Empathic Illnesses: Do You Absorb Other People’s Symptoms?

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Empaths Survival GuideEmpathic 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?
Ask yourself:

  • Have I been labeled as overly sensitive or a hypochondriac?
  • Have I ever sat next to someone who seemed nice but suddenly my eyelids got heavy and I felt like taking a nap?
  • Do I feel uneasy, tired, or sick in crowds and avoid them?
  • Do I feel someone else’s anxiety or physical pain in my body?
  • Do I feel exhausted by angry or hostile people?
  • Do I run from doctor to doctor for medical tests, but I’m told “You’re fine.”
  • Am I chronically tired or have many unexplained symptoms
  • Do I frequently feel overwhelmed by the world and want to stay home?
  • 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.

     9 Strategies To Stop Absorbing Other People’s Illness and Pain 

  • Evaluate. First, ask yourself: Is this symptom or emotion mine or someone else’s? It could be both. If the emotion such as fear or anger is yours, gently confront what’s causing it on your own or with professional help. If it’s not yours, try to pinpoint the obvious generator.
  • Move away. When possible, distance yourself by at least twenty feet from the suspected source. See if you feel relief. Don’t err on the side of not wanting to offend strangers. In a public place, don’t hesitate to change seats if you feel a sense of “dis-ease” imposing on you.
  • Know your vulnerable points. Each of us has a body part that is more vulnerable to absorbing others’ stress. Mine is my gut. Scan your body to determine yours. Is it you neck? Do you get sore throats? Headaches? Bladder infections? At the onset of symptoms in these areas, place your palm there and keep sending loving-kindness to that area to soothe discomfort. For longstanding depression or pain, use this method daily to strengthen yourself. It’s comforting and builds a sense of safety and optimism.
  • Surrender to your breath. If you suspect you are picking up someone else’s symptoms, concentrate on your breath for a few minutes. This is centering and connects you to your power.
  • Practice Guerilla Meditation. To counter emotional or physical distress, act fast and meditate for a few minutes. Do this at home, at work, at parties, or conferences. Or, take refuge in the bathroom. If it’s public, close the stall. Meditate there. Calm yourself. Focus on positivity and love.
  • Set healthy limits and boundaries. Control how much time you spend listening to stressful people, and learn to say “no.” Remember, “no” is a complete sentence.
  • Visualize protection around you. Visualize an envelope of white light around your entire body. Or with extremely toxic people, visualize a fierce black jaguar patrolling and protecting your energy field against intruders.
  • Develop X ray vision. The spaces between the vertebrae in your lower back (lumbar spine) are conducive to eliminating pain from the body. It’s helpful to learn to mindfully direct pain out of these spaces by visualizing it leaving your body. Say goodbye to pain as it blends with the giant energy matrix of life!
  • Take a bath or shower. A quick way to dissolve stress is to immerse yourself in water. My bath is my sanctuary after a busy day. It washes away everything from bus exhaust to long hours of air travel to pesky symptoms I have taken on from others. Soaking in natural mineral springs divinely purifies all that ails.
  • 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.

    Adapted from Dr. Judith Orloff’s book The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People (Sounds True, 2017)

     

     

    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 Twitter and Instagram.

    9 thoughts on “Empathic Illnesses: Do You Absorb Other People’s Symptoms?

    1. My name is Brenda, I have been feeling people emotions and even some times people’s physical pains since I was a little girl. The problem the intense of someone’s pain now is so strong and painful that I can be fine and completely healthy walking around people another minute be unable to even move because someone around me is in extremely physical pain or severely disabled. I don’t know what to do the intensity of feeling people emotions and physical pain is getting stronger. I can see through images what that person feels or has been going through. It is so exhausted and painful, I can’t work in a crowded place or even be around a lot people with out feeling overwhelmed or sick. This is a course more that a gift and I don’t know what to do anymore.

    2. I meet up with a good friend every Wednesday for approx 2 hours. She has terminal ovarian cancer. When I come home, I feel that my life has been sucked out of me. This lasts for the rest of the day and I always feel awful. Today has been the worst time. I wish I could send a bit of healthy me back into her to help her. I have not and will not let her know how poorly I am after our meetings, she is very dear to me.

    3. I feel peoples emotions and pain in my gut and get nauseas so much I often throw up and then find out my nieghbor or niece or someone is severely ill or in the hospital. Im learning to block it so its not debilitating and always happening but I have read shielding techniques are more harmful than good, so I try to think of positive things and not focus on the illness, mine or theirs, but project good thoughts of recovery and then try to put it out of my mind but still sometimes my empathy illness lasts for days.

    4. I feel physically and mentally exhausted,when i help other people with their problems it leaves me emotionally unbalanced, sometimes i have to phone work and say i cant come in today,i also have to work with a narcisist which i find very challengeing and my boss also is a very manipulating person,She sucks the energy right out of me,I feel free when i go to the seaside and i always have an eagerness to be around water & trees,do i need to change job,when things get to much i pack a bag and find myself disappearing to the seaside what can i do exhausted..

    5. Thank you dr. Judith Orloff great gratitude to you, now I know why I was so tired listening to people with different problems, now I know your strategies set the limits.

    6. My husband has cancer and recently started chemo. He has absolutely no symptoms of the side effects and I have several. When my cat has tummy troubles I will get an upset stomach. I’m exhausted all the time and have a lot of pain often, both of which has been undiagnosed. I’ve been diagnosed with anxiety and depression, and notice that it gets worse in big crowds. I’m really glad I found this site because now I can learn to manage this and hopefully start feeling better. Thank you!

    7. My sister told me about her hips and knees hurting so bad she would cry. She was going to see a doctor but we talked about it before she did. I developed the symptoms overnight. Her symptoms went away overnight. I have been suffering with this for two months now. If someone tells me they have a headache, I get one right away. Whatever someone’s physical complaint, I take it on. My doctor tells me not to read RX inserts because I will develop the side effects. Does this make me an empath?

    8. Hey I’m Dustin. I’m 29 yrs young and its hard to understand or control it. I’m dealing with so much in life and to be honest I already knew I was a empath intuitively and could feel others pain and joy. I currently have a friend in the hospital with a infected lung and I can feel how he is doing. Like he is getting stronger but he is worrying himself about things happening outside his reach. I’ve have felt attached or connected to people throughout life so far but lately it’s been Seven main people that has appeared in my life unexpectedly and they all share the feeling of connected vibes whether bad or good and have lead me to better understand how to control and understand. Thank You

    9. I am 72 years old and have known that I was different since I was a child. I have been called all the things you listed and made fun of often. It has been a blessing and a curse. It has affected every relationship I have ever had and at this age I just divorced for the third time. My inability to endure a close relationship without feeling completely drained has made my life very lonely and I think that is the hardest thing about being this way. I just discovered your website and did not know that someone had written a book about it. I long to talk with someone who really understands what being an empath means.

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