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Are you an INFJ empath?
Do you absorb the emotions of the people around you even when their emotions are unexpressed?
Are you aware of what is happening in other people’s bodies, especially when they have a physical ailment?
Do you know when someone is lying to you or hiding something from you?
If your answer is “yes” to any of the empath traits above, you might be an empath.
Being an empath can be both a gift and a curse.
It’s rewarding to help others with our empathic gifts. Our ability to sense what’s wrong with the other person is useful in the line of work as a therapist, social worker, counselor, energy healer, psychologist and etc. We are able to feel deep, hidden emotions that are embedded in others that they aren’t even aware of.
With our gifts, we are also able to sense danger and avoid it or come up with preventive measures before things get worse. If we feel someone exudes negative energy or gives us bad vibes, we can create boundaries and maintain distance right from the start.
However, using our empathic gifts can leave us feeling very drained, especially when we are not skilled in using our gifts. We might unconsciously pick up unwanted energy and emotions during the day and allow them to affect our mood and health.
Moreover, an INFJ empath tends to be misunderstood by others, especially by sensors. Once I was telling my sensing friend that I felt the loneliness of a granny sitting in the cafe, he said I think too much and I was too sensitive. Empaths have a keen sixth sense. But when we share such information with others, people might think that we are crazy because they don’t see what we see and feel.
So how do we protect ourselves from energy drain and being misunderstood by others? Before we discuss this, let’s define what an empath is in this post.
What Is a True Empath?
First, it’s important to know that there are many types of empaths. They have different abilities and sensitivities.
There is the intuitive or clairvoyant empath who has a clear, deep knowing of what is and a strong “gut feeling” about people. There is a physical empath who is able to feel the physical pain of others in their own body. There are also the geomantic, animal, and plant empaths who feel very connected to the environments, animals, and plants respectively.
I have a friend who is a medium empath. He said he can see ghosts and the spirits of deceased people. When he goes into a building or a room, he instantaneously knows if the place is “dirty” or “clean”.
An empath feels exactly what the other person feels.
In general, when people use the term “empath”, they are referring to emotional empaths. So for this post, the main focus will be on the emotional empath. An emotional empath is someone who absorbs other people’s feelings like a sponge and feels exactly what other people is feeling even if they have never experienced the same situation before.
I have emotional empathic skills. Since young, whenever I watch a drama series on television, I can feel the emotions of the characters very vividly (if the acting is good, of course). When I watch a scene on abuse or murder, I can pick up both the emotions of the perpetrator and the victim.
Imagine how draining this is, picking up energy unconsciously that is not yours on a daily basis. Luckily for me, I learn how to detach from and release these emotions as I grow older.
Empaths vs Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)
To understand what a true empath is, we have to compare it with the other terms that people use interchangeably such as Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) and being empathetic. Let’s start with HSP.
INFJs are empathetic. Most are HSP.
But not all INFJs are emotional empaths.
Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) and emotional empath share some similarities, for example, the moods of others affect us. However, HSP is a subset of an empath. This means that empaths are highly sensitive too but not all HSP is an empath.
HSP has a very delicate nervous system. We are aware of the subtle information that we collect through our five senses and we process them deeply. For an INFJ, this is mostly the result of our weak Se (extraverted sensing) and strong Ni (introverted intuition). We are able to tell that someone is feeling sad because we see the subtle changes in their facial expression and we hear the slight change in their tone. Then, our Ni function is very good at piece this subtle information together.
Empath, on the other hand, absorbs feelings from others not through the five senses but because of our porous boundaries. We know that someone is feeling sad because we feel their sadness in our bodies. Other people’s emotions are able to seep into our psyche easily.
Not all INFJs have such permeable emotional boundaries. However, it might seem that INFJs are empaths because of the way we use our Fe (extraverted feeling). We have a preference to understand others better and being empathetic so we know what the other person is feeling and able to share their emotions.
Empaths Vs Being Empathetic
To illustrate this difference further, here’s an extreme example in my life.
Once, I was in Bali for a 30-day entrepreneur course. About midway through the program, my coursemate has to leave the course because her brother is dying of an illness. When she announced it, I started tearing uncontrollably. Realizing by how overwhelmed and messed up I was, I left the room immediately and calmed myself down in the restroom.
Upon reflection, I realize that I had absorbed the accumulated, mixed emotions of all the people in the room. There is a feeling of sorrow and regret that our friend has to leave the course halfway. She has such great energy and is so passionate about the program. There is also a feeling of helplessness. We don’t know what we can do to help her. On top of this, I also sensed her grief and fear for her dying brother.
But of course, I’m able to write down these emotions with such clarity right now is because I have already calmed down and had the time to analyze the situation. At that time, I was just so overwhelmed with emotions that I couldn’t handle it.
The emotions hit me so fast that I didn’t even have time to interpret.
This is not the same as being empathetic. INFJs are empathetic in nature. We can see in terms of other people’s perspectives. I can see that if I were in the same situation as her, I will also feel torn about leaving the course and feel afraid to lose my loved one. I can see how the other coursemates will miss her presence once she’s gone.
