Adapted from Dr. Judith Orloff's Positive Energy: 10 Extraordinary Prescriptions for Transforming Fatigue, Stress, and Fear into Vibrance, Strength, and Love (Three Rivers Press, 2005)
How do you constructively deal with intuitive empathy? What practical methods can you employ to avoid becoming overamped or depleted? I'm going to present some strategies I use. Try them. See which appeal. One is not more preferable than another. Most important is if your choice works.
Walk away. Let's say you're chatting with a man you've just met at a conference and your energy starts bottoming out. Here's how to tell if you're being zapped: Don't hesitate to politely excuse yourself; move at least twenty feet from him (outside the range of his energy field). If you receive immediate relief, there's your answer. Most people are oblivious to how their energy impacts others. Even energy vampires--people who feed off your energy to compensate for a lack of their own--aren't generally intending to sap you yet still they do. Obnoxious or meek, vampires come in all forms. Watch out for them. For years, reluctant to hurt anyone's feelings, I needlessly endured these types of situations and suffered. How many of us are so loathe to appear rude that a raving maniac can be right in our face, and still we don't budge for fear of offending? Whenever possible--if your well-being feels at risk with an individual or group--give yourself permission to make a tactful and swift exit. In a spot, physically removing yourself is a sure quick solution.
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. For instance, your sister is on the rampage. She's about to blow up; you don't want her anger to shatter you. Now--take a deep breath, center yourself, engage your shield. Literally picture it forming a fail-safe barrier around you which deactivates anger. It simply can't get to you. Shielding is a deliberately defensive technique aimed at guarding your feelings, not repressing them. It works by establishing a perimeter of protection around you that functionally doesn't permit harm in.
Practice vulnerability. One tenet of my spiritual practice is to remain as vulnerable as I can to everything; not to shield, the antithesis of defense. Some people prefer my strategy, some don't. Use it if it succeeds for you. Here's the premise (not madness) behind this: if we solidify our bond to our inner self, we'll become centered enough not to need to defend at all. Thus, the best protection turns out to be no protection--a stance that initially alarmed me. It didn't seem possible I could do hands-on energy work with someone who had cancer or depression, for example, without absorbing their symptoms myself. But it was. What could be more liberating than to find I could hold my own and still remain open! Too often we're taught to equate vulnerability with weakness. Not so. I like being vulnerable and also strong. This disarms people. To me, the appeal of such an approach is that it's a non-fear-based way of living in the world. It requires that, increasingly, you harmonize with whatever you confront, let it flow through you, then recenter again, stabilized by your own resilience. Pace yourself. A vulnerable posture will feel safer the stronger you get. It is a choice and a life-long practice.
Meditate. To cement your inner bond and hold your center in any situation, I recommend a daily practice of meditation where you focus on the spirit within. Doing so gets you into the habit of connecting with yourself. Start with a few minutes, then gradually increase the duration. The technique is simple: follow your breath and explore the silence. It is not void or empty; that's the mystery. As thoughts come, and they will, continue to refocus on your breath. Every inhalation. Every exhalation. The spaces between thoughts are where your spirit waits to be discovered. There is something real in there worth finding. My spirit feels like a core of head-to-toe warmth vertically aligned through the center of my body. Imbued in the warmth itself is an intelligence and intuitive responsiveness to my rhythms and questions. It speaks only truth, which resonates like a chiming in every cell. Silently become acquainted with your spirit. You can return to it to reinforce who you really are--not just the self you present to the world, but that part of you that is timeless. Make room to pursue it.