We live in a world with high levels of sensory input – loud movies, bright lights, crowds of people, the 24-hour news cycle, social media and technology that constantly interrupt and demand our attention. If you’re a highly sensitive or empathic person, this can be overwhelming and overstimulating, and leave you exhausted and lonely. According to Dr. Judith Orloff, “…empaths are emotional sponges who absorb both the stress and joy of the world. We feel everything, often to an extreme, and have little guard up between others and ourselves” (The Empath’s Survival Guide, p. 1).
But high sensitivity is a gift that includes high levels of compassion, creativity, spirituality, and intuition; it allows you to feel things deeply, care about and connect with others, and appreciate nature. And with the right strategies, you can protect your energy, health, and maximize the benefits of being an empath or highly sensitive person.
The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People (Sounds True, 2018) by Dr. Judith Orloff, a psychiatrist and empath herself, draws on Western medicine, energy medicine, and intuition to provide holistic solutions that can help you learn how to navigate the challenges of being an empath. I appreciate that Orloff doesn’t pathologize high sensitivity or treat it as a disorder that needs to be fixed. Instead, she breaks down the stigma of being “too” sensitive and highlights the ways high sensitivity can improve your life and the lives of others.
The Empath’s Survival Guide provides a comprehensive look at how high levels of sensitivity, empathy, and intuition affect us, including:
- Relationships, love, and sex
- Intuition and extraordinary perceptions
Although all of the chapters are full of helpful ideas, I want to highlight the sections on absorbing other people’s distress (chapter 2) and protecting yourself from narcissists and energy vampires (chapter 5), which I think will be particularly helpful to my clients and readers who also struggle with people-pleasing and codependent traits.
How to Stop Absorbing Other People’s Distress
Many of my clients struggle with absorbing other people’s distress or taking on their problems. This may be people you know in real life or stories you hear on the news or see online. As an empath, you’re extra sensitive to other people’s pain and may feel compelled to help them (even if they don’t want your help or advice). Empaths feel everything so deeply and we don’t have much of a protective barrier to help us hold other people’s pain at a distance. This can drain your energy and leave you feeling anxious, tense, physically sick, overwhelmed and hopeless. And this is precisely why we need strategies like the 14 protective strategies that Orloff presents in The Empath’s Survival Guide.
Orloff’s coping strategies are designed to help you embrace your differences and gifts and make adaptations so that you can make the most of them and remain vibrant and healthy.
I particularly liked Strategy 2 which involves breathing out negative energy and using the mantra “return to sender” (p. 43-44). Doing this exercise makes the idea of returning negative energy to its rightful owner more concrete; you can visualize expelling it from yourself and sending it back so that you don’t absorb it and hold it in your body.
All of Orloff’s strategies provide simple ways to take care of yourself in overstimulating environments (including some specifically for traveling). These strategies are doable for just about everyone – they’re quick and straight-forward. And using even just a few of these coping strategies can make a big difference in helping empaths stay physically and emotionally healthy.
Protecting Yourself from Narcissists and Other Energy Vampires
I also want to highlight Chapter 5 because it focuses on shielding yourself from energy vampires – and we all encounter draining, negative people on a regular basis and we need a plan for dealing with them. In this chapter, you’ll learn how to identify seven types of energy vampires and signs that you’re being negatively impacted by them. As I read through the self-assessment for signs that you’ve met an energy vampire, I mentally checked them all off – they’re spot on.
Again, Orloff provides concrete strategies to protect yourself from all seven types of energy vampires (which include challenging personality types such as passive-aggressive people, perpetual victims, and nonstop talkers).
The Empath’s Survival Guide is a Helpful Resource
Throughout The Empath’s Survival Guide, Dr. Orloff emphasizes the positive aspects of being an empath, normalizes your experiences as a sensitive person and helps you feel empowered to navigate the world. She also provides practical tools that will help you understand yourself better, set boundaries, and take care of your physical body and your emotional wellbeing when faced with sensory overload and toxic people. There’s a helpful summary of all of the tools at the end of the book. The Empath’s Survival Guide is a much-needed resource for empaths and highly sensitive people that I believe will be of great help to many, especially those who are drawn to spiritual and holistic approaches.
For more information or to purchase a copy of The Empath's Survival Guide from Amazon click here.
©2018 Sharon Martin, LCSW. All rights reserved.
Photo of woman reading by Ben White on Unsplash.com.