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Coping with Intense Empathy


All of the blog posts are written by Arien Smith with the intention to heal, inform, and expand every reader. Three posts a week: Monday Mindfulness, Wednesday Yoga, Saturday Reflections. 

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Coping with Intense Empathy

Arien Smith

Content warning: This article contains content mentioning terrorism and acts of violence, specifically the tragedy at Pulse in Orlando. The intention of this article is for healing and does not contain graphic descriptions.


Tragedy and pain is nothing new to the world, but after the horrific Orlando shooting, many of us—especially those of us who identify as LGBT+—have felt deep grief over the loss of 50 lives. Empathy is what allows us to understand the pain of others and feel the ripple of sadness that spanned across the world at the loss of the innocent and beautiful individuals at Pulse. 

Empathy is a true spiritual gift. Without it, we could never understand the hardship of another or be able to relate to each human on more than a cognitive level. Empathy allows us to deeply feel the full experience of another individual. In cases like the terrorism on Sunday, this means many of us are afflicted with the grief of families or of those in our community that we lost. The oppression of marginalized LGBT+ people, especially transgender individuals and people of color, may also be empathetically felt or witnessed if you yourself identify as one of these individuals. 

The politics, statements, and flow of information online about this shooting are intense and I know, as a sensitive individual deeply impacted by this attack, I have had moments of debilitating grief because of this. If I focus on my heart for even a moment, I can feel a deep pang—the resonant pain the Source is feeling over the loss of precious life. Although it is worth honoring the ability to feel intensely enough to inspire a transcendent and universal love to flow with the pain, the grief itself is heavy and burdensome. 

With our sensitive souls, it can be hard to cope with such intense and ever-present feelings. How do we handle the pain of hundreds of thousands of people grieving simultaneously? In the midst of all of this, creating ample time to nurture ourselves can be difficult. Often, we want to jump right to action. This itself is never a bad thing—action is needed more than ever right now, but it’s important to check in with ourselves and ask “am I handling this right? am I supporting myself and my needs?” Your mental and spiritual health is important. You will be the best activist once you take care of yourself first. 

Besides clearing plenty of time in the day for self-care, I’ve learned a few other mechanisms for inspiring empathy in a way that keeps it strong—so as not to cut out the love behind it—but also ensuring it’s palatable and easier to cope with. The first is rest. When we feel intensely, it tires us and spends our energy. To sustain the compassion within empathy and our own health, it’s vital for us to relax, nurture ourselves, and rest. Sleep is one of the best ways the body, mind, and spirit can recover from anything. When sleeping, you may find it healing to ask the Source to coat you in light and love or request that you are carried into this loving center of existence during your periods of rest. 

Often, when we strongly empathize with something painful, we may feel that it is our duty to feel the pain and, if we surrender it, we won’t validly be able to approach whatever caused the pain. In the case of the tragedy at Pulse, we may believe we will be giving up on our brethren if we don’t focus on grief and pain. Empathy works on a greater scale than this—even in times of pain, the Universe does not want us to suffer. Love itself is the most powerful feeling, so this should be our focus—it will be the most healing and the most impactful. Give yourself the permission to seek peace, give yourself moments to smile, and treasure all the things worth loving in the moment. Revisiting the core of your being—love itself—will sustain your empathy in times where it hurts more than heals. Love is the focus here, not pain. 

When it comes to exposing ourselves to triggers of the violent acts that occurred earlier this week, this may be nearly impossible to avoid unless we shut off all our electronic devices and hibernate. For some of us, this is ideal and perfect. Others of us wish to be involved or don’t have an option to avoid hearing about the tragedy. No matter what, understanding how social media is presently affecting you will help you come to terms with the self-care you need. 

With empathy, the most important thing is to free the flow of emotion. Us empaths, too often, will feel the emotions intensely and then hold them within, believing that we must carry the burden of pain so the rest of the world doesn’t have to feel it. We are souls of light and sometimes we think it is our duty to cure darkness. Yet, we have to remember that darkness and light are both beautiful and part of the Universe—it is love and ego that are the true polarities. When we allow the pain to flow through and out of us, spilling into the loving arms of the Source, we are acting in love. When we hold onto it, believing that our consciousness is meant to carry the pains of masses, we are not allowing this pain to move to the Source and be cleansed with love. Our egos try to comprehend and mutate the pain, rather than just letting it run it’s natural course through our healing light. 

If we feel stuck, especially when burdened with such intense tragedy, turning to activities of cleansing are a sure way to surrender this pain and transform it into love. Cleansing can be as simple as breathing in love and exhaling pain, or it can be as elaborate as a guided meditation. Cleansing can be walking slowly amongst the healing presence of nature, or it could be taking a soothing bath and letting the water wash away your pain. What works best for you is what will open your empathetic flow so this pain can turn into love. With this incredible transformation, we will be able to approach the world with open arms and healing intentions—this is what is needed in a time of such crisis. From this foundation of compassion, we can take action in any ways we feel empowered to. 

If you would like to send loving energy to those lost in Orlando, here is a meditation for such.