Judith Orloff, M.D
Emotions such as fear, anger, frustration, and immobility are energies. And you can potentially ‘catch’ these energies from people without realizing it. If you tend to be an emotional sponge, it’s vital to know how to avoid taking on an individual’s negative emotions, or even how to deflect the free-floating negativities in crowds.
Another twist is that chronic anxiety, depression, or stress can turn you into an emotional sponge by wearing down your defenses. Suddenly, you become hyper-attuned to others, especially suffering with similar pain. That’s how empathy works; we zero in on hot-button issues that are unresolved in ourselves.
From an energetic standpoint, negative emotions can originate from several sources: what you’re feeling may be your own; it may be someone else’s; or it may be a combination. Here is how to tell the difference and strategically bolster your positive emotions so you don’t shoulder negativity that doesn’t belong to you.
Stop Absorbing Other People’s Emotions
1. Identify whether you’re susceptible. The person most likely to be overwhelmed by negative energies surrounding you is an “empath”, someone who acts as an “emotional sponge”. Signs that you might be an empath include:
- People call you “hyper-sensitive”, “overly sensitive”, etc., and they don’t mean it as a compliment!
- You sense fear, anxiety, and stress from other people and draw this into your body, resolving them as your own physical pain and symptoms. It doesn’t have to be people you don’t know or don’t like; you’re also impacted by friends, family, and colleagues.
- You quickly feel exhausted, drained, and unhappy in the presence of crowds.
- Noise, smells, and excessive talking can set off your nerves and anxiety.
- You need to be alone to recharge your energy.
- You’re less likely to intellectualize what you’re feeling. Your feelings are easily hurt.
- You’re naturally giving, generous, spiritually inclined, and a good listener.
- You tend to ensure that you’ve got an escape plan, so that you can get away fast, such as bringing your own car to events, etc.
- The intimacy of close relationships can feel like suffocation or loss of your own self.
2. Seek the source. First, ask yourself whether the feeling is your own or someone else’s. It could be both. If the emotion such as fear or anger is yours, gently confront what’s causing it on your own or with professional help. If not, try to pinpoint the obvious generator.
- For instance, if you’ve just watched a comedy, yet you came home from the movie theater feeling blue, you may have incorporated the depression of the people sitting beside you; in close proximity, energy fields overlap.
- The same is true with going to a mall or a packed concert. If crowded places upset or overwhelm you, it may well be because you’re absorbing all the negative energy around you.
3. Distance yourself from the suspected source, where possible.Move at least twenty feet away; see if you feel relief. Don’t err on the side of not wanting to offend strangers. In a public place, don’t hesitate to change seats if you feel a sense of depression imposing on you.
4. Center yourself by concentrating on your breath. Doing this connects you to your essence. For a few minutes, keep exhaling negativity, inhaling calm. This helps to ground yourself and purify fear or other difficult emotions. Visualize negativity as gray fog lifting from your body, and hope as golden light entering. This can yield quick results.
5. Flush out the harm. Negative emotions such as fear frequently lodge in your emotional center at the solar plexus (celiac plexus).
- Place your palm on your solar plexus as you keep sending loving-kindness to that area to flush stress out.
- For longstanding depression or anxiety, use this method daily to strengthen this center. It’s comforting and it builds a sense of safety and optimism as it becomes a ritual.
6. Shield yourself. A handy form of protection many people use, including healers with trying patients, involves visualizing an envelope of white light (or any color you feel imparts power) around your entire body. Think of it as a shield that blocks out negativity or physical discomfort but allows what’s positive to filter in.
7. Manage the emotional overload. You don’t need to be beholden to your ability to absorb other’s emotions; turn the curse into a gift by practicing strategies that can free you:
- Learn to recognize people who can bring you down. People who are particularly difficult for emotional empaths include criticizer, the victim, the narcissist, and the controller. Judith Orloff terms these people“emotional vampires”. When you know how to spot these behaviors, you can protect yourself against them, including removing yourself from their presence, and telling yourself that “I respect the person you are within even though I don’t like what you’re doing.”
- Eat a high protein meal before entering stressful situations such as being part of a crowd. When in a crowd, find places of refuge, such as sitting on the edges, or standing apart.
- Ensure that you don’t have to rely on other people to get you out of difficult situations. Bring your own car or know how to get home easily when needed. Have sufficient funds to be able to make alternate arrangements if you start feeling overwhelmed.
- Set time limits. Knowing how much you can stand and obeying that limit is vital to ensure your mental well-being. Also set kind but meaningful boundaries with others who overwhelm you; don’t stand around listening to them talking for two hours when you can only cope with half an hour.
- Have your own private place in a home shared with others. Ask others to respect your downtime during which you can rejuvenate. This is especially important to prevent you from taking on your partner’s feelings too much. A study, man cave, sewing room, reading nook, etc., all offer your own space.
- Practice meditation and mindfulness.
8. Look for positive people and situations. Call a friend who sees the good in others. Spend time with a colleague who affirms the bright side of things. Listen to hopeful people. Hear the faith they have in themselves and others. Also relish hopeful words, songs, and art forms. Hope is contagious and it will lift your mood.
- Cultivate positive emotions that boost your inner strength. If you’re surrounded by peace and love, you’ll flourish as strongly as negative emotions cause you to wilt. Respecting your own needs through healthy self love will increase your ability to respect others.
- Learn to use compassion as a way to defend yourself against overwhelming emotions. Compassion allows you to be empathetic to the plight of other people but also requires that you are compassionate toward yourself. This means that you don’t need to feel guilty about seeking respite from being overwhelmed; doing so ensures that you can be more engaged with others in the long run, rather than less so. It also means that you keep yourself whole by not immersing yourself in the world of negative people.
9. Create and maintain a haven for disengagement. Leave many paths open that lead to communing with the resonance of nature. Returning to your rightful home as a creature of nature switches off your victim mentality and recharges you energetically and spiritually.
- Keep a picture of a waterfall or a lush forest with you and look at it when overwhelmed.
- Step onto the quiet of a forest path or absorb the coolness of a gently babbling brook from beneath a weeping willow.
- Maintain a your personal space of cozy retreat where you hook into your own personal power and energy.
- Practise Yoga and breathing techniques. These draw upon emotional centering and provide safe harbor in times of storm.