1. Sort out your feelings and emotions
Due to high empathy, you might be entangled in a complex stream of feelings. What's curious, however, is that some of them are not even belonging to yourself! Empaths have a peculiar ability to pick up even the emotions which are not directly spoken about. You need to learn how to discriminate between feelings which come from your own experience from those which come from other people or are projected onto you.
I can see how that could be misinterpreted – some people would love to use this technique in order to get rid of uncomfortable emotions. In other words, it could be used as a quick excuse to disown your feelings by making them belonging to someone else. This is not what I'm proposing at all.
You need to be proficient in emotional intelligence in order understand the emotional world. Emotional intelligence does not necessarily equal empathy – we could compare empathy to the experience itself whereas the emotional intelligence to the ability of interpreting and understanding it. High insight and self-reflection could aid you in this process of understanding the emotional world.
To use a practical example, imagine that after meeting up with a friend you feel quite sad or overwhelmed (that's probably not a difficult to imagine example for empaths). Until you find a correct explanation for why you are feeling in this particular way, your feelings will be cycling around unprocessed. This could be compared to fitting a correct key to the lock. Are you feeling this way because you've met your friend? Or have you actually taken up the feelings of your friend on your shoulders, regardless if your friend explicitly stated how they feel or not?
That's why a good understanding of your feelings and emotions is the first and most important skill for empaths to learn. Otherwise, you might be swimming in emotional experiences which can be confusing and overwhelming. Sort our what belongs to you and what belongs to others.
2. Develop self-understanding
Some, if not most, empaths have a peculiar habit of feeling as if they are carrying the whole world on their shoulders. Although it's quite a noble idea to live by, sooner or later it might lead to bitterness, resentment and burn out.
The brutal truth is that people's problems are not your problems. It might be easy to immerse ourselves in the stream of helping behaviours but remember this – unsolicited help and advice can create more damage than good.
Additionally, you need to think about yourself and your own needs. If you keep focusing on other people, it's very easy to forget about your own needs, and this road leads only to bitterness and resentment. When you are constantly not having your needs met whilst not communicating what you need, you are bound to feel disappointed, cheated, and eventually resentful for not getting what you need. However, it's hardly ever other people's fault – if you constantly focus on others, their problems and miseries, it will be difficult for you to understand what you need. As a result of not perceiving your needs, you will experience feelings related to frustrated or unmet needs whilst not being able to understand what you want or what you need.
Practical skills which can help you to avoid getting to the point of resentment and bitterness are assertiveness, introspection, journaling, confidence/self-esteem training, and time alone where you can spend more time with yourself and doing what makes you feel good.
In other words, take your time to understand yourself, develop self-awareness, and acknowledge your needs.
3. Learn to let go
Clinging to toxic relationships, staying around people that don't understand you or bring you down, engaging in unhealthy coping strategies which you use to cope with your feelings, and dwelling on feeling hurt or on hurting others – these are all examples of behaviours that set you on a pathway to burnout.
You are not obligated to stay around people who constantly need your support, neither you are obligated to stay in relationships which stun you growth or impact your health negatively.
Empaths get quite creative when it comes to doing things which are unhealthy for them. Perhaps you feel you need to stay around your friend because she feels lonely and you want to help her despite the fact that she brings you down and you can't cope with the whole emotional experience. Perhaps you think that it is your duty to stay in a toxic relationship because you've made a commitment and you are a reliable person.
You need to separated yourself from your idealistic inclination and learn to listen to your needs. This will often lead to letting go of people and situations which don't serve you well.
Don't take more than you can handle. Development of your strength doesn't happen over night, and neither it will happen by forcing yourself to do more than you are currently capable of. Take smaller steps if necessary, but don't forget about respecting your limitations.
4. Grow some teeth and befriend your shadow
Empaths like to believe in the idea that they are good, compassionate and helpful people. This idealism, however, often causes the most problems.
Life is not all bliss – just like in the wildness, there are predators and preys. Not all your acts are going to be reciprocated, not every person you encounter will wish you well, and more often than not, you won't get what you want until you ask for it, or sometimes, unless you fight for it.
Most empaths have, often an unconscious, belief that if they do good, good will be reciprocated to them. That is it their duty to do good (however 'good' can be definite) no matter what, even if it costs them their health and resources. Although the law of karma often set on our path what we need most, there is no guarantee that all the good you create will be reciprocated. Even your best intentions could be easily misinterpreted, ignored, underappreciated.
Everyone carries the shadow of their conscious personality. The unrealized shadow can lead you to a strange place of unawareness and taking destructive actions. Why? Consider this example: can you control your destructive and predatory inclinations by keeping them unconscious and denying their existence or by making them conscious and knowing what you are capable of?
Even the nicest person you can image will have predatory instincts. If you place them in a situation where their survival depends on them hurting someone, they will most likely, do everything they can to survive, even if it means hurting others. That's how we are wired – if it wasn't true, we wouldn't be here as our ancestors would have been killed by predatory animals.
Most importantly, however, is to realize that not all people are well-intentional and caring beings. Take, for instance, a case of serial murderers or other people with psychopathic tendencies who are very much present around us. They know only one game and this game is about being a predator.
You need to realize that you are just as capable to do good as you are capable to do evil. It doesn't mean that you need to allow the shadow to run your life or hurt all people who get in your way. Quite contrary – by realizing your shadow, you will then have a choice to act accordingly to the situation. No more resentment, no more doing things that you don't want to do, no more feeling like an exploited victim.
There is a very interesting explanation of levels of shadow integration and simultaneously, personal development in empaths made by a clinical psychologist, Abdul Saad. He sees the highest developmental level (Authentic Altruist) as being associated with the high self-awareness of one's darker impulses and potentialities for being selfish and destructive, as well as the realization of various beliefs associated with creative and helping impulses. In other words, the Authentic Altruist sees life, one's behaviours, and other people through realistic perspective, where helping stops being a compulsion or a duty and becomes a choice. You can check out his explanation here.
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