Feeling All the Things: Coping With Empathy and Social Anxiety

Updated on September 26, 2017
Holley Hyler profile image

Holley Hyler is an IT consultant and published freelance writer living in New York.

Definition of an Empath

A few years ago, I began to hear the term "empath" to describe myself. In a nutshell, being empathic means that you are proficient at picking up on the energy of others. In cases where an empath is not yet self-aware, they can find themselves lost as they unconsciously take in the energies of others as their own. Sometimes this manifests as the empathic person trying to "fix" things that they see as being wrong or causing suffering in the other person. This can happen even to those with years of experience as an aware or "awakened" empath. My own empathy has contributed to my social anxiety - an intense and irrational fear of interaction with other human beings. Below, I will give some tips on how to take care of yourself if you experience empathy and anxiety around others.

Don't you wish all conversations were as carefree and effortless as this one looks? Read on to understand more about authenticity and how it relates to social situations.
Don't you wish all conversations were as carefree and effortless as this one looks? Read on to understand more about authenticity and how it relates to social situations. | Source

Core Fear: Authenticity

The first question you must ask yourself is this: are you afraid to be yourself? Whether the answer is yes or no, chances are that you will feel strongly one way or the other. For those who feel a strong yes, you will be able to get a greater sense of self-awareness and at least some starter tips from this article on how you can overcome this, and for those who feel a strong no, you may gain insight on an aspect of your personality that you have been hiding.

At the heart of social anxiety is a fear of being oneself. This can be especially intense for empaths, who can unwittingly take on others' views about how their lives should be and what they should want. Empaths can go through their young adult lives unsure of what they want to do because they are so used to catering to desires that are not their own - whether big or small. An example of a big one would be someone picking a career in IT when they really want to be a psychologist, their choice based on the opinions of their parents, a partner, friends, or even strangers. In many cases, this is unconscious behavior, and for this reason, it can be difficult to change.

You may have to spend a lot of time thinking about what you want and which aspects of your personality you cannot accept about yourself, but you will get there if you are aware of this. This awareness will cause your subconscious to begin making more effort to understand what makes you happy. It can be much easier if you begin to surround yourself with positive influences, as well as hobbies that uplift you, and spend less time around people and environments that have a draining effect on you.

An Introvert - Really?

I do enjoy being alone, but sometimes "introvert" has just been a label that I hide behind. It is difficult for me to open up mentally and emotionally to most - but not all - people.
I do enjoy being alone, but sometimes "introvert" has just been a label that I hide behind. It is difficult for me to open up mentally and emotionally to most - but not all - people. | Source

Understanding Influences

You may not know how to tell how someone's energy affects you. Here are a few things you can ask yourself:

  • Do I feel tightness in my stomach while I interact with them?
  • Are my breaths slow and even or fast and jagged when I am with them?
  • Do I feel like I need a nap during or after time with them?

Simply being aware of the response within your body can give you a good idea of whether or not someone's energy is beneficial or taxing. It's helpful to keep in mind that no one is a good or a bad influence one hundred percent of the time - we all fluctuate depending on our moods and circumstances. Through awareness, we can tell who is mostly responsible for the energy they emit and who is not. When someone is dumping all their feelings and problems on you most of the time and listening to you very little, this is likely a relationship that is not positively affecting you.

The relationships that are most prevalent in your life can determine how you feel about social situations in general. If most of your relationships are draining and codependent, you will likely take on a sense of responsibility for all the other people in your life and feel as though you need to be alone most of the time. Alone time is great, but sometimes we hide behind it. Check out the video by Teal Swan below to learn more.

Related: Teal Swan Video About Introversion

Do you think you would be less of an introvert if you could always meet like-minded, considerate people and only go places you wanted to go?

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Q&A: A Vital Part of the Process

It is easy to read a self-help article; those who consume a lot of this material may fall into the trap of reading and not putting it into practice. Really ask yourself the questions I have presented above and practice presence with yourself by taking note of the sensations within your body. Sometimes I have felt cheesy asking myself, "How do I feel?" However, it is a vital practice if you want to begin changing the unpleasant thoughts and feelings that play like a broken record in your mind. You have to accept and own them, not push them away. And while you accept and own them, they do not need to run you and be your story forever.

