How to Stop Absorbing Other People's Emotions

Four Methods:Understanding Your Response to Other People’s EmotionsSetting Boundaries with OthersCreating Space for YourselfMaking Positive Changes to Strengthen Yourself

Many people are highly sensitive to other people’s emotions. You may have the ability to empathize with others, often to the extent that it can be disruptive to you as a highly sensitive person. Having firm yet kind boundaries can help you learn to prioritize your own emotions. Then you can create emotional, social and physical spaces for yourself where you can flourish without being negatively impacted by other people’s emotions.

Method 1
Understanding Your Response to Other People’s Emotions

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    Reflect on whether you’re a highly sensitive person. A highly sensitive person (HSP) is easily excited and emotional. Some of the central characteristics of an HSP are:[1]
    • Sensory detail: You have an appreciation for details that your five senses notice: fabrics that feel delicate, deep colors, rich sounds, and so on.
    • Nuances in meaning: You understand hidden meanings and don’t rush into decision-making.
    • Emotional awareness: You are attuned to your emotional health, and have the potential to take better care of yourself because of this awareness.
    • Creativity: You are likely very creative yet introverted.
    • Greater empathy: You are very sensitive to other people’s emotions.
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    Determine if you’re an “empath.” An empath is someone who is especially sensitive to other people’s emotions in general, and much more so than most people. All empaths are HSPs, but not all HSPs are empaths.[2] The following are signs that you might be an empath:[3]
    • You sense fear, anxiety, and stress from other people. You draw these feelings into your body, resolving them as your own physical pain and symptoms. It doesn't have to be people you don't know or don't like. You're also impacted by friends, family, and colleagues.
    • You quickly feel exhausted, drained, and unhappy in the presence of crowds.
    • Noise, smells, and excessive talking can set off your nerves and anxiety.
    • You need to be alone to recharge your energy.
    • You're less likely to intellectualize what you're feeling. Your feelings are easily hurt.
    • You're naturally giving, generous, spiritually inclined, and a good listener.
    • You tend to ensure that you've got an escape plan, so that you can get away fast, such as bringing your own car to events, etc.
    • The intimacy of close relationships can feel like suffocation or loss of your own self.
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    Identify when you’re most susceptible to absorbing others’ emotions. Not everyone is affected by other people to the same extent, or even in necessarily similar ways. But everyone certainly has moments when their emotions are influenced by others around them. Try to learn in which type of situations this happens most for you.
    • Keep track of how you feel when you’re around other people. Also, take note of the emotions that come up the most often. Are your emotions influenced when you are around someone you are trying to impress? Are they influenced by someone who intimidates you? Do you feel overwhelmed when you’re in a crowd?
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    Recognize people who bring you down. People who are particularly difficult for emotional empaths include criticizers, victims, narcissists, and controllers. These people are often termed "emotional vampires."[4]
    • Assess the people around you. Are there people who criticize you a lot? Do they try to manipulate you? Do they constantly talk about themselves? Do they ever ask about how you’re doing? [5]
    • When you know how to spot these behaviors, you can protect yourself against them. This includes removing yourself from their presence and telling yourself, "I respect who this person is within even though I don't like what he’s doing."[6]

Method 2
Setting Boundaries with Others

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    Determine what your needs and values are. Figure out what you really need and what you won’t compromise on. These are your most valued priorities and non-negotiable things, such as your health, your children and so on. Once you establish what you absolutely need to live peacefully, then you can start to establish boundaries.[7]
    • The flipside is to determine where you’re flexible. What are you willing to compromise on, reduce or give up?
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    Express your needs to your loved ones. When you need to get some space in order to process your own feelings and decompress, tell your loved ones. Communicating your own needs will help your partner, for example, understand why you are pulling away briefly. When this person understands your motivations, your relationship can strengthen while you get the space you need.[8]
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    Plan how you will respond to difficult situations. When you are confronted with a difficult situation, you may find yourself relaxing your boundaries too much. If you plan out your response in advance, you’ll be able to hold the line better.
    • For example, how will you respond when a friend needs an ear to listen to complaints about work?[9] You might say, “I am happy to hear about your work situation, but I only have 10 minutes to talk today.” Then stick to that 10 minutes.
    • In another example, say you have a coworker who always leaves projects to the last minute, and you pick up the slack to minimize their stress. You might establish a boundary by saying, “I have my own work to complete at this time. I’m sorry, but I can’t help you right now.”
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    Set time limits. Knowing how much you can stand and obeying that limit is vital to ensure your mental well-being. Set kind but meaningful boundaries with others who overwhelm you.
    • For example, don't stand around listening to someone talk for two hours when you can only cope with 30 minutes. Make your excuses and leave the situation.

