How to Use Your Empathic Ability to Help Others

Updated on November 13, 2019
Amanda Buck profile image

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. Or, it can make you a great counselor—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 you to change people's lives.

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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 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 them 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 yelled profanities. My little daughter was terrified. Well… what was I to do? Time to 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!

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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. I recently 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.

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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.

Two Greatest Things You Can Do

The two greatest things you can do for people are:

  1. Help them accept their feelings.
  2. 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 in this day and age, airlines seem 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 worked up 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.

Other Resources

Being an empath can be difficult. If you're interested in learning more about what it's like to be an empath, read these real life examples or eight major downsides to being an empath.

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Amanda Buck

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      • Amanda Buck profile imageAUTHOR

        Amanda Buck 

        3 weeks ago from Rural South Central Indiana

        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!

      • louiseelcross profile image

        Louise Elcross 

        3 weeks ago from Preston

        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.

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