Empathic illnesses are those in which you manifest symptoms that are not your own. Many patients have come to me labeled “agoraphobic” with panic disorders, chronic depression, fatigue, pain, or mysterious ailments that respond only partially to medications or psychotherapy. Some were nearly housebound or ill for years. They’d all say, “I dread being in crowds. Other people’s anger, stress, and pain drain me, and I need a lot of alone time to refuel my energy.” When I took a close history of all these patients I found that they were what I call “physical empaths:” people whose bodies are so porous they absorb the symptoms of others. I relate because I am one. Physical empaths do not have the defenses that others have to screen things out. As a psychiatrist, knowing this significantly changed how I treated these patients. My job became teaching them to center and protect themselves, set healthy boundaries, and let go of energy they picked up from others.
To determine if you are a physical empath take the following quiz.
Quiz: Am I a Physical Empath?
If you answered “yes” to 1-3 questions you are at least part empath. Responding yes to 4 to5 questions indicates you have moderate degree of physical empathy. 6 to 7 “yeses” indicate you have a high degree of empathy. Eight yeses indicate you are a full blown empath.
Discovering that you are a physical empath can be a revelation. Rest assured: You are not crazy. You are not a malingerer or hypochondriac. You are not imagining things, though your doctor might treat you like a nuisance. You are a sensitive person with a gift that you must develop and successfully manage.
Strategies to Surrender Toxic Energy
Physical empathy doesn’t have to overwhelm you. Now that I can center myself and refrain from taking on other people’s pain, empathy has made my life more compassionate, insightful, and richer. Here are some secrets to thriving as a physical empath that I’ve learned so that it doesn’t take a toll on my health.
A Survival Guide for Empaths: 9 Strategies To Stop Absorbing Other People’s Illness and Pain (from The Ecstasy of Surrender)
Keep practicing these strategies. By protecting yourself and your space, you can create a magical safe bubble around you that nurtures you, while simultaneously driving negative people away. Don’t panic if you occasionally pick up pain or some other nasty symptom. It happens. With strategies I discuss in my book to surrender other people’s symptoms you can have quicker responses to stressful situations. This will make you feel safer, healthier, and your sensitivities can blossom.
I’m a fanatic about following your passion. As a psychiatrist and intuitive when I work with my patients and workshop participants my mission is to hunt down and reinforce what creatively jibes for them from jobs to finger-painting. In my book, Positive Energy I devote a full chapter to help people to reconnect with their passion and creativity. Whether you’re writing the great American novel, laying bricks, or sprinkling rose petals on a salad, your delight and surrender to the impulse is what catalyzes energy.
Now this is your chance to investigate what does or doesn’t inspire you. The purpose: to honestly access
where your energy goes so you can constructively re-route it. To remember all inspiring inklings, I suggest you keep a journal and review it. Don’t be discouraged if you’re stuck in a rut or feel far from inspired right now. This inventory will turn all that around. Re-inspiring your life takes courage. It’s a solution-oriented process of uncovering, then commencing change.
My focus will be helping you to re-inspire your current job, even tiny bits of it--there’s always a way. Throughout this process, the poet Rumi’s words will be our mantra:
“Let the beauty you love be what you do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”
But how do we get there? Here are some basic steps from my book, Positive Energy.
Step One: In A Journal Define the Conflict About Your Job.
For instance, “I’m exhausted after eight hours, and I hate my work.” Or “I’m bored and need a change.” Or “I feel taken for granted.”
Step Two: Ask yourself the following questions:
Why doesn’t my job inspire me? Pinpoint the cause.
Step Three: Modify Your Current Work Situation
How to Re-inspire your Job:
If you’ve tried to re-inspire your job, but the situation is unredeemable, you may want to look for another. It could be an upward or lateral move. This may make all the difference. One of my patients who felt battered by her Napoleonic boss’s mood swings, found her blood pressure normalized and her inspiration returned when she quit that job and began working with another boss she enjoyed. In these cases, a change of place is just what’s needed.
