I am an empath by trade. In fact, I feel that that should be my job title, rather than “freelance writer and artist.” If given the choice, I’d much rather give to others. I find myself always asking, What can I do for you? What do you need from me?
In most cases, my empathy feeds me. I love helping other spirits thrive. I breathe more freely when I know my efforts have resulted in smiles, new wings, and realizations.
Yet states of such empathy are not always sustainable. In many cases, my empathy leaves me feeling depleted—my longings and desires often get shafted in the shadows of others’.
As an empath, I’m slowly learning how to give in a way that doesn’t deplete. If you’re finding yourself giving too much lately, I have some words for you.
Give yourself permission to be happy
We all hunger for joy, that breathless buoyancy, yet empaths often struggle to savor the joy they so fiercely and determinedly chase. I have always been reluctant to linger in my own happiness, especially when others in my life seem to be wandering through the ruts.
While I was riding the waves of bliss recently, this empath’s guilt tinged my smiles. I wrote a post about it on my blog and I’ve continued to think about it since. In fact, whenever I feel happiness on the horizon, I start by vocalizing my own permission for fully experiencing it.
I say it out loud to myself, looking in the bathroom mirror: I give myself permission to be happy. I write it in my journal, on sticky notes. I meditate on the felt sense of joy until I can feel grateful for it flooding my bones.
You deserve to be happy, even if others have yet to follow suit. Your reserves of empathy don’t change this fact. Give yourself permission!
Enjoy the luxury of a well-delivered “no”
This is far easier said than done. Yet saying “no” before your resources run out on you can be vital when living the life of a feeling empath.
I’ve always been apt to give a ready “yes” to everything—a friend’s desire to get coffee, my mom’s need to vent, a neighbor’s request for assistance. I’ve learned to say “yes” even at the cost of my own well-being. I was raised to put others first in this way, to serve, to be gracious (blah blah blah).
I believe in being gracious and in loving others. Yet I also believe fully in being gracious to myself and heaping on the self-love.
When I feel pulled thin, I pull out the “no.” I once spent one day committing to acting, expressing, and stating how I felt in every situation, saying no if I didn’t feel like doing something, resisting the urge to soften a statement, acting on my own true desires.
It was nothing short of empowering. I got more of my yes’s back in the long run.
Engage in active listening
As empaths, we want to listen to others’ stories, be a part of them, and fully respond to every word. When a friend opens her heart to me, I’m there. I’m attentive. In most cases, I feel threads of their emotional experience.
This is what makes us empaths!
But such listening, such engagement, can be exhausting, especially if we are silently listening and giving at the same time.
Luckily, there is a way to listen as the loving friend you are without giving everything. The definition of “active listening” actually does not include the usual head nods, commentary, and verbal responses we usually associate with active listening.
Active listening means being fully present with the person speaking, providing eye contact when necessary. Yet an active listener only speaks to repeat or reiterate what a speaker has said, to show understanding—any outside information or opinions actually contradict the notion of active listening itself!
What does this mean? When actively listening to a loved one, you don’t technically have to offer anything beyond an ear, eye contact if necessary, and select verbal cues. When I learned this skill, it offered me immense relief. “Being there” suddenly became so much easier.
Create equal space for you
As an empath, you have the luxury of knowing your own feelings and, likely, your especial needs. Why not be an empath to yourself?
I’ve recently practiced giving myself as much time as I give to others, and the quality of time I give to others. Creating such equal, vibrant space for myself—down to the same hours and attentiveness I offer others—makes for a more reciprocal, nurturing empathetic state.
This stipulation has also given me the confidence to tell others about my needs for equal space; it can be a great backing for that next “no” you deliver!
Be empathetic to your own lived experience
I remind myself of these words every morning and evening. We all get to savor our own lived experiences, and these will always be authentic to each individual human. You deserve your own empathy—you deserve a pair of wide eyes looking at your days, your dreams, and your losses.
Be present for your own existence. Prioritize this above everything else. Trust me, it only fuels your empathy for others—but in a right way, and a nourishing one at that.