Empaths and How to Deal with Problematic Friendships

What is an Empath?

An empath is a person who is in tuned with the energies of others. This is different from the empathy you feel when a friend or loved one is in distress. An empathic person picks up on the emotional and spiritual auras of other people and environments to varying degrees. Empaths consciously or unconsciously take an energetic barometric reading of their surroundings on a constant basis.

There are several kinds of empaths. Some empaths connect with nature and animals, or even crystals and rocks. All in all, empaths are able to tap into the energies of other beings, animals, or things and can take that energy into themselves–harboring them, transmuting them, or expelling them.

For empaths, establishing clear emotional and spiritual boundaries is a must if they want to live joyful and satisfying lives with others.

The Inexperienced Empath

The empath who harbors another’s emotional state is usually one who is inexperienced and unaware that he or she is an empath. These people absorb the energies around them but are unable to distinguish their energies from other people’s energies. The result is a person who is overburdened with various emotional states that can cause confusion, distress, overstimulation, and more. These people are energy sponges. They feel the emotions of others and confuse them as their own, or they might take on more responsibility than they need to in regard to other people’s emotional health.

Inexperienced empaths feel pain on a very deep level but can’t keep themselves out of painful situations. The inexperienced empath needs to first learn how to distinguish her energy from others. Then she can learn how to erect proper mental, emotional, and even physical boundaries to keep from absorbing excess energy they don’t yet know how to handle.

Empaths and Problematic Friendships

Empaths are very sensitive, though they might not seem like it on the outside. A lot of us have learned that our sensitivity is not valued by society—even vilified—so we cloak it under a guise of independence and indifference.

Oftentimes, empaths seek validation for their sensitivity and are drawn to “project friends,” people who are emotionally off-kilter and crave help and attention. The empath’s need for approval from others can enter into codependent relationships or abusive relationships.

Empaths tend to be healers and have an affinity for wounded, unstable people. Inexperienced empaths must learn how to distinguish other people’s energy from their own and must also stop trying to heal and fix people they feel emotionally pulled towards. We are all responsible for our own emotional well being, empaths and non-empaths alike. Empaths must first learn to heal themselves before they can begin to help other people.

Empaths are naturally attuned to the emotional states of other peoples’ emotions. That is why it is so important for empaths to surround themselves with positive, uplifting people.  If your very nature enables you to absorb other people’s emotional states, why not absorb those that are most beneficial to you?

At times, empaths can over-identify with other people’s emotional problems. There is nothing inherently wrong with empathizing with someone’s plight, but empaths take it a step further by not only putting themselves in that person’s place–they become that person!

An empath’s natural healing abilities help her to deeply care about people. However, at times an empath can get into an unbalanced, codependent relationship where are her desire to support and comfort her friend can lead to feelings of being used or drained, especially if the friend does not reciprocate similarly in some way.

People can sometimes treat their empathic friend as an emotional dumping ground. As the empath absorbs their friend’s thoughts, problems, and concerns, that person gets relief. Many times, a release is the only thing that the friend was seeking. Doing the necessary inner work that would produce true freedom and happiness might prove to be too difficult at that point in their lives. They use their empathic friend as a quick fix instead.

The “Fix-it” Empath

Does this ever happen to you?

You’re in a deep conversation with a friend—or rather, that friend has been dominating the conversation for hours on end, filling you in with all of her dramas, traumas, and everything in-between. After a whirlwind of boasting, complaining, and catastrophizing, that friend finds her release: “You know, it’s so great talking to you. I always feel so much better when we talk…”

But you feel like a 100 lb. weight has been dropped on your chest.

Here’s a quick solution to this problem. Tell your friend you have to go, and hang up the phone. They’ll get the point, and you’ll restore your emotional equilibrium.

Being a good listener is fine. Being held “phone hostage” is not.

Empaths will often offer themselves up as a repository for their friend’s joys and angsts. The healing empath will attempt to assemble all their friend’s broken little pieces and try to glue them back together.  It’s satisfying to feel like you have made a difference in someone’s life. Helping others gives the empath a sense of purpose and significance. However, the result of engaging in these types of relationship patterns can lead to codependency: they consciously or unconsciously are drawn to people with problems and view them as healing projects.

“Free Therapist” No More

Get to Know Yourself

If you are the type who defines herself by her relationships, you need to stop letting your friends’ problems distract you from yourself. Uncover your identity apart from your relationships.  One way to extricate yourself from the “free therapist” role is for you to get to know yourself. Who are you? Who would you like to be? What drives you? What do you like or dislike? Do you spend enough time with yourself to answer these questions, or are you constantly sidelined by other people’s dramas?

Know Your Boundaries

Where does your friend end, and where do you begin? Find out, and stick to those boundaries. If you constantly feel like you’re being taken for granted, start erecting some boundaries. Be unavailable, even if you’re just washing your hair. Start doing things you love to do such as hobbies or a fun sport. Establishing boundaries will help you get a handle on yourself so you can deal with friends in a healthy way.