There is much speculation and anticipation about the advent of the winter solstice on December 21, 2012. This is the date that the Mayan calendar ends and their prediction of the 2012 Galactic Alignment phenomenon, which happens every 25,800 years or so. Some say this represents an opportunity or gateway for the re-birthing of humanity and our planet if we can come together and realize the strength of our collective unity. This means there’s no arbitrary division between Us and Them. That’s only our small-self’s hallucination, but one that can kill off civilization.
In Positive Energy I emphasize that every human being is of one family, a truth I’d bet my life on. Alas we no longer have the luxury to keep debating this. Our Earth, our home, is being plundered. No survival without Her. The fate of our species, of all species, depends on caring for nature’s ecosystems. At a subtle energy level, when wilderness is raped, so are we. When oceans are poisoned, our bodies wail. Causes of physical and emotional suffering are not as pat as they may seem. No coincidence that depression is epidemic and cancer is ravaging so many people dear to us. In our own way, we energetically process the surrounding violence. There’s a metabolism between the exchange of nations, communities, the earth, and our bodies. We must do our part to fight for the abundance of a healthy Earth and its people.
Recognizing that the path to peace is not outside us, we must be cognizant of the energies we project. Remaining naive to this is irresponsible; so is lip service. Though talk alone can uplift, its power pales next to embodying the change we long for. Practicing what we preach is the imperative of our millennium. It may be hard, we may falter, but so what? There’s no escaping that our energy as human beings collectively mingles. “Evil doers” never do it alone. Apathy to healing makes us their accomplices.
The key to this realization is that love is a sustainable energy. Always remember that. The mandate is simple. If you’re tired, love. If you’re happy, love. At your final breath, love some more. When it feels utterly impossible--such moments arrive--try to love again later. I promise: you’ll never leave empty handed when the heart is true. There comes a point when we must decide what our endgame is going to be, personally and for the planet. To me, the only one that makes any sense is love. It’s how we have to define ourselves beyond all other criteria. This will ensure the health and abundance for all.
The present informs the future. So make your present bright. A belief in love is unstoppable. You’ll have the courage to do anything. I want to share with you from my book, Positive Energy an interview I did with the legendary Rosa Parks, the mother of the civil rights movement and recipient of the Martin Luther King Jr. Nonviolent Peace Prize. Rosa Parks exemplifies what the power of love can accomplish.
On December 1, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama my decision not to give up my seat on a bus to a white passenger was intuitive and spontaneous. Like usual, I was just headed home from work at the department store. I was forty-two then, had always thought about freedom. My grandfather and mother taught me that all human beings were equal. But on that bus I just knew that we, as a people, had suffered too long. Even though I was afraid to make a protest--I risked being beaten or killed--I set my mind not to give in to fear. I couldn’t continue to be mistreated for no reason. Then things would never get better. After my arrest, the bus boycott began. We were fortunate that Dr. Martin Luther King, at twenty six, was willing to take the lead. After 381 days of the boycott, the Supreme Court overturned the old laws and made segregation illegal on public transportation in Alabama. This became the model for other southern states to change. I don’t feel angry or victimized about the past, just grateful that the conditions we were under came to an end. If you stay angry at other people, you might miss finding friends among those you were angry with.
I believe that the most positive quality in the human spirit is love. The most negative quality is hatred that has no reason. We can create a more loving world by learning to respect our differences, not judging them. Hatred, like other negative emotions, is a choice. If you choose kindness and humanity you will have peace and prosperity. It also comes from being generous to others when there is no benefit to yourself. My friend, Dr. King, set a profound example for me and many others. He was an extremely kind person. He understood the soul of man.
I know that we can achieve Dr. King’s dream of a world where we come together and live as one. Love, not fear must be our guide. I see a world where children do not learn hatred in their homes. Where people don’t call each other names on the basis of skin color. I can see a world free of violence, where people from every race and religion work together to improve life for everyone.
As we step through the threshold of December 21st let us as one family, hearts joined, keep saying a prayer for the world: “May our people and planet be healthy. May our people and planet be happy. May suffering be lifted. May we know enduring peace.”
