As an empath, do you know what your triggers are?
It can be a revelation when you first realize that you are an empath. And when you begin to understand how this trait affects your life.
One of the biggest empath challenges is learning what situations, encounters, and circumstances are most difficult for you. And how to protect yourself emotionally.
As someone who is highly sensitive, you need to take extra care of your emotions. You need to be cautious to avoid unneeded anxiety, depression, and burn-out.
So, today we are talking all about common empath triggers, and how to avoid or minimize them.
Let’s discuss everyday challenges and triggers for empaths and how you can protect yourself.
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What is an empath?
Empaths are those who are finely attuned to the emotions of others. Empaths intuit how someone is feeling or what they are thinking, often before that person says a word. They are highly sensitive to the energy in their environment, including in the workplace, at home, or out in public.
Empaths are easily affected by the energy and emotions they sense. They can become overwhelmed, upset, or drained by feeling too much. They often internalize emotions and thoughts that aren’t their own. Because of their almost paranormal feeling/sensing abilities, empaths are often labeled as “too sensitive” or overly emotional.
In many ways being an empath is wonderful. Empaths have rich, deep life experiences. They savor moments like delicious bites of fine chocolate. But, they also feel everything on overdrive.
How to know if you’re an empath
Are you exhausted after being in the company of others? Do you feel extra anxious in crowds? Or, conversely, do you experience a “high” from being around high-spirited and excited crowds, such as at a festival?
Other signs of being an empath include:
- Feeling other people’s stress, emotional energy, or even physical symptoms.
- Overwhelmed in social settings or busy environments.
- Often introverted or needing lots of alone time.
- Highly intuitive, strong sixth sense.
- Finely tuned senses and nerves easily frayed.
- Able to sense energy in the room.
- Feelings easily hurt.
Let’s talk now about some common triggers that challenge many empaths. Along with some self-protection tips to consider.
Emotional triggers for empaths (+ self-protection methods)
1. Other people’s emotions
The strongest empath trigger is other people’s emotions.
As an empath, you could be having a perfectly good morning until you walk into work and sense the sour mood present. Immediately, the energy in the room throws you off course. You start feeling down or nervous when nothing has actually happened.
Or, maybe you were feeling tired and uninspired until the man in line at the store started telling jokes with a big smile on his face. The cashier was laughing, and you couldn’t help but smile. You left the store feeling in a much better mood.
These are examples of how even just a few moments of exposure to other people’s energy can affect you as an empath. And although sometimes other people’s emotions affect you in a good way, you may need to protect and shield yourself. Having your emotions dependent on outside forces leaves you unstable, vulnerable, and feeling out of control.
Protect yourself: Learn to feel the difference between your own authentic energy and the energy you “pick up on” so you can have greater clarity about what you’re feeling.
Develop strong boundaries with others, and avoid unnecessary interactions with negative people. Try visualizing a white or pink bubble of protective energy around you. Keep your energetic frame strong and confident.
2. Seeing violence and world suffering
Empaths, probably more than others, need to avoid seeing violence and world suffering.
Violence and suffering are extremely triggering for empaths. This is because empaths feel what it would feel like to be the victim or family member in a situation. Empaths feel the pain and suffering on a real and deep level, and it hurts as if it were happening to them.
If you’re an empath, protect yourself from upsetting news, social media, movies, television, and the like. That doesn’t mean sticking your head in the sand, but rather, making careful choices about what you expose yourself to.
But, What about helping end world suffering? you might ask.
There are many things empaths can do to help if they feel called to. But viewing upsetting media helps no one. Empaths need to be mindful to protect themselves from “taking in” excess negativity when they cannot help the situation.
Protect yourself: If you must read news media, try skimming the headlines only, rather than reading the gory details. If you haven’t already, turn off your TV.
Be mindful of the movies you watch. Unfollow accounts on social media as needed. Follow positive social media accounts and happy hashtags.
3. Difficult people
First, let’s take a moment to recognize that most people are good. And that we are all highly flawed and can be difficult in our own ways.
That being said, empaths experience difficult people on another level than less-sensitive types do. Empaths are especially triggered by selfish, arrogant, non-compassionate, cold-hearted types. As well as liars and just plain rude folks.
As an empath, it’s hard to fathom how someone could be hurtful, mean, unfriendly, and dishonest. And seemingly unaware of or unbothered by their effect on others.
But, people are different. As an empath, it’s helpful to accept that fact. You must be careful who you surround yourself with when you have the choice.
Self-protection from difficult people: We can try to remember that everyone is our teacher, and try to have gratitude for the lessons. We can keep our boundaries strong, self-advocate, and speak up. We can avoid, not engage, or even end a relationship completely.