If you dread the usual ways people choose to get in touch with themselves, you don't have to meditate. Nor do you have to journal, go to yoga, or see a therapist, if you find these things boring or impractical. Start asking yourself questions. How many minutes per day do you spend on Facebook or news sites? Could you spend at least five minutes of this time in self-inquiry? If you hate meditation, do you really hate it or do you hate being alone in the silence with your thoughts? There are so many questions you could ask yourself - you don't have to go about it seamlessly or perfectly - just start asking and listening!

Who Wouldn't Get Anxious?

Once you learn more about your empathic tendencies, it makes sense as to why you don't enjoy being around other people or even dread it. Because we feel so strongly what others feel, we can experience extra pressure to be what others want us to be. Until we understand what we are and how it works, we can be blindsided when we're having a good day and suddenly feel angry or sad after talking with someone who is in a certain energy.

Friends, Enemies, and Empaths

One of the misconceptions I held when I was first learning about this phenomenon was that I could only take in someone's energy if I cared about them. I was especially distant from family and friends for a while for this reason. But the truth is, if you are empathic, you can pick up anyone's energy. It can be a person on the street that you've never met, your boss, your best friend, or your worst enemy. You may not feel that you want to fix your enemy's problems, but if they are anxious and upset, chances are that after five minutes with them, you will be too.

Being outdoors in a peaceful place alone is like therapy without all the bills. It also gives you the time and space to sort out which feelings belong to you, and which do not.
Being outdoors in a peaceful place alone is like therapy without all the bills. It also gives you the time and space to sort out which feelings belong to you, and which do not. | Source

Simple Energy Clearing Tips

Clearing energy is not something that you must do constantly (I could be a little OCD about it at times), nor should it be yet another thing to contribute to your anxiety. Once I learned what worked for me, I enjoyed being in my quiet space with myself. Here are some tips for getting this to work for you:

  • First of all, schedule a time for this. Treat it like an important appointment. Set aside at least ten minutes just for you. It can be every day or every other day. If you don't have this kind of time, you may want to cut other things from your schedule.
  • If possible, go outside to a quiet and safe area. Pick places and times that you aren't likely to be disturbed. Even if you experience interruptions, use them as practice at presence and directing your mind and heart back to yourself.
  • If you want to use energy-clearing tools, find ones that appeal to you. I like sage, Palo Santo, and crystals. You can also use flowers and candles. You don't need to use them if you don't want to, but they contribute to feeling as though you're in a sacred space.
  • You don't have to think about the energy you want to clear or anything unpleasant. In fact, it's probably better if you don't because your vibration will offer less resistance to the feelings of peace that you are craving!
  • Listen to music or even a teacher that uplifts you. The idea behind this sacred time for yourself is connecting with your spirit and your purpose, which is joy. The more time you spend in this manner, the better, but you can begin small and work your way up. (Some teachers that I enjoy are Orin and DaBen, Ailia Mira, Bob Proctor, and the Your Youniverse channel on YouTube - I will include the links at the bottom of this article.)
  • Use mantras and affirmations. You can create your own reminders to use throughout the day. Here is one that I like to say to myself, when I feel upset after talking to someone else in that energy: "This heaviness does not belong to me." I breathe out the excess energy and breathe in love.

Cultivating of Inner Peace

One of the most rewarding things for me along this path has been creating and being in my own vibe. It is a powerful thing once you realize that you can create your vibe rather than be swept up in someone else's storm. You also don't have to push people away or avoid them once you understand how to be more authentic and clear excess energy.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

  • Is there an online support group for empaths?

    You might be able to find something on Reddit. I'm in a few groups on there, none that are empath-specific, but I have met quite a few people who identify as HSP/empath. Reddit has a lot of activity and is a great place for meeting people you can have pretty consistent communication with. Try searching for empath boards there - something may come up. Let me know what you think if you try it!

© 2017 Holley Hyler


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