What It's Like to Be a Highly Sensitive Counselor

When I first identified some characteristics about myself that made me more sensitive to other’s emotions, one of my friends told me I was an empath.

What is an empath?

Google identifies an empath as “a person with the paranormal ability to apprehend the mental or emotional state of another individual.” I’m “paranormal”? I don’t think of myself this way. Maybe I’m more of a “highly sensitive” person. An article from the Huffington Post identifies the characteristics of a highly sensitive person and sounds just like me. These characteristics, in my mind, are what make me a great fit for the counseling profession. Many of the counselors and counseling students I have met throughout my schooling have some of these characteristics as well.

But how do I deal with feelings, being more emotionally reactive, and picking up emotional “vibes” from others when also trying to fight back the monster of depression? And now that I am a mental health professional, how do I separate my feelings from the feelings of others? How do I determine if it’s my depression laying a weight on my soul or the depression of others?

For me, it has been about getting to know myself better. I have to do a lot of looking into myself, reflecting, meditating, and realizing what is coming from me and what is coming from someone else.

This means many things for me. At times, it means I may have to separate myself from others. I may need some time to myself to reflect, to read my Bible, or to meditate. To identify the emotions that are mine and know how I am truly feeling, I need to have some time alone so I am not influenced by the emotions of any one else who may be present at that time.

I am also learning when it is appropriate to step into someone’s situation and try to help, and when it’s appropriate to let them handle it. Sometimes, the negativity can get to be too much and it’s best for me to let that person handle whatever is going on. I have to learn to shut off the counselor when I’m not actually in the office. Just because I sense someone’s emotions, doesn’t always mean I need to step in.

As a highly sensitive person, it’s hard for me to stay away. Not only do I feel more deeply, I sense others’ pain and I want to do something about it. But over time, I have come to a realization. As a highly sensitive person, I need to remember I am the most important person in my life. I need to focus on me and what makes me healthy first. I can’t make anyone feel anything they don’t want to feel. If I let myself get wrapped up in the negativity, anxiety, hurt, and pain that can turn into a depression trigger.

Sometimes, it’s just enough to tell that person I care and step away. If you’re like me and you get wrapped up in others’ emotions, remember it’s OK to take a break. Take care of yourself. You deserve it.

Image via Thinkstock.

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