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Do you feel like you absorb other people’s energy?

If you identify as an empath or a highly sensitive person (HSP), you might be wondering how to stop absorbing other people’s energy. But what does that mean, exactly? We often talk about empathic traits as a double-edged sword; on one hand it’s a gift to be able to feel another’s emotions, to better understand where they’re coming from (which is actually just being highly empathetic), on the other hand it can feel like a burden to be subjected to the emotional turmoil of those around us – we don’t know how to stop absorbing other people’s energy. In a coaching context, clients are almost always focused on the negative aspects of this. For HSP’s it’s similar (and it’s possible to be both) but I often find that “being an empath” is held up as an almost supernatural ability (or curse) that one either has or does not have, but I’m not convinced.

How to stop absorbing other people’s energy and emotions

Is it even possible to absorb other people’s energy and emotions? Maybe, but not in a way that we’ve been able to quantify. Regardless of the answer, what’s important is what’s helpful. We miss the mark by assuming that that’s always the case when emotions are feeling turbulent in the presence of others, and what we’re really doing is avoiding managing our own inner world by throwing our hands up and saying we’re “just really empathic” and need to check out of a situation because the vibe is off. While we would never willingly give our power away to another person or entity, it can be tempting to say that we’re just burdened by our empathic nature and don’t know how to stop absorbing other people’s energy. It’s not our fault, there’s nothing we can do about it.

And that’s where I think we actually miss a really important opportunity – in a sense it doesn’t matter if it’s true or not that we can absorb other people’s energy and emotions – what matters is what we do about it. Ultimately, it comes down to our thoughts, no matter the circumstance. We can always choose our thoughts intentionally in any situation, and that has a direct impact on our emotional experience. 

Follow the clues to find the “thought of origin”

I used to think that anytime I felt an emotion I couldn’t explain, it was because I must be taking it on from someone else nearby. Most of the time, however, I was actually highly observant and moving from circumstance to thought to feeling so quickly that what was happening almost had no other option but to feel supernatural. 

For example, in my early twenties when I first sought out energy healing it was in response to what felt like a truly out-of-control experience of absorbing the emotions of my intense male coworkers. I felt exhausted and physically ill constantly. My manager would walk into the conference room, quietly sit down, and ask the team about a deliverable. I would immediately feel like I was going to throw up and was completely on edge. I hadn’t felt that way at all until he walked into the room, so I must be absorbing his energy, right? There must be something going on in his world that he was rudely pushing onto me by being in my energy field. 

Maybe that’s true. But what is much more likely is the following: My manager walked into the room, and I subconsciously noticed he was walking differently, more nervous, rigid and upright. I could tell something was wrong. I knew he had just come from a meeting with our client. He was frowning as he sat down and radiated that anxiety. I had a thought about what that must mean – for instance, I’d done something wrong or was about to be discovered as inadequate in my work products or general life. I felt nauseous in response to my own thought about myself noticing the circumstances around me – my boss was mad. I did not know why. I’d been conditioned (along with most women if we’re honest) to believe if someone is upset it must be my fault.

So it’s easy to conclude from the outside that I’m just very empathic, because in the full-speed version all we saw was that I felt fine, my boss came into the room, and I didn’t feel fine anymore. And again, I’m not saying we know for sure that’s not true – after all, a lot of things are true before we can prove that they’re true – but it’s worth investigating the thoughts that go with the emotions. If you can’t identify the thought, it will feel like wizardry. But the thought is there, you just have to slow down long enough and practice paying attention. Having command of your inner world and the thoughts that create it will provide the shielding you really need, more than just visualizing white light around yourself or removing yourself from the situation. Mastering your mind is the long-term solution.

Sometimes you still just need a break and that’s not a problem

I need a lot of alone time, especially after peopleing for an extended period. My guess is you do too, if you’re reading an article about how to stop absorbing other people’s energy (because you’re probably tired and stressed and overwhelmed). Being tired after being around people for an extended period is a real thing if you’re an introvert. But you’re not tired (or insert any other emotion) because of other people’s emotions. That’s the most important takeaway – you’re still in charge of your own experience.

In mindset coaching, one of the tools we work with is cognitive distancing, which helps us recognize that our thoughts are not always facts, and our emotions are not permanent. But we’re not always ready to do that work in a moment when we’re feeling really overstimulated or sensitive – in fight-or-flight mode the prefrontal cortex shuts down and with that, our cognitive flexibility and control. The time to engage in rational analysis is not when the prefrontal cortex is offline. Sometimes you just need to ride it out until you’re in a more resourceful place. I pulled together my favorite activities to help with riding out difficult emotions, and hope you find them helpful! These are all literally things I have in my bag when I travel.

The benefits of being sensitive in an insensitive world

Once you learn how to stop absorbing other people’s emotions (which we now know means learning how to stop attributing your emotions to other people and start recognizing that they are linked, always, to your thoughts) you can enjoy the benefits of being more sensitive and empathetic.

When you have an understanding of the energy and emotions of others, you can show up with more compassion in the relationship, no matter what it is. When you can identify emotions more quickly using very subtle clues, you can avoid misunderstandings and de-escalate potential conflicts before they get out of control.

When you get really good at putting yourself in other people’s shoes and understanding how they feel, you might feel compelled to take action to right wrongs and combat injustice. It’s harder to tap into the massive energy needed to make lasting change in the world if you don’t know or don’t care what’s going on with other people (or if you’re constantly overwhelmed and feeling out of control). Believing that you’re not able to control your emotions and energy is very disempowering and extremely draining – no one can show up as their full, powerful selves if that’s the constant narrative. And that’s what it’s about at the end of the day – showing up better, making the world better – so pay attention to the narrative you have in your head.

You don’t need to learn how to stop absorbing other people’s emotions

You just need to learn how to manage your mind. For hands-on help with that, we have mindset coaching. To get started with the basics though, any time you feel an emotion you don’t quite understand, treat it like a game and try to trace back the “thought of origin” before giving your coworker or partner the credit.  This will help you better understand the connection, and over time, learn to choose new thoughts on purpose so that you can better regulate your emotional experience. If you don’t know how to slow down long enough to catch a thought, I suggest writing things down. Journaling is absolutely the most common thing everyone talks about doing and almost no one actually does consistently. There’s no way to get the benefits without doing the work – even 5 to 10 minutes of free writing will reveal thoughts you didn’t realize you were entertaining on a subconscious level, and your emotions will start to make a lot more sense. Try it out and let me know how it goes!

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