Empathy is a superpower that allows you to feel and think like other people. Although this sounds cool on paper many people who have empathy would rather give it up or find it a nuisance because it makes you sensitive to other people’s emotions and opinions. Friends and family have all said they would love to give away their empathy and I understand because it’s hard feeling the intense feelings of others. Instead of giving away the power, I implore you to hone your raw empathy into emotional intelligence. Here are my tips on how to begin doing that.
The first step that I took to honing my empathy was getting to know myself. In order to “detach” from the feelings of others, you must know where your boundaries are. You must understand yourself so that when you empathize you don’t “lose yourself” in the emotion of others. I recommend spending time alone, meditating or write a “personal manifesto”. A personal manifesto is a list of your values and goals, and the list of values is of particular importance here because when you start feeling the opposite of the things you value (such as love, happiness, etc.) you’ll know when you’re entering into someone else’s mind space. Google personal manifesto for some great examples.
Understand but Don’t Embody
The next step is to understand people but not embody them. You can understand someone’s reasoning (or lack of) behind their emotion but most empaths carry those feelings with them long after they have empathized with a person. There’s nothing wrong with getting teary-eyed or tense while empathizing, but you must realize that you are responsible for your own emotions. You may be bent out of shape, but you can always bend yourself back. This is why knowing yourself is important because it gives you an idea of what your baseline emotional state is so you can anchor yourself when you feel lost in someone else’s emotions. Also, the other person is responsible for their own emotions so do what you can to help others, but don’t carry their baggage for them.
Emotions are Memes
The word “meme” was termed by Richard Dawkins in his book “The Selfish Gene” and he asserts that evolution is no longer physical, but mental/cultural. Paraphrasing, He says that ideas evolve like animals that feed on human attention. They can replicate (through social media), and mutate (think of all the variations of your favorite meme). We even intuitively understand saying that things going “viral”. Thoughts and Emotions are memes. Be careful which ones you let feed off you. It’s ok to affirm that you feel someone else’s negative emotion in the moment, but don’t carry it around in your mind like a parasite. I like to imagine “anti-body memes” that clear away unwanted thoughts and then replace them with more desirable memes. The best part about this is not only can you receive memes you can send memes as well. Most empaths I’ve talked to tend to describe themselves as passive containers that embody other people’s emotions. Instead of containers, I see empaths as rechargeable batteries. Not only can they be charged with other people’s emotions, but through empathy and the understanding that comes with it, empaths can charge others with their emotions as well.