Top 17 triggers for empaths and how to handle them

Being an empath is a double-edged sword.

We’re sensitive and experience the world on a deeper level, but that heightened awareness also means we’re easily triggered.

An empath will respond to the emotions of those around them, even if they’re not visible.

When you’re an empath, almost everything can trigger you. Even the smallest things can affect your state of mind, which can leave you feeling overwhelmed and exhausted.

I’m going to share with you the top 17 triggers for empaths and how I’ve learned to handle them over the years:

1) Being around strong emotions

I’ve found that being around highly emotional people is one of the biggest triggers for us empaths.

For example, if a friend is going through a painful breakup, if someone at work is stressed out and angry, or even if the cashier at the store is having a bad day, it’s impossible not to pick up on their pain and frustration and empathize.

What’s wrong with empathy you ask? Doesn’t that make you a good person?

Well, of course, a big part of being a decent human being is being able to empathize with your fellow man.

That being said, if you’re an empath, you will take that to a whole new level! Wherever you go and there are people, you’ll be picking up on their emotions. Whether they’re happy or sad, it doesn’t matter – your emotions will be triggered by theirs and let me tell you, it gets super tiring (if you’re an empath yourself, you’ll know what I mean.)

So what should you do? Avoid people?

Of course you should not avoid people, but you need to be careful when you’re around them, especially those that are experiencing strong emotions.

You don’t want to take on everyone’s emotions on top of your own, which will only lead to burnout.

To protect yourself from others’ strong emotions, you need to create boundaries.

Instead of being around other people’s emotions all the time, create safe and grounding spaces for yourself.

So if you need to be there for a friend who is going through a breakup, make sure to take some time for yourself after comforting them. Go for a walk in the park or if you can, do a quick meditation to center yourself.

Trust me, this will help you keep your energy before you get triggered again. You really should avoid being triggered over and over again without taking a time out.

2) Others’ pain and suffering

Empaths are often drawn to people in pain and suffering, either because we want to help or because it resonates within us.

Think about it:

When you see someone in a lot of pain, you feel it too, don’t you? You want to make it go away, even if it means taking on that pain yourself.

If you find yourself in a situation where someone is in pain and you’re triggered by it, the best thing to do is to seek a way to help.

You can offer emotional support, or you can take action to help that person or situation. The thing about helping someone in pain is that it will make you feel better and once they stop feeling so much pain, so will you.

However, you need to know that you can’t help everyone. If you find yourself constantly feeling the pain of others and you have a hard time letting go, you might want to seek counseling or therapy to work through your own pain and find a way to heal.

Personally, I have a therapist I see twice a month who helps me deal with all the pain I feel and helps me get that weight off my shoulders.

3) Lack of solitude

I don’t know about you but when I don’t get enough alone time, other people’s emotions can be incredibly overwhelming.

It feels like you’re being constantly bombarded by the emotions of others, which can leave you feeling exhausted.

I’ve found that setting boundaries and learning how to enforce them is one way to manage this.

You have to let people know that you need time alone. You need to protect yourself from the constant noise and distractions of the world.

The thing is that we empaths thrive on solitude, it’s necessary for us to keep our energy clean.

Trust me: You need to take care of yourself in order to take care of others.

If you don’t take the time to recharge, you’re going to run out of energy and you won’t be any good to anyone, least of all yourself.

4) Being in a place with lots of people or noise

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One of the worst things for me is being in a crowded place with lots of noise and strong lights – it’s sensory overload.

Places like shopping malls or crowded streets are the worst – that’s why I hate shopping at Christmas. People are shouting, children screaming, you’re surrounded from all sides.

Ok, so such situations are stressful for most people.

But the thing is that being around hordes of people can be triggering because empaths are very sensitive to other people’s energy. This means that the more people are around you, the more energy you’re picking up on. Add noise and lights and other distractions and you’ll be exhausted in no time.

What’s the solution?

Well, you can try and avoid such places whenever possible, but the best thing would be to learn to deal with such situations. One way to do that is to simply breathe…

A while ago I discovered some breathwork exercises created by the shaman, Rudá Iandê that have been life-changing for me.

Trust me, Rudá is the real deal. He’s combined years of breathwork experience with ancient shamanic beliefs and designed a series of exercises to help you check in with your body and soul.

