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STRONGER TOGETHER: Thriving as an empath

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Last updated: 26/06/2023

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses how to thrive as an empath in a connected world.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

Have you ever felt an overwhelming rush of sadness or joy while talking to someone? Or found yourself getting teary-eyed watching a TV show about rescue dogs? If these moments strike a chord with you, there's a chance you might be an empath or have empath tendencies.

Being an empath means experiencing emotions on a deeper level than others. It goes beyond empathy, where your heart goes out to someone else. Empaths "feel" more intensely, almost as if they absorb the feelings and emotions of those around them. Unfortunately, this can leave empaths feeling drained if they don't have effective strategies to detach from negative energy.

Some may judge this behaviour critically, perhaps believing that they need to ‘get a grip’ and better manage their own responses towards others. It is really that easy?

Research reveals that our ability to tap into others' emotions is linked to our mirror neuron system. Empaths have hypersensitive mirror neurons, allowing them to deeply connect with and understand others' feelings. According to Dr Judith Orloff, it is not limited to feelings and some empaths will even become sick or start to feel the physical pain of others. She therefore coined the term ‘empathic illness’ to describe an empath’s experience of feeling another person’s symptoms as if they were their own.

We have all experienced energy vampires – people who, sometimes intentionally, drain all our emotional energy and leave us feeling depleted. It is therefore important, particularly for empaths, that they protect themselves from energy vampires and over stimulation.

Be aware of energy vampires in your personal and professional life, perhaps checking in with yourself after spending time with certain people. Do you feel more tired than normal? Has your mood changed? Perhaps you suddenly feel unwell or have the urge to eat something laden with sugar? If so, chances are that you have been in contact with an energy vampire.

It may sound a little woo woo to some, however I actively create an invisible shield around me, particularly in the company of people who leave me feeling depleted. Imagine it locking in around you, blocking out all the negative energy that may be coming your way in that moment. Other strategies include taking notice of any changes in mood or physical state when around another person and checking in with yourself to gauge whether the symptom or emotion is yours of the other person’s. Or it could be as simple as doing some breathing to circulate any negativity out of your body.  

Being an empath has some advantages. Empaths are deep, passionate, and compassionate individuals who truly understand and appreciate others' feelings. Their empathy makes them excellent managers and leaders, and they find solace in connecting with nature and animals.

However, empaths face challenges due to being easily overstimulated. It's essential for them to prioritise alone time to recharge. When feeling fatigued or overwhelmed, I often experience sensory overload—increased sensitivity to light, smell, taste, touch, temperature, and sound. To relieve these symptoms, I rest, create moments of solitude, and disconnect from devices. Connecting with nature and finding quiet spaces away from bright lights and noise also help.

If you're interested in learning more, check out Dr. Judith Orloff's work and take her empath self-assessment.

It is important for everyone, not just empaths, to understand how other people’s energy impacts on us, and particularly in a world filled with challenges, how to not take on the stress of others. 

Please note: This website may contain references to, or feature images, videos, and voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who have passed away.

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