If you’re an empath or highly sensitive person, it can seem like the world around you is constantly invading your personal bubble. And without proper care, the world can wear you down and burn you out.
I have compiled 12 self-care coping skills that every empath and HSP needs to keep themselves healthy so your gifts do not become lost in this world.
What is an Empath?
Empathic people are different from empathetic people. Being empathetic is when your heart goes out to someone. Whereas being empathic or an empath means you can actually feel another person’s emotions in your body.
Empaths can be described as an emotional sponge. And are very sensitive, intuitive people who can feel another person’s emotions or the emotions in a room. And are the opposite of narcissists.
Specifically, these are folks that can put themselves in another person’s shoes to understand their feelings or experiences better. And feels more empathy (the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling) than the average person. Meaning that an empath takes this to the next level from what the average person feels.
The science behind the Empath.
The science behind empathy is on a spectrum. Empathy is where you can relate to other people’s emotions without taking on their emotions.
Whereas an empath actually can take on those emotions, and this can be an overwhelming experience.
Because an empath does not have the same filters that other people have so they tend to feel everything, and this may be due to empaths having hyperactive mirror neurons.
And are located in the following brain regions: premotor cortex, the supplementary motor area, the primary somatosensory cortex, anterior insula, and the inferior parietal cortex.
What are mirror neurons?
Mirror neurons create mimicry. If you have ever held an infant and smiled at them, you may have noticed that they have smiled back in return. The same is true if you stuck your tongue out at them, and they, in turn, stuck their tongue out at you. And, of course, the classic yawn, you yawn; we all yawn unless you’re a sociopath, but that’s a whole other topic.
Mirror neurons become activated and create mimicry. For example, an empath has mirror neurons that are more easily activated and cue areas of the empath’s brain to light up with a stronger response. Meaning the same motor and sensory areas of the empath’s brain light up as the person’s brain that they are observing.
However, this is done on a spectrum. And the average (non-Narcissist, psychopath, or sociopath) person feels empathy and is a form of attenuation (meaning you feel it to a degree). And for the empath, these areas may light up more intensely, which takes the empath to the next level.
For instance, if you have ever watched someone burn their hand in front of you, you might have felt discomfort in your own hand. Maybe even cradled it in your other hand or moved it close to your body in response. This is a form of attenuation. You felt the other person’s pain as you witnessed them burn their own hand but to a lesser degree.
Attenuation makes it possible to empathize with another person’s distress but not become overwhelmed by it and render you just as helpless. Unless, of course, you’re an empath. At which point you feel this other person’s distress to a much higher degree and may, in fact, feel a sense of helplessness.
But for the empath, they feel this attenuation more strongly and may actually feel this person’s pain to a stronger degree but again on a spectrum.
The Research “I feel your pain.”
Do you know that saying “I feel your pain”? It turns out it may be more than just a figure of speech.
A recent research study published in May 2017 had sixteen female volunteers undergo brain scans as they received painful electric shocks to their hands. From these shocks, a well-defined pain matrix was mapped out.
Their spouses then received the same shocks as these 16 females were still undergoing brain scans and were provided with a signal as their spouses were shocked.
What resulted was a similar (but not entire) lighting up of their pain matrix. Meaning they felt their spouse’s pain to a degree (attenuation) but not as intensely as their own and again on a spectrum for each participant.
It is the ability to understand how a person feels emotionally and what they might be thinking. For an empath, this ability comes easier. And as a result, it makes them better communicators because they can use this information to help reach the other person.
Meaning the empath can better put themselves into another person’s shoes, view things through that other person’s perspective, and better understand their emotions. This brings me to emotional empathy.
Emotional Empathy (also known as affective empathy).
It is the ability to pick up on the affective states of others “I feel your pain.” And is used to build emotional connections with other people.
Imagine for a moment that you are sitting next to someone that you genuinely care about, and they begin to cry. What they’re experiencing will most likely impact you and may elicit an emotional response from you.
You may find yourself feeling the same emotion as this person, feeling distressed by their distress and compassion towards them. And for non-empaths (ordinary people), this may only occur when we’re around people we genuinely care for.
But for the empath, this can happen around complete strangers and even groups of people experiencing strong emotions.
So what do you get when you combine cognitive and emotional empathy? You get compassionate empathy.
Compassionate Empathy (the empath’s superpower).
It goes beyond simply understanding others and their feelings. Compassionate empathy spurs you into action and to want to help however you can. And this is the superpower of the empath. For example, a non-empaths initial reaction to a friend that has just lost a loved one may be to offer their condolences, maybe a hug, and move on. Maybe give them a call in a day or two and check on them and see if they need anything.
