How to Handle Conflict as an Empath
Photo courtesy of Roly Gomez
Empathy is a double-edged sword. The empath is like a mini-psychic, feeling out the undercurrents of the topic at hand and bringing unseen information up to the surface. But in times of conflict, the empath’s intuitive mind can get crowded. Absorbing the emotional content of the room—the good, the bad, the WTF—is exhausting. And just because you can feel it all doesn’t mean you have to. Navigating those emotional boundaries can mark the difference between a burden—and a superpower.
And it’s doable, says intuitive and energy healer Dana Childs. Childs’s ability to tap into the psychic field puts her at a great advantage. A reading from her can clear up a lot of unanswered questions (if you made it to our last In goop Health, you might have witnessed her magic firsthand). She’s also a highly skilled (now retired) medium. According to Childs, when she contacts the departed, she feels the trauma of each death—if someone died of a heart attack, for example, her chest seizes up. It was exhausting, and so she had to learn, like the rest of us, how to set a few boundaries at work.
She built her online course, Empowered Empath, to guide others in connecting with their intuitive gifts a bit more wisely. Childs suggests there are three modes the empath goes into during conflict: empathic, sensitive, and totally shut down. To avoid arriving at the third category: Try following her steps to resolving conflict with a partner. And if you have a tendency to give to the point of depletion, you may already be shut down. In that case, Childs says, it’s better to forgive and let love flow back into the heart.
The Empowered Empath
As an empath in a tense moment, your heart rate may quicken even more than normal. Your anger may feel heightened, your sadness more intense. It’s harder to control your own emotions because you have your emotions and your partner’s emotions running through your body. And it’s hard to distinguish between the two—after all, if it’s in your body, it must be yours, right? Not exactly.
These steps can help you sort out what feelings belong to you so that you can navigate conflict with ease. Once you’ve taken the time to do the empathic steps, you’ll then want to take the steps listed below for a sensitive type.
Visualize yourself being clear of anything that doesn’t belong to you. As soon as you feel tension rising, visualize the wind blowing through you and whipping away any feelings or physical sensations that aren’t your own.
Set boundaries. This is an intention. In your own mind, set the intention that you will experience only the emotions and physical sensations that are yours. Energy responds to intention.
Sensitives do not experience the emotions or physical sensations in their own body. Sensitives are keenly aware of what the other person is feeling; they sense it and understand it mentally but do not pull or allow the information into their own bodies. If you recognize yourself as sensitive, here are the steps you can take during a disagreement to place grace in the situation.
Sink deeper into what you’re feeling. Often when we feel an intense emotion, we instinctively step away from it. However, when we can sink deeper into what we’re feeling, we remain more connected to our sense of self and we are less influenced by fear.
Accept what you and your partner are feeling. When we have emotional reactions, we tend to judge ourselves rather than accept. Judging slows everything down. Release the judgment of yourself and your partner in order to participate fully in the current experience.
Listen first. Take deep breaths and listen to your partner. After all, if you are the more conscious being in that moment, you get to set the energetic tone. Listening without interrupting or explaining sends a clear message of respect and acceptance, and both of those energies diffuse tension.
Drop your defenses. Be cautious not to disagree or be defensive as you listen to your partner. When you are defensive, the energy is felt by the other as an attack and it sets you up as adversaries, which can fuel more tension and grow painful feelings. Most often, the person you find yourself in a disagreement with is not an adversary but someone you feel misunderstood by in that moment. Be sure to note the difference. True adversaries are few and far between.
Honor your partner’s feelings and experience. Once we’ve listened to our partner, we often wish to then launch into explaining “our side” of things. When we do this, our partner doesn’t feel heard. Instead of launching into your explanation, validate all that you heard them express. This doesn’t mean you are saying your partner is right or wrong, you are simply letting them know you understand the experience, feelings, and needs they have expressed.
Express yourself vulnerably. Once the other person feels heard and has had their needs met, then it’s time for you to speak your heart and mind vulnerably and truthfully. In the midst of turbulence, choosing to exude raw vulnerability accompanied by an authentic heart is a hallmark of evolved living. Speak your heart knowing that every need you have can be met in some way even if not by this person. Once you’re assured of that, you can relax into communication rather than screaming to be heard.
Be open to compromise. All too often, we view compromise as losing. When we misinterpret negotiating as not getting our way instead of an act that provides a winning solution for both partners, it makes compromising less attractive. Shift your perspective. See compromise as a way to make both partners happy. After all, seeing your partner happy is reason enough to enjoy compromise.
Receive. One of the more difficult aspects of being human is learning to receive graciously. After tension is resolved, it’s important to be open to accepting apologies and love as well as offering forgiveness freely. Be sure not to carry hurts forward. Talk about all aspects of the disagreement until you feel peace in your heart and you can move forward without dwelling.
If you’re shut down, you’re a sensitive or an empath who is afraid of connecting with your heart. It’s best not to engage in conflict at this time, because you’re not able to feel your own true self, let alone empathize in any way with your loved one. The crucial step is identifying that you are shut down.
Next communicate that to your partner. Simply say, “This is an important conversation to have, but I want to have it when I’m more connected to what I’m feeling. I care about this and you, and I want to honor both by being in a place where I’m able to relate with you more openly.”
Then set a date and time to follow up on the conversation. It’s essential not to avoid it. Be willing, with an open heart, to go back into dialogue with your partner when you feel reconnected to yourself. When that time comes, check out the sensitive or empath steps to determine which fit you best.
Dana Childs is an intuitive, an energy healer, and a teacher. She leads workshops, online courses, and retreats to help others learn to open their own intuitive gifts.