4. Crowded places
Crowded places like shopping centers and parties can be extremely triggering for many empaths. The people, the noises, the social pressures- it can be a nightmare.
But, for some empaths, crowded places with a happy vibe can be exhilarating and energizing. Some types of empaths get more out of, say, seeing live music than less-sensitive types. Sometimes, being an empath means experiencing things more intensely in a good way.
Protection from triggering effect of crowded places: If you don’t like crowded places, most of the time you can avoid them. You might even want to design your life in a way where you do not live or work in a crowded environment. You could move out to the country or work the night shift, for example.
But, also consider how much a certain crowded place, event, job, party, or experience matters to you.
Will you feel you missed out if you don’t go? Some opportunities only present themselves once. So, think about it. There are times to stretch your comfort zone, and times not to.
5. Not enough alone time
Empaths tend to need extra time alone to process feelings and think about events. When empaths don’t have this time to process, they can become stressed out and overwhelmed.
Not enough alone time is a common empath trigger that can usually be managed with mindfulness and purposeful self-care. Know that it’s never selfish to require extra alone time.
Self-protection: Self-awareness is the key. If you know you need or desire that extra alone time, then plan to have it. Allow that time, and schedule it if you can.
If your lifestyle is super busy, see if there is anything you can do to slow your pace. Journal about it to brainstorm solutions. Give yourself grace and make self-care a priority.
6. Not fitting in
It can be extremely painful and emotionally triggering to feel like you don’t fit in. And empaths are extra prone to experience this feeling of being an outsider or a misfit.
As an empath, the emotions and energy you pick up on can be exhausting. Feeling everything so deeply and having a strong 6th sense can cause social anxiety, confusion, and stress.
Social anxiety, confusion, and stress can cause you to act or speak in a way that is “out of the norm”. Acting or speaking “out of the norm” can cause negative reactions in people. Negative reactions can cause you to feel even worse, and the vicious cycle continues.
Protect yourself: You probably will want to do some extensive research on social anxiety and empaths. As well, focus on developing confidence and self-love. Give yourself grace and self-acceptance. You can work to improve on social skills, too.
Find environments you feel comfortable in. Be the best you that you can be.
7. The expectations of others
People may expect things out of you that you are not prepared to give- time, emotional support, commitment, and more.
People’s expectations can be triggering when you feel like there is no way to meet those expectations.
There may be cases when you think This person knows me better than that. How could they ask this of me? In these cases you may be frustrated, angry, or annoyed.
Or there may be times when someone doesn’t know you that well and doesn’t realize their expectations are too much. Or maybe the expectations seem reasonable, but you simply cannot. You might feel shame, guilt, sadness, or other ways.
Protect yourself from others’ expectations: In most scenarios, start with kind and honest talk. Take charge of the conversation and assert yourself respectfully. Let the person know if you can or cannot do something. You don’t always have to explain yourself in great detail.
Overall, give yourself grace and self-compassion. And hopefully, the person with the expectations will, too.
8. Too much attention placed on you
Many empaths get triggered when extra attention is placed on them. Empaths typically don’t like to be the star of the show. But, there are usually times when you are the star anyway, whether you want to be or not.
It is not unusual to find too much attention triggering. You can avoid being the center of attention most of the time, or find ways to deal with it.
Self-protection: Remember that even if everyone is looking at you, most people aren’t thinking much about you. They are mostly focused on themselves. So, you may be able to “block out of your mind” the anxiety the situation causes. You probably won’t be the focus for an extended time period anyway.
If you find yourself the focus way too often, make necessary and reasonable lifestyle adjustments.
9. Being misunderstood
Being misunderstood is a big challenge for many empaths.
Since empaths feel the emotions of others so strongly, they often react to what they feel outwardly. They may get moody, withdrawn, or say something off-the-wall, for example.
An empath’s actions may cause other people around to feel confused, annoyed, or worse. After all, they are not sensing what the empath is sensing. They wonder what is going on with the empath and why they’re acting a certain way.
The empath then senses those negative reactions and feels even worse. Shame, frustration, anger, and more may flare-up. The empath may wonder:
- Why don’t they understand me?
- Don’t they understand why I said that?
- Why are they giving me that look?
Self-protection: First, take responsibility for your words and actions. You cannot say and do anything you want without consequences.
That being said, you can work on your communication skills. You can try to elaborate for example. Or, keep your thoughts to yourself. Don’t overshare, or learn who to share with. You can learn to love yourself more, forgive your mistakes, and forgive others for misunderstanding you. As you build your confidence, maturity, and communication skills, you may care less about being misunderstood. You may also find it happens less often.
10. Being judged
Like being misunderstood, being judged always feels terrible. And being judged can be extra painful for empaths.
Judgment is triggering because not only does the judger not understand, they have formed wrong conclusions about you or the situation. This feels unfair and often hopeless. It can cause shame, anger, and more.