But for the empath, they understand the pain that their friend or even a complete stranger is going through and can feel it. And this information spurs them into action immediately, not in a day or two. Empaths are the people that immediately offer to help make necessary phone calls, run errands, grab the kids if their friend needs alone time. It’s like they just know what is needed, and they’re pretty darn accurate.
If compassionate empathy is the empath’s superpower, others taking advantage of the empath for their own personal gain is probably their kryptonite.
The Empath’s Kryptonite.
No surprise here, but the empath’s kryptonite are those that struggle with personality disorders—more specifically narcissistic personality disorder or, at the very least, those with narcissistic personality traits.
Narcissism exists on a spectrum, but the hallmark criteria of the narcissist are a lack of empathy, an inflated sense of self-importance, a sense of entitlement, and the need for ongoing admiration. And you would think that these hallmark criteria would repel most people. But narcissists can also be very charismatic and charming when they want to be and exude superficial charm, especially when seeking out romantic relationships.
And here is where the hook comes in. I have yet to meet a narcissist with healthy self-worth or self-esteem, which is why they are constantly seeking external praise. Instead, they project their sense of worthlessness and shame onto others.
And because the empath is driven by the need to help others, they pick up on this wounded person pretty darn quickly. And try to heal the wounded narcissist with love and compassion.
What ultimately ends up happening. Unless the empath has good boundaries and can walk away from a toxic relationship, refusing to internalize the narcissist’s projected feeling, the empath will absorb the narcissist’s feelings of worthlessness and shame.
And when the empath begins to withdraw because of the projected pain and the flow of compassion begins to dwindle.
The narcissist will know how to manipulatively regain the empath’s love by providing what feels like love and connection. Kind of like a slot machine. Every now and then, there is a big enough payout to keep you pumping quarters into the machine, just hoping that the next spin will be the jackpot.
What has now just occurred is the empath’s sense of self-worth has now become contingent on healing the wounded narcissist. If they can overcome the challenge of making a person who is not capable of love, love them, then the empath is truly worthy of love. And this is the empath’s kryptonite.
This also may be true for the empath that crosses paths with someone with an antisocial personality disorder.
How to protect and care for yourself as an Empath.
Here are 12 tools and techniques to protect and recharge yourself as an empath. And can help you even if you are not an empath and are only a highly sensitive person.
Yes, meditation is helpful for empaths and can help you decompress when feeling bombarded by the feelings of others. Meditation also increases insight and awareness around your own thoughts and feelings. As well as providing clarity. This can be particularly useful when you need to separate your emotions and thoughts from the thoughts and emotions of others.
After making this distinction, you can let go of the thoughts and feelings that don’t belong to you, leaving you feeling lighter and more at peace. Meditation can be one of those self-care activities that empaths and even non-empaths can use to meet their own needs.
How to meditate
Choose a location that is quiet and free of distractions. Focus on your body and get comfortable before you move your focus over to your breathing. Begin by taking a deep breath in, hold it for a few moments before exhaling slowly. While breathing deeply, begin to notice your thoughts. And rather than judging them, take notice of them as they come to you and leave from you.
While meditation has numerous physical and mental health benefits, it’s not meant to be a quick fix. But it can be a powerful self-care practice that can be used to help regain lost energy.
Are not a bad thing and is, in fact, a very good thing to have. And while you can be kind and
compassionate to others, it is not your job to heal or fix anyone. Even if you’re employed in a helping relationship or have strong caregiving tendencies. Because that sole responsibility lies with the other person.
So the moment you become more invested in helping another person than they are in helping themselves, this is a big red flag that you need clear boundaries. Because if you continue down this slippery slope w/o a boundary in place for your own mental health and wellbeing. You will find yourself exhausted and burnt out with nothing left for yourself and at your breaking point.
As an empath or a non-empath, we all need to have healthy boundaries to navigate our world today. Because there are toxic people in the world that will gladly offload their problems onto everyone that they come across, and without clear boundaries, you may find yourself getting dumped on.
Emotional body scans throughout the day.
This is another type of meditation that can help you bring insight and awareness to your own body. We all carry emotions in our own bodies. But do you know where you carry those emotions? Such as stress. For some people, they may carry stress in their shoulders. Or maybe in their jaws. Whereas for others, they might carry it in the form of a tension headache or a queasy stomach.
And is best done throughout the day whenever you notice that you’re carrying emotions around with you in your body. And similar to traditional meditation is simple to implement.
How to do a body scan meditation.
Get comfortable. Lying down is preferable if you are doing this before you intend to go to bed. But if this is not the case, then sitting comfortably works too. Take a few deep breaths using your belly as you shift your attention to your feet.
Notice how your feet feel and any thoughts or emotions that accompany how they feel. For example, if they feel sore, then visualize any tenderness or tension leaving your body on each exhale. And move on only when you feel ready to move on.
Continue to move through your body and spend as much time as you need to for each area. Only moving on once you feel ready to move on.
