, to help support them when they were struggling. We have lost pieces of ourselves along the way. Eventually we begin to feel drained, lost, weak or broken. We can make a simple request, calling all of our missing parts home, and begin to feel whole again.
Know Yourself From Others
If you have really strong empathic abilities, you might find it hard to know the difference between your own emotions and the emotions of others. For 99.2% of my life up til now, I was constantly feeling the emotions of others and thinking they were my own. I had no clue who I really was or how I was feeling. Since the emotions felt like my own, my mind created reasons for why I was feeling that way and I just accepted it. That is a very frustrating way to live. If that is you, I have two keys to give you that will help you know what is yours and what is not.
First, get to know yourself. In a quiet moment when you are feeling relatively clear, try asking yourself who you are and really pay attention to what that feels like. This is you. Hang onto that feeling and revisit it often. This will help you be more grounded in yourself. If there is a memory associated with this feeling of yourself, find a way to bring that memory back often. If you associate any physical thing with the memory, have it in front of you. If it is a smell, see if you can reproduce that smell in your environment. If there is a piece of jewelry, wear it to remind you of who you are. If there is a place, take a photograph or paint a picture of it and hang it where you will see it often to remind you of you. When you know how you feel, you can recognize what isn’t you when it creeps in.
Second, if you feel gripped by a strong emotion and you cannot get it to release, it might not be yours. I recently found myself having a full fledged panic attack. The anxiety was rising in waves and when they peaked, I felt that I could not breathe and might pass out. I tried everything I knew to help release the anxiety. My mind came up with reasons why I might be feeling anxious and I tried working with my emotions to let go. But nothing worked. I needed to get over the panic attack quickly because I was meeting with a lady who would be arriving any minute. I started to wonder what I would say to the lady, a stranger to me, if I was still gripped by panic when she arrived and decided that honesty was the best answer. I would simply tell her that I was struggling with anxiety. As I imagined how she might react, it occurred to me that she was probably feeling very anxious herself. She had lost her job due to the global pandemic of 2020, lost her home and was living out of her car. It suddenly hit me that perhaps this anxiety I was feeling was not my own, but hers. As soon as I had this realization, the anxiety lifted and I felt fine! So, if you are feeling stuck in an emotion and can’t move it, perhaps it isn’t your emotion. You can’t move it in yourself if it isn’t yours. This is a great tool for identifying what is yours and what isn’t.
Two Greatest Things You Can Do
The two greatest things you can do for people are:
- Help them accept their feelings.
- Bring their emotional chaos back to neutral.
You do this by remaining calm and neutral yourself. That can be very difficult for an empath. We are more likely to get swept up in feeling the other person’s chaos. But if we can remain calm and totally accept the other person as they are, we can be a soothing balm to them. We can totally change their energy, and that is pretty cool!
I was on a plane again (not my favorite place, right?), sitting in the window seat. The middle seat next to me was empty and I was hoping to keep it that way. But at that time, airlines seemed intent on packing people in like sardines! As the final people boarded the plane, one man was left trying to find space in the overhead bins for his carry-on. The flight attendant up front sent him to the back, and the one in the back sent him to the front. Over the speaker, another attendant hustled people to hurry and find seats so that we might have an on-time departure. The man became very agitated and eventually clambered into the seat next to me. He was very angry after being yelled at and bounced like a ping-pong ball between flight attendants. Who wouldn’t be upset?
He sat down next to me, ranting about what had just transpired. I offered him a mint. He stopped temporarily, confused for a second, and said, “no.” Then he continued ranting. But something had changed. He was starting to calm down. He began to apologize for his behavior and said that he is not usually like this. After a pause he said, “maybe I will have a mint.” What was important here was that I kept my cool the whole time. I did not fault him for his actions. I listened and allowed him to feel what he felt without judgment. I kept my own emotional energy stable and calm and allowed it to envelop this man. He calmed down too and we enjoyed a nice conversation for the rest of the flight. We showed each other pictures of our children and he opened up and told me about his divorce and how it effected him emotionally. I learned things from that man that I will never forget. Things I have applied to my own life.
Transformation at the Grocery Store
Another time, I was in the check-out line at the grocery store. An older man stood in front of me. Suddenly, he turned to me and started complaining about a child in another check-out line. He was upset that the parents had brought the child out in the cold without a jacket or shoes. Then he went on to gripe about the cashier, who was having some sort of problem with the register. The man was loud and drawing uncomfortable looks from the cashier, bag boy and other customers. The situation was not good. So, I took a deep breath and got to work.
I asked the man a question to get his mind off of his griping and onto something more positive. I don’t remember what it was, but it started a friendly conversation wherein the man learned that I lived not too far from him out in the country. He suddenly smiled and said, “well hello neighbor!” Now, we were friends. We talked about his children and grandchildren. Then he asked where my children went to school. I took a deep breath. My children are homeschooled and I have learned that people are either really for homeschooling or really against it. There is no middle ground. I was nervous about how this man would react to my answer. Fortunately, he was in the pro-homeschool camp, or at least not opposed to it.
By the time the cashier had fixed her issue and the line in front of the man cleared, he was so engrossed in our friendly chit-chat that he didn’t even notice that it was his turn at the register. Once the cashier got his attention, he happily went to the register and complimented the cashier. He left smiling and laughing, wishing everyone a good day. It was akin to the transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, but it happened in the course of five or ten minutes in front of everyone. My favorite part was the shocked look on the bag boy’s face as the man left. His mouth was agape as he looked at me, searching for answers as to what he had just witnessed.
Empath: Overwhelming Drag or Great Privilege?
As an empath, I feel overwhelmed and fatigued much of the time. I want to be able to fly in peace or finish my grocery shopping with as little human contact as possible. But, when I have an encounter with someone and help to lighten their mood or release their burdens, I feel that being and emapth is a great privilege. Being an empath can be an overwhelming drag. But when you use the tools this ability affords, you can change the energy of a whole room. Better for you, better for the people around you. In the end, you may have some pretty neat stories to tell.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Amanda Buck
Amanda Buck (author) from Rural South Central Indiana on October 23, 2019:
Hi Louise, I still find many things about myself a mystery. But it helps, as you say, to know that I'm not mentally ill and that there are others who have similar experiences. Thanks for reading!
Louise Elcross from Preston on October 23, 2019:
Hi Amanda. Well done on another great article. As an empath, I too struggle with being drained and fatigued. I did person centred counselling training after my mental health degree simply to understand why I was so empathic and I was grateful for the understanding I received from the training because for me the training was life changing. I mainly keep myself to myself now. I feel at best and at peace when I am in nature or with animals. Thanks for sharing.