Protect yourself: Clear communication is always helpful. Advocate for yourself and speak your truth. Sometimes, a person has their mind made up, in which case it’s more difficult. Still, you can do your best to be clear about the truth.
Take being judged as a lesson. Let it teach you how to better represent yourself, or how to better express yourself. As well, forgive yourself.
Or, maybe the experience of being judged has nothing to do with you. Give the judger grace. They may have distorted views based on their own struggles. They may in time see your side.
11. Being taken advantage of
Empaths who are unaware of their energy are easy targets for energy vampires, narcissists, and worse.
Many empaths are sweet and trusting by nature. They are honest, kind people who care about others. They walk around like an open book, unaware their empathic heart and natural vulnerabilities are so visible. Unfortunately, some learn the hard way that not everyone is morally and ethically on the same page and that some people will take advantage.
Being taken advantage of is triggering and hurtful. It makes you lose a sense of trust in people. Cruelty and dishonesty can break you. And it can take time to recover.
Self-protection strategies: Do some research and learn common red flags of narcissists, sociopaths, and other dark personalities so you don’t become a victim again. Learn to protect your energy- that may mean less self-disclosure when meeting someone, for example.
If you’ve been naive, forgive yourself and learn from it. You are not flawed for being trusting and open. Become strong, take responsibility for your part in things, and don’t have a victim mentality going forward in life.
12. Not enough time to process things
Not enough processing time is a sure empath trigger.
Empaths need to think about what happened, what was said, and other aspects of life in depth. They need to do this virtually every day. If they cannot do this, they may become overwhelmed and mentally frazzled.
Empaths often excel at learning and resolving things when they have the space and time to think. With the right amount of “room for thought” empaths are often excellent problem solvers, highly creative, and articulate.
Self-protection: Recognize and honor your need to think things through. Try journaling to get your thoughts on paper. Be careful not to get obsessed or overanalyze things in a way that is detrimental.
13. Picking up on energy no one else is
When you’re sensing energy no one else is, it can sometimes feel like you’re living in the twilight zone. For example, maybe you sense that someone has bad intentions, but your friend does not. And they think you’re being judgemental and thus a jerk in your opinion.
This is exactly the kind of thing that can be highly triggering. It’s a way of being misunderstood or judged. Judged for “judging” when in fact you are sensing. What a mess, right?
Self-protection: As an empath, you have to trust your instincts. Only time will tell the truth of the matter, but meanwhile, go with your gut and use common sense to make decisions. You may need to speak up more about what you are sensing, or speak less. It all depends.
If it turns out you are wrong, apologize and learn from it. Let the experience fine-tune your senses and educate you. Grow from it. If it turns out you are right, let that affirm your trust in your intuition.
14. Knowing something but you can’t prove it
Similar to number 13 above, having a clear empathic knowledge without proof can be triggering for empaths in certain situations. Especially when there is a lot at stake.
In “unproven knowing” cases, you can use your highly sensitive nature to gather clues and more tangible proof. You can follow leads that your intuition presents.
You have to use common sense and know that others aren’t going to accept your information at face value. Nor should they. Other people are entitled to their own perceptions, even if wrong.
You may have to keep your knowledge to yourself at times, or you may want to share it depending on those involved. Use your intuitive knowing to make your best decisions.
Protect yourself: Disclose carefully. Be mindful of who you trust with the information. Or, keep the information to yourself. Consider that you could be wrong. Keep your mind open and aware.
15. Lies & lack of integrity
Empaths usually know when someone is lying. Lying is triggering to empaths when they can clearly sense the lie, but others cannot. Lying can truly infuriate an empath, especially if other people are accepting the lie or playing along.
Empaths also get triggered by exaggeration or tall tales. They tend to value complete transparency and accuracy.
Because empaths tend to be truthful and ethical, sometimes they get hoodwinked. They assume other people are as honest and truthful as they are, and this assumption can be wrong. Some people have absolutely no integrity. They may pretend to have it to make themselves look good, but they care much more about self-gain.
Protect yourself: Know that not everyone is as honest as you are. Don’t be naive. Avoid dishonest people and become aware of red flags. There may be times to “call someone out” on their lie, and there are times to say nothing. It all depends.
Most of all, don’t lie to yourself. Being in denial, for example, magnetizes liars. If you sense something is off, you may well be right. Protect your energy and find people you can trust. People whose actions are true to their word.
Much like lies, empaths often find fakeness highly triggering. Probably because fakeness is a mild form of lying.
Small talk when sugar-coated, for example, can feel quite fake and make empaths uncomfortable. Empaths get suspicious when people seem to be “acting”.
