Wanting Love VS Wanting to Be Alone: My Challenge as an Empath

9 Survival Tips I’ve Learned About Empaths and Intimacy

Are you an empath? To learn coping skills, get my PDF “Life Strategies for Sensitive People” here.

Purchase Download >


Empaths Survival GuideAs an empath, I’ve spent much of my life being single. Too much togetherness always seemed overwhelming to me. I wanted love, but I would experience sensory overload when I was in an intimate relationship.

Then things changed. Four years ago, I met my partner. Though it’s been a fantastic growth and love experience, I’m still adjusting to being in a long term intimate relationship—a big stretch for me.

As I discuss in “The Empath’s Survival Guide,” like many empaths, I have a strong hermit side, and I’m not used to interacting with someone each day. I require a huge psychic space around me so I can breathe.

I need my quiet time and to replenish myself alone—not with other people. That’s why too much togetherness can be overstimulating for me. I also can’t take crowds, yelling, chronic talkers, loud voices and sounds, or strong scents. I’m an emotional sponge who absorbs the stress and negativity from others (including from my partner) into my own body.

This can be exhausting if I don’t practice self-care.

However, the beautiful side of being an empath is that I also absorb other people’s joy, compassion, and loving-kindness, which feels marvelous. I love nature. I love baths and the sound of the ocean. I love candlelight and Leonard Cohen.

Until I met my partner, I was mainly single, except for occasional short-term love relationships.

Typically, I’d bolt out of these relationships by year two, because I’d feel overwhelmed and suffocated from interacting with someone so much.

I wasn’t able to be fiercely honest about my emotional and energetic needs—which is so necessary for empaths in relationships. So I kept a lot of emotions inside until they became unbearable. At that point, all I knew was that I yearned for my safe, low-stimulation cave of aloneness, where I could find my own comfort level again.

My current relationship is different. This man respects and understands my sensitivities as an empath (as much as any non-empath can). I’m more honest with him, and he’s more accepting.

I adore his loving heart, sexy exterior, love of nature, and high emotional intelligence. And we truly love and are devoted to each other.

Even so, the struggle I face as an empath in an intimate relationship is that my strong desire for love and connection conflicts with my deep desire to be alone.

I’ve been torn in this way my entire life, a programming that runs deep within me.

When I was single, I’d long for a soul-mate. When I was in a relationship, I’d get overwhelmed and long to escape.

It was a painful puzzle of conflicting needs that was hard to solve. Growing up as an only child, and then becoming a writer, have contributed to my intense desire for solitude. Still, this programming feels many lifetimes old and is hard to crack.

After all these years, I’ve probably met “The One,” and I really don’t want to blow it. We’re living together now, which is a gigantic leap for me (not for him). I haven’t lived with anyone since the 90s!

And empaths are not the easiest people to live with. We have Princess and the Pea-like sensibilities that could drive other people crazy, though our needs feel natural to us. But, by some miracle, my sensitivities don’t drive him crazy and he wants to understand and honor them.

Day by day, we’re loving each other. We make progress and we make mistakes. But we keep getting closer as we find our way in love.

These are 9 Lessons I’ve learned so far about being an empath in an intimate relationship:
  1. I need to carve out alone time every day to feel sane and happy.
  2. I need to sleep alone, frequently, so I can have the uninterrupted space to rest and dream.
  3. I need to do my work, which includes writing my books and seeing patients in my psychotherapy practice—both bring me great joy.
  4. I need to be honest with my partner about my feelings and anxieties when I am overwhelmed by my emotions.
  5. I need to hear his needs and make compromises that we both can live with.
  6. I need to grow beyond my comfort level and try to tolerate my anxiety about living with someone without bolting.
  7. I need to feel his commitment and devotion to me and know he won’t leave me as I find my way with him.
  8. I need to play, be in nature and interpret my dreams every night.
  9. When I’m anxious or overloaded, or feel I just can’t do this, I need to stay in the moment. I need to breathe, regroup, sleep, talk to a friend, take alone time, meditate, and find my center again.

As you can see, my experiment with intimacy is a work in progress.