Doing his breathwork exercises regularly has really helped me relax, destress, and overall cope with being an empath much better.

That’s why I really recommend watching his free breathwork video.

5) A situation that reminds you of past trauma

Being in a situation that reminds you of past trauma can be incredibly triggering for empaths.

You don’t even have to be in the exact same place or even with the same people; the situation surrounding the trauma can be enough to trigger you.

So what can you do?

You need to find a way to calm yourself and understand that you’re safe and that nothing bad is going to happen to you.

Easier said than done, I know.

You’ll want to leave as soon as you’re triggered, and if you can, then do it, but that’s not always possible.

Imagine that you’re about to go into a big meeting for work, something you’ve been preparing for months. Now, something on the way to the meeting triggers you and you start to panic.

Does that mean that you should leave and forget about all the hard work you did? Of course not.

Anyone who’s had to deal with trauma in their past, empath or not, needs to deal with what happened. That’s why it’s crucial to talk to someone about the situation, whether it be a friend or a professional.

You can’t keep your emotions bottled up or they’ll fester and cause damage. And you can’t keep running away every time that something reminds you of your past trauma, not if you want to function in society.

6) Other empaths in your space

Normally, when you get a new friend or love interest, you want them to feel welcomed in your space.

Unfortunately, new people can also be huge triggers for empaths. New friends and lovers can overwhelm you with their emotions, and it can be hard to cleanse yourself after they leave.

This is because you feel such a strong connection to them.

And if you’re dating someone who’s also an empath, you need to be even more careful with setting boundaries.

Being around other empaths can be a difficult experience, especially if they don’t know how to control their abilities. Let them know that you’re also an empath and ask them to respect your boundaries.

If you’re dating another empath, you need to let them know that you’re triggered by their emotions just like they’re triggered by yours.

You need to figure out a system where you each get some space to recharge.

7) Constant chaos

An empath that finds themselves in a situation that constantly changes, has no structure, and doesn’t follow a clear path will probably feel stressed and anxious.

Constantly switching from one thing to the next without any sort of consistency can be a huge emotional trigger.

For example, I recently had to move homes after 10 years.

Not only did I move apartments, but I also went from one neighborhood to another all the way across town. Boy did that trigger a lot of emotions! It’s been two months and I’m still dealing with it.

When something like that happens, when you find yourself in a chaotic situation, the only way to deal with it is to find something that’s constant and hold on to it.

So, in my case, with all the packing and moving and getting used to my new surroundings, I started to feel lost. But then I looked around me and realized that my husband was a constant, my doggies were a constant, and no matter what went on and what changed, they were still there and that helped ground me.

Another thing that helps me is to go to my old neighborhood from time to time and take a walk and see some old friends. It gives me balance.

You can also find other ways to ground yourself and calm your mind (such as meditation and breathwork, which I mentioned above).

There are many ways to manage constant chaos, but you first need to be aware that you’re being triggered by it.

8) Witnessing violence

Witnessing violence can be very difficult for empaths.

And it doesn’t even have to be first-hand. A news report about war or any other kind of violence will set off an empath’s emotions and they might even forget where they are for a second.

You can’t live a completely sheltered life and you may witness some violence from time to time.

That being said, you don’t have to seek it out. Skip watching the news. That’s what I did.

And if you’re so sensitive that you react to fictional violence, then pick comedies to watch on TV and happy fiction to read.

9) Lack of nature and fresh air

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I’d lose my mind if I didn’t have the possibility to spend time in nature.

When I’m in nature I get to recharge my batteries and get away from it all. I feel at peace.

If you’re an empath and you spend a lot of time in a place where there is no source of natural light and there’s no fresh air – if you work in an office, factory, or any other dark indoor space – then you’re gonna have a hard time.

Empaths thrive when they’re in nature, and they need it just as much as they need water.

If you don’t have access to a forest or wilderness, then you have to be creative. For example, take your lunch break in the park.

When the weekend comes, don’t spend it sleeping in and watching movies. Spend your weekends outdoors, outside the city. Go hiking. Ride your bike. Take a swim in the lake.

You have to make sure that you have time outside. This will help you ground yourself and keep your energy clean.

10) Being around toxic people

As I mentioned, we empaths are highly sensitive to the energy of those around us. Toxic people can suck the joy out of a room and leave us feeling drained.

That’s why if you’re an empath it’s important to recognize who these people are and to be aware of how they affect you.

