By Judith Orloff MD
Healing Medicine for Our World
Our world desperately needs healing. The world is wounded and in pain. Our earth, our climate, our global relationships are not being honored and protected. Even so, division and polarization are not the answers. Rather, empathy is the sacred medicine the world needs.
What is empathy? It is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes–even if you don’t agree with them. The great healing power of empathy is that you can see things through other people’s eyes–which gives you the best chance at communicating with them. Empathy doesn’t make you weak, sentimental, or cause you to make the wrong decisions because you’re too “soft” To the contrary: it opens your heart so you can combine the insight you gain from empathy with the reasoning mind to know what path to take towards peace.
Global and personal peace are always the goal. Being empathic doesn’t mean you’ll always succeed a bridging the gap between yourself and others. But it does give you the best chance at uniting your personal relationships and humankind.
Self-care Techniques for Empaths
I’m a UCLA-trained psychiatrist–and I’m an empath. An empath is someone who is wired differently neurologically than many people. Empaths aren’t born with the same filters and defenses that others have. Everything hits us more strongly. Without the proper self-care techniques that I discuss in my book, “The Empath’s Survival Guide,” we become emotional sponges who absorb the stress and pain of the world.
I’m moved by how many people write me about what a revelation it is to find out they are an empath! I believe that most everyone has at least a little empath in them! For all sensitive people who want to keep their hearts open in difficult times, learning to nurture your empathy is key–and so is finding a balance so you don’t experience compassion fatigue or burnout.
Lately, in my psychiatric practice, there has been an epidemic of patients coming to me who are exhausted, angry, depressed, and overwhelmed by what’s happening in our country and the world. They become addicted to cable television news–but it only makes them sick to keep watching so much. The dilemma is that caring people may want to do something to help, but they are inundated by negativity and become exhausted.
Five Tips for Empaths and Carers
Here are five tips for empaths and all caring people to keep your empathy alive and take good care of yourself:
- Take period news and internet fasts. Do not watch news before going to sleep so you can have a restful night. Limit your news intake to 15 minutes per day max.
- Regularly spend time in nature replenishing yourself.
- Mediate at least three minutes daily focusing on the power of love, not hate. The power of the good will win if we all focus on this, rather than fear.
- Take daily baths or showers to renew yourself and wash away negativity and stress.
- Focus on what you have to be grateful for every morning.
The Gift of the Empath & Belief
The gifts of empath are many but experiencing them requires us to “go higher.” You must be the wise one who says “no” to fear and “yes” to the power of goodness. I realize this isn’t always easy, as one of my patients, Linda, found out. Every time she had a dinner with her extended family, a relative would lash out at Linda about beliefs regarding the importance of solar power to help ward off global warming.
The relative was emotionally suffering. He was angry about being laid off from his job in the auto industry. Despite his attempts to find a new job, he hadn’t worked for two years. He was angry and took it out on her. But, to her credit, and with the help practicing a positive approach to deal with him in our sessions she didn’t go for the bait. Instead, she took a deep breath and paused rather than react.
She was able to empathize with the pain he felt at being unemployed and she told him, “I love you. I don’t want to fight with you. So, I think we need to agree to disagree. I know how hard it has been to get a job. It must be really difficult for you.” My patient was surprised by his response. He broke down crying at the table, sharing his grief about not being able to work. She comforted him and they felt more bonded as a result.
Empathy Leads to Greater Understanding
She didn’t change her beliefs. He didn’t change his beliefs. But the door was open for a loving relationship of understanding. When people are hurt and don’t have the emotional skills to express the hurt they may get combative and angry. Empathy gives you the greater vision not to react to his expression of their “lower self” but try to win them over with your heart. You won’t always succeed but empathy will give you the greatest chance of success.
If you want peace, you must be the messenger. If you want to see a change in the world you must believe in goodness and work in small ways every day to build peace. Empathy lets you come from your highest self rather than just reacting from your “lower self” which is entirely justified in feeling what it feels. However, staying in your lower self won’t create the changes the world needs.
Empathy for yourself and others will help you change the destructive patterns in the world. Your mind might say “this is impossible” by remember to check in with your heart. It will tell you otherwise. It will tell you that the good in more powerful than any darkness. And that even in times of darkness your belief in the good will ignite the light of others. As the Dalai Lama says, “Empathy is the most precious of human qualities.”
(Adapted from The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People by Judith Orloff, MD, which is a guidebook for empaths and all caring people who want to keep their hearts open in an often-insensitive world.)