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The Beautiful Gifts of the Empath

The Beautiful Gifts of the Empath

Recently I sat down with Dr. Judith Orloff in her lovely Venice home. She is the author of the best-selling

Dr. Orloff also specializes in treating empaths and highly sensitive people in her private practice. She can be reached at [email protected] Her next workshop called “Igniting the Power of Your Empathy and Intuition” will be at Esalen in Big Sur July 27-29. Find out more at esalen.org or drjudithorloff.com.

The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People. –Editor

More people are starting to realize from speakers and authors like you that if you’re a highly sensitive person, there are things you can and should do to protect your psyche and energy even before you leave your house in the morning. Well, I’m a psychiatrist and I’m also an intuitive healer, and what that means is that I can combine traditional medicine with intuition and my ability to sense what’s going on with other people. In my practice and in my workshops, I combine all of this to help my clients. People that are not diagnosed correctly as empathic tend to go into sensory overload.

That must be stressful. Yes, empathic people are walking around all the time overwhelmed, exhausted, anxious, depressed and their stress hormones are just going crazy. The reason I wrote The Empath’s Survival Guide was to help people diagnose themselves as an empath. There’s a quiz at the beginning of the book that can help verify if they’re an empath, how much of an empath they are, and then develop strategies to center and protect themselves. So, they can benefit from all the beautiful gifts of being an empath and learn how not to absorb the stress of other people. The empath really has so many gifts. They are intuitive, spiritual, giving, loving, open. They connect with nature. They are in touch with spirituality and animals.

They feel everything more. Yes, empaths feel everything more. They also feel the negative energies. Oh, they feel both positive and negative energy, and the problem is when they take it on into their own bodies. That can be painful or exhausting. Taking in the emotions of other people is one thing I focus on in the book: how do you tell if something is your emotion or a physical symptom or another person’s emotion?

How can you tell? Notice, “How does my body feel before I meet this person? What is my energy level?  How do I physically feel? What are my emotions?” And then, go and interact with the person and compare how you felt just before and after. See if you suddenly feel nauseous or do you feel exhausted? If so, most likely it was from the interaction with them. With some people, you’ll notice when you’re doing this, that your energy goes up. And you might feel more peaceful and more heartfelt when you’re finished with them, so that’s a good barometer.

When you slow down and consider this, it makes a lot of sense. Yes, the book is devoted to teaching people how not to take on all this in their bodies and yet stay open and intuitive and loving and not have to live in a protected environment all the time where you can’t go outside. That’s a little bit of a dance. Yes, it’s a dance and about finding balance, but first diagnosing yourself as an empath. Take the quiz at the beginning of the book and see if you’re an empath. And maybe you are, maybe you aren’t, but if you are, you really do need to know because it changes your whole life knowing that. Unfortunately, traditional medicine misdiagnoses empaths all the time.

What do they usually call them? Hypochondriacs, malingerers, or they might say they have depression, panic attacks, anxiety, chronic pain.

Are more doctors coming around to honoring being empathic? Yes, more integrative practitioners who integrate Eastern and Western thought do, but the traditional ones are still a little slow going.

I saw recently that a hospital in Henderson, Nevada is effectively using essential oils before prescribing opioids. That’s incredible! The change is happening, but unfortunately, traditional medicine still doesn’t believe in the energy fields around the body.

What can a person who is empathic tell their family members and friends about why they are the way they are? About why they need more time alone?  Right, because when you are an empath, it’s like holding up a hand with 50 fingers instead of five. Empaths have more sensory apparatus activated—there’s so much more going on than the regular person who doesn’t feel as intensely.

Are there more Empaths now, and if so why? I think so. On my book tour, I saw more and more people opening up as empaths, and my feeling is that there’s so much stress going on in our world and on the news, which is very triggering and can break down our defenses. Even people who aren’t empaths can experience their defenses being broken down by this constant onslaught of horrible news. If you become addicted to the news it’s like being injected to a toxic drip.

What’s a quick remedy for that? Playing beautiful music helps. Empaths love peaceful music or going out in nature. I always encourage my patients to take very gentle walks in nature and commune with the shrubbery and the trees and the animals. That is very peaceful for empaths. They need their systems soothed, as some empaths have a history of trauma and are super sensitive to pain. There are various tools, like putting your bare feet on the earth.

Were empaths born this way, or did it come from childhood? Nature or nurture? It could be both. Empaths sometimes have low self-esteem that comes from parents who were battering or difficult. Now they need to grow into their own confidence levels with their sensitivities as opposed to just feeling ashamed of it.

Shame is a big one, isn’t it? Yes, it is because of their sensitivity. Empaths are usually severely ashamed about how people react to their sensitivity as children. Being told “You need to get a thicker skin, what’s wrong with you?” creates a lot of shame in children. And so, you kind of grow up cowering like, “What’s wrong with me?” Well, nothing’s wrong with you, they just didn’t understand where you were coming from and reacted. But you know a lot of feeling as an empath is feeling the shame of being put down all those years. People really need to know that.

How can that be healed? By actually acknowledging it and feeling it with the intention to heal, because otherwise it stays inside of you and there’s always something that can be triggered in there. You need to know you are perfect just as you are.

I imagine you have a methodology for going back and healing that hurt child. Oh yeah, you need to look and identify where the message came from. Hypnosis is very useful to go back into those childhood times and experience how you were feeling and reclaim your inner child. Then bring your inner child home with you! Don’t leave your inner child in that house where she was shamed. Bring them back with you in your house so you can care for them in the way they deserve to be cared for.

Shame and trauma go hand in hand. Shaming is very specific and it happens to empaths more. That’s why they’re not proud of their abilities.   I want to teach them to be proud of their gifts and maximize them and go out and use them in the world for change. Bring that beautiful gentleness and thoughtfulness and kindness into the world and change it. Empaths aren’t weak or passive. They can be aggressive and assertive, just not in a typical macho way that you see a lot of.

You mentioned the importance of listening to your body. How does your body talk to you? In many ways! With signals through symptoms, or you might have sensations. It talks to you through your gut feeling, as your gut is the entire nervous system and a second brain.

Because the first brain isn’t serving us? Why is that? Because it overthinks and the gut feels. The gut communicates via sensation, feeling and bodily symptoms. So, it kind of forces you to listen to your body a little bit more than the brain, which doesn’t feel as much in that sense.

Dr. Orloff also specializes in treating empaths and highly sensitive people in her private practice. She can be reached at [email protected] Her next workshop called “Igniting the Power of Your Empathy and Intuition” will be at Esalen in Big Sur July 27-29. Find out more at esalen.org or drjudithorloff.com.

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