the-socially-anxious-empathI want you to visualize for a moment that you are standing in a crowded room.  The room is filled with familiar and unfamiliar faces and they are all looking right at you.

As you reach up to scratch your cheek, someone tells you that you appear uncomfortable.  You cough and see noticeable faces of disgust.  You reach for a shrimp cocktail and someone tells you that you have already had two.

With each movement comes commentary from the crowd, critiquing your mannerisms, appearance, emotions, and actions.  If you attempt to speak, you are interrupted consistently mid-sentence with opinions on your word choice, ideas, and perspectives.

After only a matter of minutes, you feel terrified to move but equally fearful of standing still.  You feel critiqued, whether positively or negatively, for every single thing you do. No matter what you do or do not do, those in the crowd have something to say about how they feel towards you.

Ultimately, you are made so uncomfortable and fearful of what others will say next that the only reprieve is to leave the situation.

Welcome to the life of the socially anxious empath.

While people are obviously not verbally expressing their emotions about everything an empath says or does, the empath still feels it. 

You see, each and every one of us is having emotional responses to the people around us every single day.  When the cashier asks if you want paper or plastic, you have an immediate emotional reaction to the question – surprise, confusion, overwhelm, gratitude, understanding, or any host of everyday emotions.  When someone sneezes right beside you, you have an instant emotional response to how they handled their sneeze, whether disgust over the proximity, compassion for their discomfort in feeling unwell, or gratitude for the tissue they had readily available.

In everyday conversation, each sentence spoken evokes an emotional response from you.

These responses, whether positive or negative, are often involuntary.  They are immediate judgments based on a lifetime of experiences and layers of beliefs and paradigms.  To do this is human.  It is healthy.  It is an innate survival mechanism.

What makes us able to remain emotionally even is our logical ability to assess situations as well.  Let’s use the sneezing example: When someone sneezes in your general direction, your emotional response may be that of instant disgust.  But your logical faculties will remind you that had they turned another way, they would have sneezed on someone else, and at least they were gracious enough to cover their mouth and nose.  Sneezing is involuntary and they meant no harm in the simple act.

Your logic and thoughts remind you that there is nothing wrong with the situation and you move along, without your initial involuntary emotional response being of any matter in the grand scheme of things.

This emotion and thought process often occur so rapidly and subconsciously that the average person hardly notices these insignificant reactions, both within themselves and especially within those around them.  They can converse with another and take the conversation at face value because they are less than aware of the minuscule blips of emotional responses.

Empaths, however, notice.  Even if the empath is unaware of their abilities, they are still very clearly picking up on these tiny changes in one’s emotional frequency.  So in a simple interaction with another, each word, movement, or mannerism that causes a small and involuntary emotional judgment from another is felt by the empath.  They become painfully aware of how the other person is perceiving them.  Whether these perceptions are positive or negative is of no matter.  The empath still feels exposed and on show, hyper aware of every move they make.  Their only reprieve seems to be to escape the situation where they can feel noticeable relief from the removal of the unforgiving spotlight.

Knowing exactly how others feel about you, without the ability to know what they are thinking, causes the empath to become anxious in almost any social situation.  Unaware of the reason why, they live a life of social anxiety which holds them back from making new friends, finding fulfilling relationships, participating in activities, thriving in the workplace, and more.

So how does an empath, with their keen sense of everyone’s emotions, break free from this anxiety?  Through knowledge and awareness.

Knowing the reason why you feel anxious helps immensely.  You are not crazy.  Others are not spending more time critiquing you than those around you.  They are simply being human, offering human responses, in the same way they do with everyone around them.  You just happen to have the ability to feel these responses in an instant.  Find relief in knowing that others are not focused on examining and judging you.

Take a moment to notice your immediate emotional responses to others.  You will see that you offer these same shifts towards others.  It is not malevolent nor is it intentional.  In many cases you do not allow these tiny judgments to alter your perception of others because you see them on a larger scale.  Others see you on a larger scale, too.  They have logic and reasoning and are continuously forming new opinions and paradigms.  You are just offered a front row seat to how the human mind works.

Next time you begin to feel anxious when conversing with another, remember that the other person is not critiquing your every move.  They are probably not even aware of their emotions that you are picking up.  You are turning a brighter spotlight onto yourself and their emotions than they could even consciously fathom.  So turn down the spotlight, find enjoyment in the unique knowledge you hold, and continue forward in the discussion with a newfound sense of your abilities.