As a psychiatrist, I’m a big prescriber of laughter. Not the contrived or canned kind, but laughter from the soul. Just as I guide patients, I’d like you to sense when your funny bone is legitimately hit, an energetic place that resonates. True laughter is a surrender to hilarity; a sound, a smile, a heart opening. You feel it in your chest, or your whole body may shake. Also, notice that prior to a joke, there’s an air of expectation, a subtle shift in consciousness and attention, the promise of mood transformation. But faking laughter is like faking orgasm; no positive energy to be had there. Since I’ve never gotten most conventional jokes, I know the awkward position of hating to fake a smile but being afraid to offend or seem clueless. Now I just make a joke out of my not getting it: that feels more authentic and relieves me of the negative fallout of pretending to be something I’m not.
Energy comes from humor. However, each of us, even the crotchety, must locate our sense of what’s funny, raucous or wry. Although jokes often elude me, I really respond to the spontaneous comedy of life itself. I get a huge kick out of quirky little things such as children squealing as they pop bubble wrap. I consider loss of laughter a crime against psyche and spirit. With my patients, laughter’s absence never gets by me; I make it my business to notice when it’s missing, and help them recoup it. Otherwise, laughter-less, they’re unknowingly living in energetic poverty. We don’t ordinarily equate lack of laughter with deprivation, but, from an energy perspective it is.
5 Strategies to Reconnect with Your Inner Child and Laugh More
I see laughter as a survival tool. As Emerson says, “The earth laughs in flowers.” When you laugh at something everything lightens up. Whatever tightness you have, that particular log jam is broken. The energy of your life force begins to flow again.
As a psychiatrist, patience is an invaluable skill that I teach all my psychotherapy clients. In my book Emotional Freedom I emphasize the importance of patience as a coping skill and how to achieve it. Frustration is not the key to any door. Patience is a lifelong spiritual practice as well as a way to find emotional freedom.
We need a new bumper sticker: FRUSTRATION HAPPENS. Every morning, noon, and night there are plenty of good reasons to be impatient. Another long line. Telemarketers. A goal isn’t materializing “fast enough.” People don’t do what they’re supposed to. Rejection. Disappointment. How to deal with it all? You can drive yourself crazy, behave irritably, feel victimized, or try to force an outcome--all self-defeating reactions that alienate others and bring out the worst in them. Or, you can learn to transform frustration with patience.
Patience doesn’t mean passivity or resignation, but power. It’s an emotionally freeing practice of waiting, watching, and knowing when to act. I want to give patience a twenty-first-century makeover so you’ll appreciate its worth. Patience has gotten a bad rap for the wrong reasons. To many people, when you say, “Have patience,” it feels unreasonable and inhibiting, an unfair stalling of aspirations, some Victorian hang-up or hangover. Is this what you’re thinking? Well, reconsider. I’m presenting patience as a form of compassion, a re-attuning to intuition, a way to emotionally redeem your center in a world filled with frustration.
To frustrate means to obstruct or make ineffectual. Frustration is a feeling of agitation and intolerance triggered when your needs aren’t met; it’s tied to an inability to delay gratification. At our own risk, we’ve become too used to immediate results. Emails zip across the globe in seconds. Parents text messages to their kids to come in for dinner instead of yelling from a front porch. You can get the temperature in Kuala Lumpur or the Malibu Beach surf report with a click of a mouse. Despite the digital age’s marvels, it has propagated an emotional zeitgeist with a low tolerance for frustration--not just when you accidentally delete a computer file, but in terms of how you approach relationships and yourself. Without patience, you turn into your own worst taskmaster. You treat spouses and friends as disposable instead of devoting the necessary time to nurture love. But with patience, you’re able to step back and regroup instead of aggressively reacting or hastily giving up on someone who’s frustrating you. You’re able to invest meaningful time in a relationship without giving up or giving in. In fact, patience gives you the liberating breath you’ve always longed to take.
Frustration prevents emotional freedom. Expressing frustrations in an effort to resolve them is healthy, but it must be done from a non-irritable, non-hostile place. If not, you’ll put others on the defensive. Wallowing in frustration leads to endless dissatisfaction, placing us at odds with life. This emotion makes us tense, kills our sense of humor. It also leads to procrastination; we put things off to avoid the annoyances involved. Conquering frustration will revive your emotional life by making it your choice how you handle daily hassles and stresses.