But, empaths also need to take an honest look at themselves. Maybe the empath needs to communicate better. Or simply realize why people seem fake at times and give them grace. Mostly it’s a survival mechanism to play nice and get along. Although other times the fakeness is a big red flag,
Know that just because you’re forthright and tell like it is doesn’t mean everyone will. Some people will avoid confrontation at all costs, or have the habit of kissing butt. Everyone is different.
Protect yourself: Try to surround yourself with authentic people. Continue being direct but mindful of other people’s feelings.
Importantly, try to discern the intentions of those acting fake. The intentions are key. Ask yourself what this person is trying to gain. Is it something innocent like a pleasant conversation, or is there manipulation going on? Each case is different.
Empaths don’t like mind games. Mind games are a yucky combination that often involves lies, manipulation, lack of respect, and more.
Empaths get triggered when they are told “I love you” one day and “I don’t want to be with you” the next. Empaths are confused when friends say one thing and do another. When they feel they’ve been misled, disrespected, or worse.
Inconsistency hurts empaths deeply. The empath tries to sense why the other person has been treating them a certain way. They try to suss out the problem. Or decide if they can trust that person.
Sadly, inconsistent actions are usually a big red flag indicating poor character. But sometimes, inconsistency means the person you care about needs help or has mental health issues.
Protect yourself: Develop clear boundaries with people. Be forthright and honest. Tell them how their actions make you feel. Ask if they need help or what their problem is. Offer to help if you can.
In some cases, you may need to create space between the two of you or end the relationship if the problem is severe.
18. Not enough time in nature
Empaths absolutely need time outside and in nature. Nature time is often part of their alone time.
Not enough time in nature can cause stealthy triggering- the empath is stressed but doesn’t know why exactly. They suspect they’ve been working too much, and maybe so, but also they have been in nature too little.
Self-protection: Being aware of your need for nature is part A and making time for nature is part B. You are responsible for your self-care, so make sure you create time and space for your needs.
Spending time in nature is important for everyone. We all need to go outdoors. If you have virtually zero nature where you live, then look up at least. Observe the skies, feel the breeze, tweet back at a bird, or plan a trip outside of your area.
19. Not enough creative time
Just like with any other aspect of self-care, empaths need to make time to be creative. Otherwise, creative energy builds, and a strange sense of unhappiness festers.
In some cases, not enough creative time can trigger empaths into depression or anxiety. Whether intentional or not, suppressing creativity is bad for mental health.
Protect yourself: Try an easy creative practice such as sketching or journaling.
Make time for creativity as often as you can. Take creativity seriously and don’t think of being creative as a hobby. Being creative is not a hobby, it’s a way of life.
Furthermore, you do not need any talent to be creative. You don’t need skill. Don’t let ego kill your fun.
20. Having to do too much at once
Most empaths would do best to avoid multitasking. Having to do too many things at once easily triggers empaths and causes stress.
Empaths need to process each task separately. They tend to think deeply and consider all sides of things. They feel the emotions of those affected by decisions. They feel how each possible outcome would turn out.
When the pressure is off and empaths can take things one step at a time, they can really pull through with awesome solutions. They can do excellent work. Just don’t expect an empath to juggle 10 things at once in the same way less sensitive folks do. The less sensitive aren’t literally feeling every possible outcome and thinking so deeply about every choice.
Self-protection: Try not to place yourself in this situation. Develop boundaries with others and use clear communication. Say “no” without guilt. Respect your natural methods of processing information. Accept yourself and love yourself. Aim to do your best by your own standards.
Self-care tips for empaths
The self-protection tips given here are really just scratching the surface. Whatever the specific issues you are being triggered by or facing, do more research. Consult additional sources. And get professional help if needed.
A few more self-protection and self-care tips (you may see some repetition here) are:
- Accept yourself- Accept and love yourself for who you are. It’s ok to feel deeply.
- Take responsibility- You are responsible for your words and actions.
- Continue with personal development- It’s up to you to strengthen yourself to the world, not the other way around.
- Know yourself- Know what you need to thrive.
- Give yourself what you need- To the best of your ability.
- Positive growth mindset- Know that you have the power to grow, learn, evolve, and make changes.
- Watch the situations you place yourself in- Be mindful of what is triggering.
- Watch who you hang around- Notice people’s intentions and character but…
- Open up- Don’t be afraid to be open and love people.
- Plan for self-care- It’s not selfish.
- Strengthen your natural gifts- Empathy can be your superpower.
Although these 20 empath triggers are somewhat common, empath triggers can be highly personal and nuanced. Triggers are also difficult to write unbiasedly about.
The good thing about triggers is how enlightening they are. Triggers show us where we need to evolve, grow, and heal. They allow us to gain valuable information about ourselves.
I hope this article has been helpful. Please let me know your thoughts or questions in the comments.
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