But these emotions, if any, come after one empathizes with her situation. They are “created” after a shift in perspective cognitively, while the emotions I felt is like a strong tide coming towards me. I was bombarded with emotions and I just felt them instantaneously. There was no gap in between to even try and understand how others might have felt or how challenging their circumstances might have been. It was a direct entry into my psyche.
For an INFJ empath, sometimes it’s difficult to tell whether the emotions we felt are absorbed from others, an insight generated from the subtle information that was picked up by our five senses, or are we just merely being empathetic. That’s because we use all three ways simultaneously. But it’s important to create good emotional boundaries with others.
How to Have Healthy, Emotional Boundaries as an INFJ Empath
1. Separate your feelings from other people’s feelings.
INFJ empaths have problems with emotional boundaries. We absorb other people’s emotions without filter and our mood can just go downhill for no apparent reason.
Drawing a line in the sand provides clarity and prevent enmeshment. When you can separate your feelings from others, not only will you understand why you feel a certain way, but you also have a better idea of how to deal with them separately.
But untangling your emotions from others is not easy for an empath.
Setting a financial boundary is simple. This is my bank account and that is your bank account. I manage my own money and you manage yours. The boundary is tangible and straightforward.
But when you are examining what you are feeling in the moment, you might find that it’s in a mess like a puddle of mixed emotions. Most of the time, your emotions and other people’s emotions are already enmeshed. Plus, INFJs have a strong Fe but an unconscious Fi. So it’s difficult to tell our emotions apart from others.
What you can do is to make your feelings more tangible. Take out a piece of paper and draw a line in the middle. Then, write down the headers, “My Feelings” and “Their Feelings” on each column. Examine one emotion at a time and ask yourself, “Does this emotion originate from me or does it comes from others?” After that, place the feelings in the correct column.
Doing so gives you a visual representation of the emotional boundary that you ought to establish and where your responsibility lies.
2. Realize you don’t have to fix other people’s emotions for them.
As both an empath and INFJ, I have a desire to help others with their emotions when I felt their pain and suffering. Since I have this extra information that other people don’t seem to pick up on, I almost feel guilty for not helping. It’s as though it’s my responsibility to help others with their emotions.
However, it often doesn’t end up well. First, people don’t like unsolicited advice. Second, some people just want to rant and complain. They are not looking for any positive change. They have no intention of delving deeper and releasing their underlying emotional pain. Helping them makes you feel frustrated and powerless.
If you are not strong enough, you get dragged down by them.
In a way, helping others deal with their emotions helps us too. By uplifting their emotions, the emotions we absorb from them become more positive too. But this is not a good strategy because we can’t control other people. Also, being too responsible for how other people feel might lead us to codependency. People cannot heal what they won’t feel. If they don’t wish to feel their hurt feelings, there’s nothing we can do to heal them.
Since we have no control over their actions and feelings, it’s not part of our responsibility and we shouldn’t feel guilty about it. Instead, focus on what you have control of which is our emotions, and take responsibility for releasing them. This includes the emotions you have absorbed from others and also any feeling of frustration and powerlessness as a result of trying to help them.
Nowadays, my mantra is:
My emotions is my emotions. Their emotions is their emotions. What they are feeling is none of my business. I feel emotions from others everywhere I go but this doesn’t mean that I have to fix their emotions for them. It’s not my responsibility to fix others and there is nothing to fix. When they are ready to receive help, they will receive help. It may or may not come from me. The only thing I need to do is to be at peace and hold this peaceful space for the Universe.
3. Wait for the right moment to help.
Not taking responsibility for other people’s emotions doesn’t mean that you have to be a cold, heartless, and apathetic person who doesn’t care about anybody in the world. Empaths have a gift of healing others. But helping others is all about timing.
Some people are just not ready to receive help right now. No matter what you say or do, it doesn’t matter. Nothing will change. You must understand that other people treat their emotions differently from you. As an Enneagram Type 4, I leave no stone unturned. I want to examine every feeling and thought so that I don’t let them be an obstacle to my life. But other people are unlike me.
Like my mom, she would rather have physical pain than deal with emotional pain. Examining the deep feelings of shame, grief, and unworthiness feels like death to most people. In a way, it is. It is the death of our ego and our ego will do its best to protect the image that they have maintained for so long. So I stopped helping my mom with her emotions even though I suspect that her physical illness has to do with her suppressed emotions. But I respect her choice.
People don’t go to a therapist or a psychologist when they have a minor problem. They only seek help when things get so serious that they cannot handle it.
Most people have to hit rock bottom before they are willing to change.
So in the meantime, don’t do anything and don’t focus on them. As an INFJ empath, rely on your intuition to tell you when someone is ready to receive help.
For years, my ISTJ dad and I have never spoken about emotions. One time, he got really sick and I visited him in the hospital. Watching him lying there on the bed and sleeping, I had a sense of his fear. When he woke up, I felt compelled to ask him if he was feeling afraid. He shared his feelings openly and it is beautiful. It was the right moment to help him to release some of his emotional pain.
If you offer help to someone and they don’t wish to be helped, you will know for sure. They will try to hide their emotions from you, deny what you have said, say that everything is fine, avoid you or even think you are projecting your negative emotions on them. In that case, you know it’s a cue to stop. If someone isn’t willing to share their vulnerability with you, there is no point in digging further. You will just offend them.
