Illustration of an emphatic behaviour.
Illustration of an emphatic behaviour. Photo by youssef naddam on Unsplash/NOWJAKARTA

Last time we talked about people with narcissistic disorder and how the pandemic is helping them get better—it’s on Home Life edition six. We are now going to look at it from the other end of the spectrum: the empath, and how not to bleed out as one, today.

Are you an empath?

First of all, what is an empath? How do you know if you are one?

Empathy is when we reach our hearts out to others and put ourselves in their shoes. Empaths are highly sensitive individuals with a keen ability to sense what people around them are thinking and feeling. The term ‘empath’ is often used by psychologists to describe a person that experiences a great deal of empathy, often to the point of taking on the pain of others at their own expense.

Have you been told you are too sensitive; too emotional? Do you feel drained when you spend time around certain people? Can you sense when people aren’t telling the whole truth? Do you feel anxious in unfamiliar crowds? When a friend is feeling particularly happy or distressed, do you find yourself feeling these same emotions? Do people come to you to share their problems but you feel like you have no one to share yours? If you answered yes for most of these questions, you might be an empath.

Read also: Pandemic Effect: An Unexpected Gift to Narcissists

How Covid-19 Affects Empaths

There are many aspects of being an empath, with many pros and cons, but we’re going to discuss how to survive as an empath in 2020.

Any given regular day can be intense feeling other people’s emotions as if they’re your own. Right now, the media, people on our social feeds, and even our families are going through a lot, and this can be downright overwhelming for an empath, because as Judith Orloff, M.D., put it in Psychology Today, science shows that empaths may be more sensitive to electromagnetic signals created by the heart, have increased dopamine sensitivity, and share other people’s emotions, such as joy and pain, more intensely than the average person through the mirror neuron network.

When everyone is struggling, the empath’s struggles are doubled. And when the global state is heightened, such as it is now, it can be an extra intense time to be an empath. There lies the problem.
We’ll hit three practical steps on how not to bleed out too much in a moment, but first, there are several things to keep in mind.

How to Not Bleed Out as an Empath in 2020

First of all, the world will tell you “you’re too sensitive”. But you are not. You are sensitive, period. Just because others don’t experience the same level of overwhelm does not mean something is wrong with you. You are processing a hell of a lot more energy than others. As such your needs will be slightly different. You may need more sleep, more solitude, more nature, more self-care practices. This is okay.

People’s lack of understanding can sometimes result in ridicule and judgment. That’s a tired, age-old story. Remember, it is you, not them, who are processing a level of energy beyond the norm. You don’t need to be a part of that story anymore. Keep doing what you need to do. You don’t need to expend your energy defending yourself to people who probably aren’t going to get it anyway.

You can also listen to the audio version of this article from our brand new NOW! Jakarta Podcast.

Important for anyone in a relationship, empath or not, is to convey your needs and what you are going through to your loved ones so they know how to support you and vice versa. This is doubly important for empaths, because non-empathic people aren’t going to automatically know what you feel and need. Let them know how the world feels for you; don’t make them guess or get upset at them for not instinctively knowing how to support you.

Also important is to not get all wrapped up in an identity of an empath. Repeatedly telling yourself (and others) how sensitive you and are and how much you struggle isn’t helpful, it perpetuates a victim story. Knowing who you are, how you are, and what you need is empowering. Using that knowledge to perpetuate a story of woe-is-me is not.

Also disempowering is trying to shut down your sensitivity. But why? If the problem is sensitivity, just shut it down! Problem solved! Right? Not quite, but many think it is. This is where numbing agents (alcohol, drugs, TV binging) becomes attractive in forcefully shutting down your sensitivity.

But please don’t shut yourself down. The issue is you live in a world that has not caught up to your wiring yet. We need that wiring, but we need it to be clear. Embrace and honour your unique sensitivities and learn how to manage them so you can stay grounded, centered and well.

Now, here are three practical ideas to apply for empaths living alongside the many excitements of 2020.

Spend some time alone being introspective.

Yes, we’re social distancing. But even though many of us are alone at home, we’re still thumbing through social media, talking to family on the phone, hosting digital meetings and hangouts, or watching shows or streams. This is not really alone time.

As an empath, even when you’re physically alone, you can still feel other people’s emotions. I know you know this. Remember that time you were home alone with just your tissue box watching your favourite sappy movie? Go on, tell me that isn’t true. Because that’s you absorbing the emotion of others—through a screen acted out by make-believe characters, sure, but again, that’s still you absorbing external emotions.

Instead, try grabbing a journal. Write about how you are feeling about things in your life and the world right now. It doesn’t even have to be a written journal. Why not put that new webcam you reluctantly bought for the sake of work or to stay connected with everyone. Spend some time feeling your own emotions instead of everyone else’s.

Define new boundaries that support how you want to feel.

It can be easy to feel obligated to talk about certain topics with family, follow friends from high school on social media, or stay up-to-date with current media.

But the truth is, you don’t actually have to do any of those things. Be the curator of your own life for a change instead of allowing the algorithm of a heartless AI tell you who to look up to and connect. When it comes to being happy this way, my general rule of thumb is: if it makes you happy, keep it. If it makes you sad, leave it. It’s time to explore new boundaries.

Release reactiveness, embrace your gut instinct.

Your mom would ask you, “if they jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?” She had a very good point.

Just because everyone is ignoring the social distancing regulation, doesn’t mean you have to, too. Just because everyone is panic buying on disinfectants and normal everyday groceries, doesn’t mean you have to, as well.

Sure, if it empowers you to be the best version of yourself, hey, go for it. But if it doesn’t, try asking yourself why you’re doing it. Is it because other people are? Or is it because it’s really what you want?

Embrace your own innate instinct to take care of yourself. You don’t need someone to say “I’ve got you, here’s what to do…” all the time. Because you have yourself.

There you have it, folks. Hopefully, this podcast, pieced together from various different sources and authorities, will be of some help as we continue to await better days ahead of us.

Join me again next time as Pandemic Effect talks about dealing with potential, not PTSD but PCSD, you know what I mean. Flattening the mental health curve post-Covid-19 might just be the next big challenge.

Thank you for listening. I hope you’ve enjoyed this podcast as well as this edition of our Home Life e-newsletter. Look out for more on the issue of life amidst today’s developing condition in current June edition of NOW! Jakarta e-magazine, bearing the main theme, Embracing the New Normal. Available to access from our website, fully free.

Until we meet again, stay safe, stay well, stay at home. This is Refa Koetin, signing off.

Refa Koetin

Refa Koetin

A full-time, dream-powered writer, Refa handles NOW! Jakarta publication and other editorial projects in the company. When not writing at his second home (the office), he can be found roaming the city hunting happy hours or exploring its diverse culinary scene. He is also a sci-fi addict, ex-gamer, fitness junkie, beer lover and burger fan. Hit up +62 856 188 0336 for nerd talk or happy hour info.