Do You Absorb Other People’s Symptoms?
Adapted from The Ecstasy of Surrender: 12 Surprising Ways
Letting Go Can Empower Your Life (Harmony Books, 2014)
By Judith Orloff, M.D.
Empathic illnesses are those in which you manifest symptoms that are not your own. Many patients have come to me labeled as “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 would say, “I dread being in crowds. Other people’s anger, stress, and pain drain me; I need a lot of alone time to refuel my energy.”
When I took a close history of all these patients
I found 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 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
To determine if
you are a physical empath take the following quiz.
I a Physical Empath?
I ever been labeled as overly
sensitive or a hypochondriac?
Have I sat next to someone who
seemed nice but suddenly my eyelids got heavy and I felt like taking a nap?
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?
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 4-5 questions
indicates you have moderate degree of physical empathy. 6-7 “yeses” indicate
you have a high degree of empathy. Eight yeses indicate you are a full-blown
Discovering that you are a physical empath can be
a revelation. Rest assured: You are not crazy. You are not a malingerer or a hypochrondriac. 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
empathy does not 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.
A Survival Guide for Empaths
9 Strategies to Stop Absorbing Other People’s
Illness and Pain
(from The Ecstasy of Surrender)
1. 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.
2. 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, do not hesitate to change seats if you feel a sense of
“dis-ease” imposing on you.
3. 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 de-termine 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
the discomfort. For longstanding
depression or pain, use this
method daily to strengthen yourself. It is comforting and builds a sense of safety and optimism.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. Set healthy limits
Control how much time you spend listening to stressful people, and learn
to say “no.” Remember, “no” is a complete sentence.
7. Visualize the 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.
8. 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!
9. 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 the strategies I discuss in my book to surrender other people’s symptoms you can have quicker responses
to stressful situations. This will help you feel
and your sensitivities can blossom.
Judith Orloff MD is a UCLA
psychiatrist, intuitive healer, and NY Times best-selling author. Come
celebrate the LA launch of Judith’s new book The Ecstasy of Surrender: 12 Surprising Ways
Letting Go Can Empower Your Life on April 16, 7pm at Mystic Journeys Book Store, Venice, CA and April 17,
7pm at Vromen’s Book store in Pasadena! For more inspiration and Judith’s workshop schedule check out