If you identify as an empath or highly sensitive person, you know how deeply you can feel. Identifying and understanding the emotions of others, to a greater extent than most, are ways you find fulfillment. You’re a helper.
And I’m sure by now you know that there’s a flip side to these beautiful empathic traits. When we don’t know how to manage our abilities in a healthy way—or when we don’t fully understand their true limits—they can dip into destruction, negatively affecting the well-being of ourselves and the people we touch.
Empaths already carry a heavy load of personal growth goals to tackle in our lifetimes: learning how to set healthy boundaries, managing anxiety from absorbing emotions, making true self-care a priority. But these lessons are about what we let in. Not what we let out.
And there lies the gap in knowledge for empaths today. A realm of emotions that many would rather leave unexplored. But just because we feel deeply and bend easily from the energy around us does not mean we’re exempt from understanding the effect that our own emotions, words, and actions have on others when they leave from our bodies.
To cling to the identity of the connected soul, claim the “collective energy” of others’ lived experiences as your own, and fall back on the fluffy pillows of I’m too sensitive to handle this is a privilege. To witness the pain, anger, and fear that ooze out of a screen and step back from them when you put down your phone is a privilege.
More than editing the occasional bad habit, being a conscious empath requires maintaining an awareness of the limits of our empathy and the impact that privilege, of all different varieties, has on our voice.
The conscious empath recognizes that their empathy will always be incomplete. They know they have a responsibility to connect with and serve all people if they’re here to do good. So they slice open their heart to observe and take ownership of what’s inside, the good and the bad. They learn from what they find and remain humble and open enough to make changes, without expecting a reward for doing what’s right.
If you’re on the path to become a conscious empath, and you’re looking for ways to change, then let’s get real. Here are some ways to start.
Understand the Limits of Empathy
Get comfortable with the fact that empathy is incomplete. The empath identity becomes dangerous when you believe that you are so in tune with others that you take on their pain or feel the rippling aftereffects of trauma occurring halfway around the world as your own. There is a limit to our empathy that makes this complete mirroring impossible.
Two siblings, raised the same way, will experience unique childhoods. Two partners, together for decades, will never fully know each other. So what makes us think that two people can share the exact same emotions when they will always have different perspectives, backgrounds, beliefs, and experiences?
We will never know what it feels like to be in someone else’s body or mind. We may share someone’s anger, but our anger will never be at the same volume as theirs. We may share someone’s sadness, but the tears that fall to the floor are made from a salty water all our own.
Yes, we should always try hard to relate closely to those in our personal circles and be aware of what people in other parts of the world are going through. A gentle curiosity, a willingness to observe and learn, can help us power positive change to create safer, healthier environments. But empathizing doesn’t happen outside the body, so we can’t expect it to fill a gap between two distinct souls, no matter how small.
Eliminate the Illusion of Collective Energy
Think twice about your use of “collective energy.” Many empaths—often of the ethereal white women variety—claim to feel collective energy. I imagine it to be living and breathing, like waves of emotions crashing between bodies and flowing all the way into the delicate heart of a “global empath.”
This image is nice, but it doesn’t make much sense, and I often wonder what other empaths would say if they were asked to define it.
- What people are included in the collective?
- Which geographic locations does the collective cover?
- Does the collective represent a majority or everyone?
- What makes the collective energy shift?
Of course we can all get a snapshot of how the majority of people are faring in different pockets of the planet by scrolling through social feeds, reading the news, or catching up with members of our community. But believing that we soak up the stress of a collective widespread trauma (and some empaths believe they do this without even knowing what far-off events produce that pain) is a twisted type of compassion that puts the attention back on us. It inserts us into conversations, thrusts us into spotlights, and causes us to miss real opportunities to make a difference.
And we can’t mistake a return to calm, positive vibes in our own neck of the woods as a shift that an entire “collective” feels because—news flash—pain and suffering are always occurring somewhere.
See the Facts of Limiting Beliefs
Be aware of limiting beliefs that may be straight up facts. As more and more healers, coaches, writers, creatives, and leaders in the empath and self-improvement communities tout the benefits of viewing blockages as limiting beliefs, the line between fact and fiction blurs in a way that risks doing damage.
Sometimes the limiting beliefs we encourage others to shed on the path to achieving their goals aren’t really beliefs at all. And empaths that don’t understand the effect that mental health, social issues, past experiences, and other special circumstances have on our growth and well-being may end up silencing voices that need to be heard to heal.
Dismissing very real struggles as common limiting beliefs that we can so easily overcome (in four short coaching sessions or after skimming an Instagram caption) is not the message we should send to the people we’re here to help.
- A person believes that feeling confident and excited about new endeavors will never come easily for them. They’re not suffering from a limiting belief. They’re dealing with the effects of anxiety in stressful situations.
- A person believes that they have to work harder to build their business as a Black woman. They’re not suffering from a limiting belief. They’re dealing with the effects of racism in business.
- A person believes that it will be more difficult for them as a woman to gain recognition and move up at their workplace. They’re not suffering from a limiting belief. They’re dealing with the effects of gender in the workplace.
- A person believes that they will always have challenges with getting things done at home and at work. They’re not suffering from a limiting belief. They’re dealing with the effects of ADHD in everyday life.
Uncover the Uncomfortable
When we take time to think through why we support certain belief systems, frameworks, and messages that feel outdated—or why we hesitate to support them—we begin to take a conscious approach to our identity as empaths, constantly reassessing what feels good. We stop going through the motions, and we build a new image of what it means to be empathic. What it means to embody empathy to the best of our abilities.
What are your thoughts on empathy, collective energy, and limiting beliefs? In what ways are you closely examining your own empathic habits and the mainstream empath culture? How do you define the conscious empath?
Feel free to join the conversation and let me know your thoughts on how we can improve the empath community. Leave a comment below or send me a message when you get a chance! I’d love to hear from you.