If you find yourself feeling drained after spending time with certain people, you might want to consider limiting your exposure to them.

It’s also important to note that toxic people can be family members, friends, or even colleagues. That’s why you have to think of a way to be around them without them draining your energy (because they’re like energy vampires).

For example, I love my grandmother but she’s a very difficult person and after listening to her for more than 10 minutes I start to get triggered. That’s why when I visit her I make sure I’m busy. I do her dishes. Make some lunch. I take my dogs along with me to get her to engage with them instead of draining my energy. You see where I’m going?

You need to either avoid being around toxic people or learn to be around them without getting triggered.

11) Lack of boundaries

Having appropriate boundaries can help you avoid being triggered by others.

However, most people don’t set boundaries because they don’t want to hurt others’ feelings or they’re afraid of being rejected.

If you have trouble setting boundaries, you may want to explore the reasons behind this. Lack of boundaries can lead to you being triggered not just by the emotions of others, but also by their words and actions.

I myself had trouble with setting boundaries in the beginning because I wanted to be nice and liked by everyone. Eventually, I figured out that if I was to keep my sanity I had to set some boundaries and stick to them.

12) Stress

Stress is a natural part of life that can be helpful when managed properly.

However, constant stress can leave you drained and trigger your empathic nature. This can put a strain on your mental health and trigger an empath’s mental fragility.

It’s important to find ways to manage your stress to avoid becoming overwhelmed by it.

This can include finding positive ways to express your emotions: journaling, exercising, and spending time with people you love. You can also take up daily meditation and check out those breathwork videos I mentioned.

And if that doesn’t help, don’t be scared of talking to a therapist, they’re there to help, not judge.

13) Fake people

Is there anything worse than fake people?

Fake people can be incredibly difficult to avoid. And most people don’t even know that they’re in the presence of fake people because they’re often very skilled at pretending to be your friend.

However, when you’re an empath, you can spot these people easily.

Being around fake people really triggers me. It makes me want to shout out “Just be yourself. Say what you mean. DON’T PRETEND TO LIKE ME!”

I’d rather someone tell me how they really feel about me than have to suffer their fakeness.

14) Seeing animals suffer

I love animals more than anything! That’s why I have five dogs and six cats.

Animals are innocents and seeing them suffer is very painful for us empaths.

This is why you’ll find that most animal shelters and sanctuaries are run by empaths.

While saving animals is a very noble cause that’s close to my heart, it’s important for an empath to remember that they can’t save ALL the animals.

When you decide to rescue animals, it’s easy to get frustrated and focus on all the animals that you can’t save that you forget about all the animals that you’ve saved and helped and placed in new homes.

So focus on helping the animals that you can help and recognize how you’ve transformed their lives and what a great thing that is.

15) Disappointing people

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Empaths are known to take feedback and criticism as a personal attack. They take it very personally and feel the need to defend themselves.

I’ve gotten better at taking criticism over the years but I sometimes still have a hard time with it – even if it’s constructive and comes from someone who loves me.

When you’re an empath, you can feel like you’re always letting people down because you’re so sensitive and take on the emotions of others.

This can lead to avoiding situations where you might disappoint someone, which can, in turn, lead to loneliness because you’re not stepping into your purpose.

The best way to handle this trigger is to accept that you can’t do everything. You can’t please everyone, and you can’t avoid disappointing people. It’s a normal part of being human.

16) Being overwhelmed with too many tasks

Empaths can be great at getting things done and being productive, but one thing they’re not great at is setting boundaries.

They often feel that they need to take on too many tasks, and then they feel guilty when they can’t complete them.

You need to know your limits and learn not to feel guilty when you can’t do everything.

It’s also important to understand that being productive isn’t the same as being busy.

17) Not enough creative time

A lot of us empaths are creative people who have a rich inner world.

However, this creativity can be stunted by having too many obligations. And when an empath doesn’t have time to be creative, this can trigger their emotions.

It’s important to carve out time for your creativity. It can be as simple as taking a walk with your sketchbook or writing down short stories.

Whatever it is, make time for your creativity and it will help you deal with the emotional triggers that come with being an empath.

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Tina Fey

I've ridden the rails, gone off track and lost my train of thought. I'm writing for Ideapod to try and find it again. Hope you enjoy the journey with me.

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