I’m defining patience as an active state, a choice to hold tight until intuition says, “make your move.” It means waiting your turn, knowing your turn will come. Once you’ve gone all out toward a goal, it entails trusting the flow, knowing when to let the soup boil. With patience, you’re able to delay gratification, but doing so will make sense and feel right. Why? Intuition intelligently informs patience. It’ll convey when to have it and if something is worth working on or waiting for. As a psychiatrist, I’m besotted with patience because it’s intimately intuitive, all about perfect timing, the key to making breakthroughs with patients. I can have the sharpest intuitions or psychological insights, but if I don’t share them at the right moment, they can do damage or else go in one ear and out the other. With regard to this, I strive for enormous patience; anything less would impede healing.
I’m also struck by the fact that every world religion sees patience as a way to know God, an incentive for me to practice it, and perhaps you too. Whereas frustration focuses on externals, patience is a drawing inward towards a greater wisdom. Lastly, patience doesn’t make you a doormat or unable to set boundaries with people. Rather, it lets you intuit the situation to get a larger, more loving view to determine right action. Patience, a gift when given or received, moves within reach when you can read someone’s deeper motives.
To practice patience, try this exercise. I do it all time to turn frustration around in long lines. I advise my patients to do this too.
Emotional Action Step. Practice Patience In A Long Line
To turn the tables on frustration, find a long, slow-moving line to wait in. Perhaps in the grocery store, bank, post office. Or if you’re renewing your driver’s license, dare to take on the mother of all lines in the DMV. But here’s the switch: Instead of getting irritated or pushy, which taxes your system with a rush of stress hormones, take a breath. Tell yourself, “I’m going to wait peacefully and enjoy the pause.” Meanwhile, try to empathize with the overwrought cashier or government employee. Smile and say a few nice words to the other beleaguered people in line. Use the time to daydream; take a vacation from work or other obligations. Notice the stress release you feel, how your body relaxes. Lines are an excellent testing ground for patience. To strengthen this asset, I highly recommend standing in as many as possible.
Practicing patience will help you dissipate stress and give you a choice about how you respond to disappointment and frustration. When you can stay calm, centered and not act rashly out of frustration, all areas of your life will improve.
As you go through the intuitive healing process you need to know: each of us has our own special power. We carry it within; it waits to be awakened. Call it your inner self, your spirit, or light--however conceived, you must meet and come to know your core-essence. The source of all intuition, it is your fiercest ally and advocate against danger. By connecting with this part of yourself you'll mount confidence, feel safer in the world. Then whatever or whoever crosses your path--even the devil incarnate--will be no match for your resilience.
I want you to flush out beliefs that divert you from your intuitive healing power. Begin by asking yourself, "What in my life throws me off center and why?" I'm referring to everything from a stranger flashing you a dirty look, to fear of rejection, to dealing with someone in pain. Interactions where your energy dims. Weak spots, points that need securing. And what about negativity? How do you deal with yours, or another's? If a supervisor says, "You'll never be successful," or an ex-lover announces, "You're incapable of a healthy relationship," do you buy into it? We each have our triggers. The basis for centering and protection is grasping where we get caught, and then disengaging the trigger.
Four common beliefs that drain your intuitive healing power:
1. I'm not strong enough to protect myself.
As children, many of us aren't taught to believe in the full power we contain. Yes, our parents may support our intelligence, talents, physical attractiveness--even teach us sound ethical values, the difference between right and wrong. But what happens to our inner self? Might even devoutly religious parents fail to realize it is there? Our starting point is to recognize we possess a very real internal source which enables us to deeply see and know. Yet when something goes wrong, frequently our first impulse is to look outside ourselves for someone to "fix" us. We get sick; we rush to the doctor. We become depressed; we call a therapist. We're in pain; we take a pill. It's fine to seek expertise--but we have it backwards. Look inside first. Really, it's not a big blank in there. Then act on what your wisdom tells you. What stops us? A likely culprit is the vulnerable child we each carry within. Mogul or mailman, mother or monk, this aspect of our psyche yearns to be taken care of, protected, and is unequipped to do it alone. He pops up in the darndest circumstances, reducing us to a helpless tiny tot. Of course we must tenderly acknowledge her needs--but know where to draw the line. Would you want a baby running your boardroom? Your life? Remember: Your inner self is more than your inner child. Far grander--capable of ministering to all your needs--is the radiance of your spirit. Feeling this, knowing this, is the best protection of all. You must become your own champion before anyone else can. When you believe in yourself, no one else can diminish you.
2. Other people's negative thoughts can harm me.
In my workshops, I'm struck by how worried participants are about being thwarted by other people's negative thoughts. Such concerns need to be addressed. On an intuitive healing level, ill intentions or feelings can affect us, creating anxiety or physical dis-ease. We must train ourselves to deflect them. What is negative energy? Any force antithetical to your well-being. How does it turn up in everyday life? Let's start at the lower end of the spectrum. Your neighbor doesn't approve of you. A friend puts down your plan to start college at forty. Your ex-boyfriend's girlfriend is sending you bad vibes. What do you do?
Strategies to develop intuitive healing:
3. I'm too sensitive for my own good.
The arch-enemy of intuition is lack of sensitivity. Know this: There is no such thing as being overly sensitive. To grasp the concept, you may have to reconfigure old ideas that have been drummed into your head. When parents or teachers said, "You have to toughen up," or especially with boys, "only sissies cry," unknowingly they were undermining the very crux of your intuitive tie with the world. Male sensibility, in particular, has been bludgeoned by such rigid conditioning. But, for both sexes, to break down childhood armoring requires extraordinary commitment, trust, and resolve.
What I'm speaking of isn't simply expressing your emotions. It's slowly learning, in your own time frame, to remain wide open to an intuitive realm--being one with the wind, the moon, other people's joys, sorrows, the continuum of life and death. From this comes an intimate ecstatic bond with all of existence, exactly what you don't want to protect yourself from. Sensitivity only turns against you when you feel overwhelmed. But how do you stay receptive and not get obliterated by the intensity of such input? It is possible to remain vulnerable and feel safe. The answer is never to shut your sensitivity off but to develop it as a creative resource.
4. It’s my job to take on the pain of others.
We're trained that as big-hearted people it's laudable to try to relieve the pain of others. A homeless person holding a cardboard sign, "I'm hungry. Will work for food" at a busy intersection; a hurt child; a distraught friend. It's natural to want to reach out to them, ease their angst. But many of us don't stop there. Inadvertently, we take it on. Suddenly we're the one feeling desolate, off kilter, bereft, when we felt fine before. This loss of center is what I want to address. It does not serve us. I am adamant: the most compassionate, effective route to healing people is to be a supportive presence, not attempt to live their pain for them. Moreover, sometimes suffering has its own cycle that has to be respected, hard as that may be to witness.
We must lie to rest the old metaphysical prototype of the empathic healer. Typically grossly obese women (extra weight, they mistakenly argued, was the only way to stay grounded), who cured patients by absorbing symptoms with the technique of laying on of hands. The result? Patients would leave feeling better; the healers would be a sickly wreck. These women were convinced such a sacrifice was necessary to lessen the suffering of others. As a young physician, I almost got snagged in the same trap. During the first months of private practice, I used to drag myself home, flop into bed half-dead from everything I'd absorb: a sure path to burn-out. This tack wasn't good for me or my patients.
I've learned the value of being a catalyst for people's growth without compromising my well-being. Patients themselves have taught me I can't do the work for them. That is not my job. Nor is it yours. Keep this in mind: it is none of our business to deprive anyone else of their life experiences. I understand the impulse to want to make things better. Compassion and the desire to console are human. But there's a fine line between supporting someone and trying to do it for them. No matter how well-meaning or heartfelt your intention, doing too much is not an act of love but of sabotage. You can be caring and honest with someone, yet still let them be. Don't equate honoring their growth process with abandoning them. A practical philosophy of intuitive healing must include preserving your energy as well as serving others. Striking a balance is essential.