Does your friend only call you when something is wrong? Next time he calls, don’t answer the phone. If that seems too harsh to you, put a time limit on how long you will talk to him.  I suggest 10 minutes tops, especially if the conversation is dominated by his woes, sorrows, and complaints. After 10 minutes are up, say you have to get going, you have something to take care of—whatever. Just get off the phone and save your sanity.

Engage in Self-healing Practices

Empaths tend to be healers and have an affinity for many healing arts, such as prayer, Reiki, “light work,” crystal healing, acupuncture, acupressure, and many other healing modalities. Use this natural ability for your own benefit and well-being.

Prayer acknowledges that you don’t know it all. It’s a way of admitting that you don’t have all of the solutions for yourself or your friend. Prayer is a primary way to connect to God. Take your over-burdened emotions to God, including your friend’s problems. Don’t try to handle them on your own. When you can release your worries to a higher source, you will be able to rest knowing you don’t have to be all things to all people.

Reiki self-healing is a wonderful way to balance your energy centers, and it promotes mental and emotional grounding and healing. Reiki is great, because the act of touch refocuses your attention to your body and your sense of self. Because empaths tend to project and align themselves with other people’s energies, they can lose a sense of themselves while connecting with others. Reiki brings the focus back to the body and helps one become more grounded and centered.

Crystal healing with black tourmaline is another great tool for empaths. Black tourmaline acts as an emotional and energetic armor for sensitive people. Black tourmaline repels negative energy and even transmutes it to positive energy. Negative, toxic, and super-needy people will avoid you when you wear black tourmaline on your person. If you are sensitive and easily offended, black tourmaline will help you deal with people’s rude, insensitive behavior with graceful equanimity.

I’ve used black tourmaline with great success, particularly when I was working in an energy-sucking office environment. I noticed that whenever I wore black tourmaline, I was less emotional, I felt shielded from other people’s energy, and I could handle high-pressure situations with a calm and balanced demeanor. Another benefit was that needy and negative folks would feel instantly uncomfortable around me and would not remain in my presence.

The Emotional Freedom Technique™, or “tapping”, is emotional acupuncture without the needles. Using your fingertips, you tap on certain meridian points on your body to help relieve various physical and emotional conditions. It’s completely free and easy to use. I’ve used this technique myself for emotional healing, and it’s effective in its own right. Paired or grouped with other energy healing techniques, it can be part of your emotional healing regimen.

For the past three years, yoga has been my go-to for healing, self-awareness, and general self-care and well being. If you can’t make it to a yoga class in your area, YouTube hosts dozens of free yoga channels. My favorite for the past three years is Yoga with Kassandra. Her channel specializes in yin yoga, a deeply meditative practice where you hold certain poses anywhere from 3 to 10 minutes. I feel like this style of yoga has revolutionized my practice. Not only has yin yoga helped increase my flexibility and range of motion, but also my concentration, endurance, and mental and emotional balance. Yin yoga leaves me less stressed, more relaxed, and helps me mentally transcend negative circumstances.

I could probably write a whole post on how yoga has changed my life for the better—better than religion could ever do for me. And though that may be a post for another time, yoga and the other healing modalities I discussed can greatly help you get back to yourself and help you cope with or release draining friendships.

Understand the Role You Play

Understand the role you play in your troubled relationships. It takes two to tango, and sometimes, an empath’s enabling coping mechanisms contribute to the disharmony in the friendship.

  • Do you have proper boundaries?
  • Are you too accommodating?
  • Are you too quiet?
  • Do you fully present yourself in the relationship or do you recede into the background?
  • Are you passive, or do you actively participate in the relationship?
  • Are you drawn to dramatic people? If so, why?
  • Do you expect the other person to do all of the heavy lifting in the relationship?
  • Do you believe your needs are not important and the only significant thing you can offer your friend is support?

How you answer these questions can give you golden insights into how you choose the friends you do and why you end up in friendships that are unsatisfying to you.

Self-blame is not what you are after here. You are on the journey to self-awareness and recognizing your agency in every interpersonal interaction you have.

Encourage Your Friend to Seek Help

Sometimes a friend’s troubles are beyond your ability or willingness to help. And if you’re an empath, the steady pattern of troubled friends is nothing new to you, as you tend to be drawn to these “project friends” often.

If a friend’s issues are beyond your ability or willingness to help, kindly suggest she seek qualified assistance. You can point her to her church, counseling/therapy, nonprofit organizations, or government agencies who will provide the type of assistance your friend needs. This is particularly important if you feel like your friend is solely leaning on you for support.

There is no reason to burden yourself if others can help your friend better than you can. You are not her savior and she is not your project.

These are just some of my thoughts on how empaths handle problematic friendships. Are you an empath? How do you navigate the relationships in your life? Have you ever felt like you were playing the free therapist role? How did you handle it?

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