Empaths are deeply feeling people, who often take on the emotions of others. The empathic experience can be explained by feelings of sensory overload, absorption other people’s emotions, sensitivity to other people’s insensitivities, and hyper-awareness of the subtle changes in behaviors and relationships.

As an empath an individual has a higher capacity for feeling other people’s emotions than others. This oftentimes contributes to the extent of exhaustion.

“An empath is someone who can easily understand and feel the emotions of others,” said licensed psychologist Kimber Shelton. “For some, the ability to emotionally connect to others may be an innate personality characteristic. For others, being an empath is a skill that develops and may be a trauma response.”

Overstimulation in Empaths

Empaths have a lot of moments of overstimulation. Sometimes, this happens because of situations in their upbringing and modes of survival.

“Growing up in a chaotic environment or being ‘adultified’ as a child, [means that] some individuals learn to recognize the emotional experiences and energy of others to cope with emotionally dysregulated people and environments,” Shelton told 21Ninety.

Shelton gives the example of a child in an emotional caretaking role who may learn to recognize emotions to help the parent emotionally regulate. Another example could be an empathic individual who learned to read threatening environments and will then activate increased empathy to deescalate potential harm. 

“Instead of holding empathy for other people’s experiences while remaining objective and being able to release emotions, many empaths take on the emotional experiences of others and do not release them,” she said. “If this emotional energy is being consistently absorbed and stored, the empath has little emotional bandwidth, which can lead to overstimulation.”

Noticing whether being an empath originates from a trauma response or upbringing, is also key in understanding the overstimulation. 

Emotional Triggers To Look Out For 

One of the main emotional triggers for empaths is unhealed trauma. “Empaths need to have insight to determine if they are connecting with the emotional experience of another person, rather than reacting from their own trauma being triggered,” Shelton said.

To address this trigger, empaths may want to consider self-care and exploration of other supportive tools to resolve unhealed traumas. 

Too much one-on-one time is also a key emotional trigger for empaths. The overwhelming feeling may come from spending too much time with an individual and not enough time alone. It may also be related to the intensity of the other person, conversation topic or tone. 

It’s also useful to recognize that some emotions are more triggering than others. Empaths should identify the emotions that take the most energy from them. Shelton provides the example of being around someone who is happy and caring, which may offer a welcomed emotional environment for an empath in comparison to individuals who are pessimistic, irritable, aggressive, depressed or volatile.  

How Empaths Can Avoid ‘Empath Burnout’

Empath burnout is all about the impact of excessive emotional presence and over-extending. Exhaustion is common among empaths who can become overwhelmed with the emotionally heavy loads of others. While empathy is valuable, expressing it healthily is even more important for mental, physical, and emotional health. Shelton recommends empaths prioritize self-care, maintain boundaries, avoid rescuing others and be a reflective listener for avoiding empath burnout.

Shelton recommends prioritizing time towards caring for self as you do for others. “Empaths need spaces to release the emotional energy they absorb from others,” Shelton said.

She recommends empaths get comfortable creating boundaries. Shelton believes that empaths should choose if they will respond to the emotional energy of others. If empaths do respond, they still get to control how long they stay in that emotional space. 

Shelton reminds empaths that being emotionally present does not equate to having the responsibility to fix other people. Instead, it’s possible to “deeply connect with someone and ask them how you can support them. Those questions can empower a sense of responsibility for how others feel and navigate through an issue.  

She urges empaths to recognize that sometimes people want someone to listen to them, while they express their feelings. Shelton suggests empaths practice reflective listening.

“he act of reflection can help the empath release the emotions that they absorb from the other person,” Shelton said.