I want to guide you through the process of selecting a health care practitioner to match your needs. I'll point out qualities to look for and those to avoid. Here are some guidelines to follow. Also use common sense combined with intuition to choose the right practitioner for you. Who you let touch your body, prescribe medications, and counsel you about vital health strategies is one of the most important decisions you'll ever make.
In Guide to Intuitive Healing I discuss in detail the do’s and don’ts when evaluating or looking for a doctor. Many of us have stuck far too long with a health care practitioner when we didn't follow our intuition on whether they were a good fit for our needs. Seek out someone who blends intuitive and technical skills implementing as many of the following guidelines from my book as possible.
QUALITIES TO LOOK FOR
Notice if your doctor:
QUALITIES TO AVOID
Notice if your doctor:
It is your right to access who is the right health care practitioner for you. Taking responsibility for your choice by evaluating the above criteria will lead to a more positive and productive relationship with your doctor. The care and time you give to finding the right health care practitioner is very empowering. It allows you to become an integral part of your healing process. When you and your doctor are on the same wavelength, communication about all aspects of your health will be vastly improved.
If you want to see what your body will look like tomorrow, look at your thoughts today.
Your body is programmed for survival. Heeding early warnings protects your health. Familiarize yourself with how your body speaks to you. It wants you to be well. It will tell you if you are not. Hippocrates wrote over two thousand years ago, "There is a measure of conscious thought throughout the body." This is practical wisdom you can live by.
In my book “Dr. Orloff’s Guide to Intuitive Healing” I describe how your body is a richly nuanced intuitive receiver—and how you must be aware your body’s signals to completely heal. This may require some adjustment of how you think about health. As a physician, I’ve seen that many people are trained to function from the neck up denying the rest of their bodies. I want you to re-orient yourself, to respect the intellect, but attend to your body’s messages as well. Being aware of the body can open intuition because you’re focusing on your physicality, getting out of your head and into your sensual awareness. This may mean noticing the early signs of pain so you can act on them, trusting your gut about relationships, or awakening your sexuality. We can't afford to ignore life-informing signals your body sends.
It’s vital to re-train yourself to override mechanisms you’ve developed to push through discomfort. To prevent illness I’m going to show you how to pay special attention to physical distress signals. Honor your body’s messages; don't discount them. Simple prompt action is sometimes all it takes. If you're tired, rest. If you're hungry, eat a delicious meal. If you're stressed, get a relaxing massage. The price of not listening? You come down with the flu; your back goes out. You still don't listen? Chest pain. Ulcers. Depression. The thermostat gets turned up until you pay attention.
To listen to your body and get a headstart on warding off symptoms get used to detecting the quieter messages your body sends. It’s important to listen to what your gut says, whether it’s tied up in knots or relaxed-- this intuition can inform all your decisions by pointing you to people and situations you’re comfortable with. Also notice your energy level around people. Does it go up or down? Your body picks up on this quickly. Try to surround yourself with positive people. This will improve your health and wellbeing. Here are some signals your body sends if it’s out of balance. Some of them you may recognize right away.
5 WARNING SIGNS YOUR BODY SENDS (from “Dr. Orloff’s Guide to Intuitive Healing”)
If you answer “yes” to any of these questions it’s worthwhile to begin by taking a general inventory of your health and stress level. What areas can be improved upon? Examine everything from the amount of exercise to alone time to your relationships. Make sure you’re allotting enough space to recharge. Though the above changes may seen relatively minor, on an intuitive level they indicate early difficulty. To start, do your best to pinpoint and remedy problem areas.
To detect your body’s warnings, both quiet and loud, requires increasing your sensitivity to the nuances of its messages. The art of listening entails sensing smaller symptoms before they become full blown. Mindfulness is key. Denial is the antithesis of intuition. We must do what we can to get past it. As a physician, I’ve seen time and again how increasing body awareness facilitates prevention of illness and more vibrant health. Listening to your body is a powerful step towards self-care that benefits wellness in all areas.