Judith Orloff on Coping With Emotional Overload

By Judith Orloff, MD.

In my book, I emphasize the importance of learning how to stay centered in a stressful, highly emotionally charged world.

Since emotions such as fear, anger, and frustration are energies, you can potentially “catch” them from people without realizing it.

If you tend to be an emotional sponge, it’s vital to know how to avoid taking on an individual’s negative emotions or the free-floating kind in crowds.

Another twist is that chronic anxiety, depression, or stress can turn you into an emotional sponge by wearing down your defenses. Suddenly, you become hyper-attuned to others, especially those with similar pain.

That’s how empathy works; we zero in on hot-button issues that are unresolved in ourselves.

From an energetic standpoint, negative emotions can originate from several sources. What you’re feeling may be your own; it may be someone else’s; or it may be a combination.

I’ll explain how to tell the difference and strategically bolster positive emotions so you don’t shoulder negativity that doesn’t belong to you.

This wasn’t something I always knew how to do. Growing up, my girlfriends couldn’t wait to hit the shopping malls and go to parties, the bigger the better–but I didn’t share their excitement.

I always felt overwhelmed, exhausted around large groups of people, though I was clueless why. “What’s the matter with you?” friends would say, shooting me the weirdest looks. All I knew was that crowded places and I just didn’t mix.

I’d go there feeling just fine but leave nervous, depressed, or with some horrible new ache or pain. Unsuspectingly, I was a gigantic sponge, absorbing the emotions of people around me.

With my patients, I’ve also seen how absorbing other people’s emotions can trigger panic attacks, depression, food, sex and drug binges, and a plethora of physical symptoms that defy traditional medical diagnosis.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that more than two million Americans suffer from chronic fatigue. It’s likely that many of them are emotional sponges.

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time you’re on emotional overload.

With strategies to cope, you can have quicker retorts to stressful situations, feel safer, and your sensitivities can blossom.

> From Dr. Judith Orloff’s book Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself From Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life.

Judith Orloff - Emotional Freedom

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Video: Hollywood Blvd Speaks Out On Emotional Freedom (not EFT)

EFT (in video title) refers to Emotional Freedom Techniques – see these articles:

Counselor Rue Hass on using EFT to help highly sensitive people celebrate their positive qualities.

The Tapping Solution – Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT).

One of the first people Dr. Orloff interviews in the video summarizes ‘emotional freedom’ as “being in control” — See article: Affect Regulation and the Creative Artist by psychologist Cheryl Arutt, which includes her TEDx video “That Good Feeling of Control.”

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Being A Physical Empath

Empathic illnesses are those in which you manifest symptoms that are not your own. Many patients have come to me labeled “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’d all say, “I dread being in crowds. Other people’s anger, stress, and pain drain me, and I need a lot of alone time to refuel my energy.”

When I took a close history of all these patients I found that 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 that 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 from others.

To determine if you are a physical empath take the following quiz.

Quiz: Am I a Physical Empath?Ask yourself:

Have I been labeled as overly sensitive or a hypochondriac?
Have I ever sat next to someone who seemed nice but suddenly my eyelids got heavy and I felt like taking a nap?
Do 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?
Do 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 to5 questions indicates you have moderate degree of physical empathy. 6 to 7 “yeses” indicate you have a high degree of empathy. Eight yeses indicate you are a full blown empath.

Excerpted from post: Empathic Illnesses: Do You Absorb Other People’s Symptoms? on Dr Judith Orloff’s Blog.

Adapted from book The Ecstasy of Surrender: 12 Surprising Ways Letting Go Can Empower Your Life by Judith Orloff, MD.

Video: The ecstasy of surrender: Judith Orloff, MD at TEDx American Riviera

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More resources

Also hear my podcast interview with Judith Orloff.

Also see More articles by Judith Orloff.

Read more about supplements Dr. Orloff suggests to relieve anxiety in article Emotional Freedom by Judith Orloff, M.D.

Emotional Health Resources page

“Finding ways to maintain that optimal zone where we are neither under- or over-stimulated allows us to use our minds to respond rather than to react. The greater access you maintain to yourself, the richer and broader your array of creative tools.” Psychologist Cheryl Arutt – See more quotes, books, articles and sites to improve your emotional wellbeing on the page Emotional Health Resources.


Originally posted 2012-12-14 19:06:19.

  11.07.14   By Douglas Eby
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