Method 3
Creating Space for Yourself

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    Learn how to rely on yourself. Get to know your own emotions, feelings, wants and needs. Assert yourself with others so that you can get what you need to be happy and fulfilled.[10] If you constantly rely on others to determine how you feel or how you should act, you tend to adopt their emotions and reactions. Instead, prioritize your needs and wants by learning to act on your own.
    • Don’t wait to ask permission of other people to act. You can make your own decisions without asking someone else for approval. Start with small decisions. Don’t ask someone if a piece of clothing looks good on you before you buy it. Just buy it if you like it. Gradually make larger decisions without other people’s input. This will build your self-confidence and will create space for your own feelings and needs to shine through.[11]
    • Ensure that you don't have to rely on other people to get you out of difficult situations. Bring your own car or know how to get home easily when needed.[12] Have enough money to be able to make alternate arrangements if you start feeling overwhelmed.
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    Create your own private place in a home shared with others. Ask others to respect your downtime during which you can rejuvenate. Set up a space for yourself for when you need to remove yourself from situations or when you feel more vulnerable, such as when you’re tired. This is especially important to prevent you from taking on your partner's feelings too much.[13], [14] Find a place that you associate with peace and tranquility.
    • Keep a picture of a waterfall or a lush forest with you and look at it when overwhelmed.
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    Give yourself physical space when you’re in public. Having physical space when you’re in a crowd, for example, can help you find a bit of emotional space. When there is a lot of people around, find places of refuge, such as sitting on the edges or standing apart.[15]
    • If you are an HSP and you are extra sensitive to your surroundings, make a conscious effort to choose locations that give you emotional space. For example, when you’re at a restaurant, sit at a table where you can sit with your back up against the wall. Don’t sit at a table in the middle, near the bathrooms, or near the garbage.
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    Develop a sense of inner peace. Learn to center yourself in distressing situations by concentrating on your breath or imagining a place that makes you happy. This can be a great tool to use when you sense yourself becoming absorbed by other people’s emotions. For a few minutes, keep exhaling negativity, inhaling calm. This helps to ground yourself and purify fear or other difficult emotions.[16]
    • Visualize negativity as gray fog lifting from your body, and hope as golden light entering. This can yield quick results.
    • Try yoga and breathing techniques. These practices draw upon emotional centering and provide safe harbor in times of storm. Your breathing habits have developed unique to your own life rhythms. They can sometimes keep you from getting the optimal amount of oxygen throughout your body in the right moments.[17] Your breathing can be altered, however, by practicing yoga or other breathing techniques, which can give you more control over negative emotions when they begin to arise. [18]

Method 4
Making Positive Changes to Strengthen Yourself

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    Cultivate positive emotions that boost your inner strength. If you're surrounded by peace and love, you'll flourish as strongly as negative emotions cause you to wilt.[19] Studies show that when you have more positive emotions, you will have more satisfaction in your life.[20]
    • Think of someone you love. Think of the warmth and joy you feel around that person. Now apply that feeling to someone you know a little less. Find something about that person that makes you happy. Then apply that same feeling to others around you. As you learn to recognize other people’s positive traits, you can build positive emotions in yourself that keep you focusing on the good things in life, which in turn suppresses negativity.[21]
    • Build other positive emotions. Smile frequently. When you smile, your brain releases chemicals that enhance the positivity in your mind.
    • Do things that you love. When you engage in hobbies that you enjoy, you surround yourself with positive feelings.
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    Look for positive people and situations. Surround yourself with people who make you feel good and who are supportive. Positivity can influence your well-being, just as negativity can. You may not be able to fully eliminate being sensitive to other people’s emotions, so it’s better to choose positive people over negative ones. [22]
    • Call a friend who sees the good in others. Spend time with a colleague who affirms the bright side of things. Listen to hopeful people. Relish hopeful words, songs, and art forms.[23]
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    Manage your emotional overload. Because some people are empaths, and are naturally more sensitive to what’s going on in their environment than others, they can feel overwhelmed in situations that other people might not even consider uncomfortable.[24] However, no matter how uniquely sensitive you are, you don't need to be beholden to your ability to absorb other's emotions.
    • Recognize that certain situations might be too overwhelming for you. Remove yourself from these situations. For example if you know you’ll absorb the stress of people doing their Christmas shopping, avoid stores during this season.
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    Recognize your inner creativity. HSPs often exhibit an enhanced degree of creativity in aesthetic activities.[25] Some philosophers, moreover, describe a capacity for creativity as being essential to growth and transformation. Creativity is something that we are all capable of regardless of whether or not we’ve ever picked up a paintbrush.[26] Art, in this sense, can occur every time you have a conversation with someone else, or even each time you make breakfast. Learning how to become more creative in your day-to-day life.
    • Experiment with your personal style or daily activities. This can be a great way to turn an exceptionally high sensitivity to stimuli in your environment into a gift rather than a curse.
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    Turn your empathy into positive action. When you feel overwhelmed by others’ emotions, use this feeling to your advantage by pursuing something positive. Pick a cause that is relevant to the emotions you feel.
    • For example, simply walking by homeless people on the street might cause pain in a highly sensitive person. This feeling might keep him from frequenting cities or certain neighborhoods in order to avoid this pain. Invest your emotional energy in something constructive. You might volunteer at a homeless shelter or offer to buy a homeless person a meal. Listen to this person’s story.
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    Be compassionate with yourself. Learn to use compassion as a way to defend yourself against overwhelming emotions. Compassion allows you to be empathetic with other people, but it also requires that you are compassionate toward yourself. This means that you don't need to feel guilty about seeking respite from being overwhelmed.
    • Be aware of your common humanity. You are not alone in your feelings. When you recognize that your feelings are part of a common human experience, you will not feel so isolated.[27] For example, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, you can tell yourself: “Everyone feels overwhelmed sometimes.”
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    Accept yourself for who you are. Sometimes being highly sensitive to your environment can make you feel out of sync with others, especially when everyone around you appears to be outgoing or sociable. This is because HSPs and empaths can often be introverted. In fact, about 70 percent of HSPs are introverted, so you may feel at odds with others around you.[28],[29] But because your degree of sensitivity is unique to your own body, it is essential to accept these feelings as part of yourself.[30]
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    Put yourself in diverse situations. Empathy tends to happen spontaneously, and can produce very different emotions depending upon the situation. If you are around the exact same people every single day, it’s going to be difficult for you to figure out precisely which types of emotions are elicited by which people. When you try out a situation you’d normally avoid, you might find that you respond differently.
    • Try a new hobby or go to a party where you don’t know very many people. Being in a new environment might just give you the freedom to respond differently.

Sources and Citations

  3. Judith Orloff, MD, Are you an empath?,

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