Sometimes, being with a group of people is stressful because, as empaths, we soak up the emotional energy of those around us. We want to be social and engaging yet, at times, we need to retreat in order to clear the energy we’ve taken on. If we are new to the practice of shielding and other methods of self-protection, we may find that the time we engage in social situations needs to be limited.
Finding a workable balance between wanting to be social and needing to be alone can prove difficult for a lot of us, and the first step to knowing what might work for you is to know your triggers.
A trigger is any situation or combination thereof that evokes a stress response necessitating the need to disassociate yourself from others so you can renew and recharge.
For me, a definite trigger is finding myself in a gathering of people I don’t know (a social event or party) and having to engage in small talk about the weather, my work, or other personal information commonly exchanged in such situations. It’s stressful and it almost always depletes me of energy.
You might have read that sentence and thought to yourself, “Well, isn’t that how all social situations are?” I’d answer, “Why yes…yes it is, and that’s the challenge many of us experience.”
Empaths find almost all social gatherings, parties, and networking events to be a source of stress instead of a source of relaxation.
Whereas more extroverted non-empathic folks look forward to a night out with friends, introverted empaths don’t. We naturally crave alone time, not people time. Just going to work for eight hours a day can deplete our energy stores so the last thing we want to do after work is to socialize or party. We need solo time before we can re-engage with the world again.
I recall being on a business trip a number of years ago and after successfully wrapping up a 14-hour meeting, I was the lone person out of 15 to go back to the hotel. Everyone else wanted to blow off steam and go to a bar, drink, and relax. Being an empath (even though I didn’t know it at the time), I needed the solace of my hotel room and some quiet time.
Is there a balance?
If there is some method for achieving a balance between the desire to be with people and the need for isolation, it most likely comes through individual experimentation. What works for one doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to work for all.
For example, I continue to attend social gatherings with my wonderfully supportive girlfriend, Karen. Before arriving I’ll do a basic shielding visualization to prepare. I can do this while driving or, if Karen drives, I can close my eyes and do it in the passenger seat.
When we arrive, I experiment with what helps and what doesn’t (see the suggestions below). I’ve learned from past experiences to assess the personalities present and see who talks the most or the loudest and distance myself from prolonged engagement with that person.
It is, of course, no fault of the other person that I’m sensitive to their energy, so I take on the responsibility of doing what’s necessary for the good of all. It helps greatly that Karen understands how I’m wired and allows me to decide what’s working.
Suggestions for experimentation
If you’re also an empath, you know that it’s unrealistic to think that you can live in the world without being affected by it. As such, it becomes your responsibility to learn how to take care of your own empathic needs while balancing them with functioning in the larger world. Your goal becomes not to withdraw from the world, but to engage it in a way that doesn’t harm you.
Learn to shield yourself. Shielding helps to protect you in the midst of high-energy environments. This link is a good primer for learning to shield: Click here to read the article.
Focus on breathing. In Zen and other Buddhist traditions, meditation practice centers on the breath. By turning your attention to your breath you can visualize yourself exhaling the negative energy and inhaling only positive. The breath is a very powerful tool to use and the best part is that it’s always with us.
Ask, ‘Is this mine?’ Sometimes at a social gathering, you will suddenly feel physical or emotional changes. It’s a good practice to focus on it for a minute and ask yourself whether this is your energy or someone else’s. If there is no reason for you to feel down or a new pain sensation you didn’t bring with you, it’s probably not your energy. Then you can…
Move away from the energy. Judith Orloff, MD in The Empath’s Survival Guide is right when she recommends “stepping away from what’s disturbing you.” As in the case of a loud talker or a frequent talker, I’ll distance myself from the speaker so I can not be buffeted by the negative energy. You may need to politely move on and mingle with others if you trapped by a similar energy vampire.
Setting limits. If you know that cocktail mixers and parties affect you negatively, perhaps you can plan to attend for no more than 20 minutes and then make your way home. If you’re attending as a couple, consider taking separate cars so that you can quietly slip out and allow your non-empath partner to remain and still have fun. If you’re at a conference, set a vibration alarm on your phone or watch to remind you to take frequent solo-time breaks. If you normally eat lunch in a crowded, noisy environment, consider doing that twice a week and eating in your car. I did that for years.
Being an empath doesn’t have to be a handicap. It doesn’t have to rule your life even though there is no escaping it. It may be what you are, but there are ways to accommodate your sensitivities and live a complete and full life.
In the final analysis, it’s up to each of us to find what works and what doesn’t.