I’ve always yearned for this kind of soul stretching, but it has always felt “too hard” to change my habits, kind of like turning the Titanic. It’s taken most of my life to feel ready. I see intimate relationships as a spiritual path—but they aren’t for everyone. I can understand the advantages of a monastic path, the path of being single, and any path that involves more of a solitary theme.

In contrast, intimate relationships are about bonding, companionship, passion, and having someone who calls you outside to watch the beauty of the moon, to travel with, to share your feelings with, to ride the currents of each day with, for however long your destiny is together.

If you are an empath, or if you’re in love with one, I hope my experiment with being an empath in an intimate relationship helps you. For me, it’s uncharted terrain, but it is a magnificient and worthy journey of discovery that keeps unfolding each day.

(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.)



Judith Orloff, MD is the New York Times best-selling author of The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People. Her new book Thriving as an Empath offers daily self-care tools for sensitive people along with its companion The Empath’s Empowerment Journal. Dr. Orloff is a psychiatrist, an empath, and is on the UCLA Psychiatric Clinical Faculty. She synthesizes the pearls of traditional medicine with cutting edge knowledge of intuition, energy, and spirituality. Dr. Orloff also specializes in treating empaths and highly sensitive people in her private practice. Dr. Orloff’s work has been featured on The Today Show, CNN, Oprah Magazine, the New York Times and USA Today. Dr. Orloff has spoken at Google-LA and has a TEDX talk. Her other books are Emotional Freedom, The Power of Surrender, Second Sight, Positive Energy, and Guide to Intuitive HealingExplore more information about her Empath Support Online course and speaking schedule on www.drjudithorloff.com.

Connect with Judith on  Facebook and Twitter.

12 thoughts on “Wanting Love VS Wanting to Be Alone: My Challenge as an Empath

  1. Today I looked up extreme empathy and I followed a connection to you. I’ve always known that I was sensitive. I could feel others sadness, happiness, pain and at times confused it as mine. I get giddy when people drink around me ( I don’t drink). This last year I have lost almost all ability to move the last few days breathing was difficult. Today I thought I could be a gonner then I suddenly felt light and completely full of energy again like I hadn’t felt for over a year. I was texted about an hour ago that my neighbor passed away who had been struggling to live. I felt him pass. I am now on a road to build some boundaries for myself. For my own survival. The last hour was eye opening.

  2. That makes so much sense to me now. I thought I was the one who couldn’t be in relationship and something was wrong with me, or because I’m a Capricorn. I’m blessed I’ve been married to a great guy for 22 years.

  3. I totally relate to your article – I’ve been single for many years now. There was a time when I could not be without a relationship in my younger years, but after a few too many toxic and controlling relationships with men, I went the other direction and started attracting unavailable men and have become standoffish about entering into a relationship. It’s been a difficult road especially since I’ve become a strong and super sensitive empath, and my deep fear of being controlled still haunts me at times. But it is a work in progress, and I know that each day I’m healing and becoming a stronger woman. Hopefully one day I will meet the perfect man for me.

  4. I was in a loving relationship for two years. My man was beautiful and sensitive and inspiring, intelligent and creative but also smothering. I was blessed to feel safe enough to communicate my needs to him clearly, and I did. He would listen but on some level not understand. I had to leave the relationship and take my own space again. It’s hard being empath…

    1. Good point. Empaths must speak to their mate about potential smothering. It’s a very important issue to get clear on. As an empath I can switch in a second between feeling smothered VS feeling abandoned. It’s part of my healing to work with this and communicate to my mate.

  5. My husband and I have been together just over 14 years and we are still working to find the delicate balance that it takes to be with an empath. I am blessed that he worships me and is patient, kind and understanding of my sensitivities. It hasn’t been easy, but we both have learned so much about each other in the process.

    1. I love that he worships you. As it should be. Your relationship work sounds beautiful to me. I’m glad you have found a mate who understands and matches you

  6. I am living this myself. Its a very delicate balance to be sure. My partner is not an empath but he takes extremely good care of my empathic needs. I can really relate two you’re talking about wanting to be with someone and wanting to be alone as well. Nice to know that is a normal thing. Thank you for your Insight

    1. Thankyou for sharing. It is a delicate balance for sure. Many empaths struggle with wanting love VS wanting to be alone. Lovely that your partner supports your empath needs!

Comments are closed.

Scroll Up