Deep breathing exercises.
Breathing exercises offer a straightforward yet effective and convenient way to regulate strong emotions and ground yourself into your body. Here are several breathing exercises that can help manage strong emotions and ground yourself into your body.
Take notice of your breathing before you consciously change it. Are you taking deep breaths or shallow ones? Are you breathing quickly on slowly? By becoming aware of your breathing style, you gain an understanding of how your body responds to emotions and not just stress. By noticing your breathing style, it can inform you when you need to consciously change it.
It looks like it sounds if you’re a visual person. You inhale for a count of 4, hold for a count of 4, exhale for a count of 4, and then pause for a count of 4 before your next inhale. Again, you may notice this looking like a 4 by 4 box if you’re a visual person.
Is similar to the body scan meditation. Imagine all the strong emotions that your body is holding are moving into your chest as you inhale. And on your exhale, breathe those same emotions out and evaporating in front of you. Repeat this process as many times as you need to until there is nothing left to breathe out.
Grounding through smell.
Your nose is incredibly powerful. An effortless grounding technique is the use of smell. You can get some essential oils or candles that you find to be soothing. And use their smells to ground yourself, soothe yourself or recharge yourself.
There are many pure organic essential oils [affiliate link] on the market that are free of harsh chemicals. And aromatherapy is a super simple way to calm the mind, body, and soul. Aromatherapy [affiliate link] can also be used to purify your home as well as your energy.
Citrus oils (my favorites) are used to promote positive energy and lift your spirits. Even just smelling peppermint, lemon or orange can instantly leave you feeling calmer, more alert, and grounded into your body.
Being in nature is one of the most calming things an empath can do for self-care because you’re not just sensitive to other people’s emotions but also to bright lights and the hustle and bustle of city life. And when an empath is in nature, they’re away from all of that. And able to feel the stillness and the silence and their own emotions. Many empaths have difficulty discerning whether the emotions they’re feeling are, in fact, their own. And when they’re out in nature, all of that stops.
Nature provides freedom from the barrage of everything else and gives time and space to the empath to process their own feelings. And being in nature provides an excellent opportunity to practice other self-care activities such as journaling or meditation.
Words have power and can transform your internal state on a profound level. And when spoken with intention is where their true power is experienced, especially in the subconscious mind. Because when they are spoken with conviction, they can alter your thoughts, emotions, beliefs, and behaviors.
For instance: “I release all emotions and sensations in my body that are not mine.”
This can be a powerful affirmation for an empath as your conscious and subconscious mind is sorting through and identifying emotions and sensations that belong to you. And are discarding emotions and sensations that do not belong to you.
Create a bubble or shield.
Shielding is a quick way for not just an empath but for highly sensitive people to block out toxic energy. And it’s really quite simple and is great for when you’re in social situations where you need to protect yourself. Or even in just your everyday interactions before you walk out the door.
Take a couple of quick calming breaths and visualize either a shield or bubble enveloping your body. You can visualize a beautiful shield of pure white light or one with multiple colors like a rainbow. Blocking out negative emotions and toxicity while allowing positive emotions, loving energy to permeate your shield or bubble.
If you’ve ever read the Twilight series (not the movies – the 4th book goes into greater detail) and remember that Bella is a shield – it’s a similar concept.
Make your home a safe space.
If you recharge best out in nature, then bring some nature into your home. If you recharge best with cleansing crystals, then fill your home with cleansing crystals. Regardless of what it is that helps you recharge, just make sure that your home provides that for you.
Daily self-care – journaling.
I recommend a daily self-care routine for everyone, whether you’re an empath or not. And one of the best and cheapest ways to take care of yourself and process your day can be through journaling.
Journaling provides the space that we all need to process and find different perspectives of what we’re struggling with once we get it down on paper.
For the empath, journaling might provide the space to identify your emotional needs from others’ emotional needs when you read over your journal entry. To identify your individual differences from the needs of others. And provides clarity and insight.
Empaths have the gifts of intuition and a lot of compassion. And are also sponges for other people’s stuff. And this is what makes knowing your narrative so important. If you’re a sponge for other people’s thoughts and feelings, you’re also a sponge for their narratives about how they speak to themselves and view themselves in this world.
You need to know your narrative and how you speak and view yourself in this world to discern from what is yours and what belongs to someone else. Don’t soak up someone else’s narrative when you don’t have to. So, again, another reason why journaling can be such a powerful tool.
The Empath’s Survival Guide by Judith Orloff MD.
Dr. Judith Orloff, an empath herself, has created “The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People.” [affiliate link]. And provides a self-assessment test to help you understand where you fall as an empath because empaths are on a spectrum and are not all the same, as well as coping skills that can benefit empaths to build resiliency and be able to navigate our world without feeling as overwhelmed.