Lastly, the right moment to help is the moment when you are stable, present, and calm. It isn’t only about the other person, it’s also about you. If you do not have a good grip on your own emotions, helping others might cause more harm than help to both you and the other person.
4. Don’t be a mind-reader.
Managing your emotions is different from managing the emotions you absorb. When you are dealing with your own emotions, introspection can help you have a better understanding of yourself, your habits, and how your past affects you. But analyzing other people’s emotions is not as helpful.
An emotional empath is not a mind-reader or a psychic. Even though I can sense unresolved grief in another person, it doesn’t mean that I know what causes their grief or what they are thinking right now. I feel emotions but I don’t read minds. There is no way I could know what the other person has gone through if they don’t share it with me.
But being one of the Judging personality types, INFJs have this problem. We want a conclusion and closure. We don’t like things to be open-ended. When we felt the emotions of another person, our Ni function will naturally want to form an interpretation of this information. Our mind will start to think, “What’s wrong with the other person? Is he feeling sick? Did he have a bad day at work?” etc.
Ideally, we should use our Fe function to collect more information by asking the other person questions and trying to understand them better. However, if the other person doesn’t feel comfortable with sharing their deepest thoughts, this leaves us feeling unsettled. Our INFJ mind gets more hooked on the other person’s problem because we need closure. So we engage our Ti (introverted thinking) function to help us analyze why the person might feel this way and this causes us to overthink the situation.
INFJs might jump to a conclusion
before they have enough information.
Without enough information, our minds try to fill the missing gaps with imagination. This results in poorly formed insights. Our read on other people’s emotions might be correct but our insights on why they are feeling like this are “created” and based on assumptions. They are not as accurate as we thought they are.
It’s even worse when the other person shares information with you that contradicts the emotions you felt in them. For example, you sense that your friends are feeling sad but they tell you that they are happy or they pretend to be happy. It doesn’t feel good when you know that other people are lying to you. It triggers our Ni-Ti loop even more and we come up with different explanations of why the person lied to us: “Maybe they don’t trust us. We are not as close as we think we are. They don’t really see me as a friend.” and etc.
I know we INFJ empaths have a tendency to use our intuition to form meanings. But this is one of the situations that we have to let go and not think too much. You are already exhausted from the emotions that you have absorbed from others, don’t be obsessed with the other person’s problem mentally too, it’s can lead to compassion fatigue.
5. It’s okay to pretend that you don’t know.
Being an empath, we have this extra information about other people’s emotions. It’s up to us to decide whether to share this information with the person we sense the emotions from. Do we want them to know that we know?
Sharing this information with them can help them with opening up and expressing their emotions. You can give them support and help them process their emotions and alleviate their loneliness.
However, some people don’t wish to get exposed. They have an image to maintain and they don’t wish other people to know how vulnerable they are. Relating this information to them make them feel uncomfortable and ashamed of themselves. They might avoid you or even get angry with you.
There are also some others who don’t have self-awareness and they don’t know what they are feeling at the moment. It’s weird for someone else to tell them how they are feeling. When you think you know how they feel more than they know how they feel, it can sound arrogant.
Even though INFJ empaths value authenticity,
sometimes it’s better not to share what we know.
Approaching others with what we know can turn many people off. Not everyone can handle our intensity and depth. Being a partner or friends with an INFJ empath can be very stressful because they can’t lie about how they feel. When they lie, we know and we feel hurt when someone lies to us. This creates distance and problems in the relationship.
Instead of thinking others as being insincere, understand that people have to put on a mask to feel socially accepted. There is a risk of being vulnerable and not everyone is as courageous and willing as you to be open. So just play with them. Pretend that you don’t know and not take off their masks. This isn’t about being fake or inauthentic. Part of having healthy boundaries is to respect the boundaries that other people have. If they don’t want you to know, don’t peek into their emotional state.
But don’t settle too. Don’t give up on finding and making friends who are willing to go deep with you. There are plenty of them out there.
6. Learn how to use your empathic gift.
As INFJ empaths, we use our empathic powers intuitively and unconsciously most of the time. To be more accurate, I would say our powers use us instead of we use our powers. Our empathic gift can become a curse if we don’t know how to use it consciously. So it’s important to train yourself to get better at it.
You can research on the different resources and techniques. In this post, I’ll just share three general areas that is important to take of.
First, you need to learn how to shut your empathic power off. When you can turn it on and off like a switch, you won’t feel as drained. For example, before you enter a crowded place, you can visualize a shield around you to block out outside emotions. Simply focusing inward on the peace within also helps. Sometimes, a real, tangible boundary such as shutting yourself in a room is needed to block off the unwanted emotions. Play around with the intensity and test how much you can handle.
Second, learn how to unhook from another person’s emotions immediately. Most of the time, it’s too late to create a shield because you have already absorbed the other person’s emotions. What you can do instead is to visualize that the emotions you absorbed flow back from you to the other person. You can also train yourself to be better at unhooking by doing it intentionally. Deliberately try and sense what a person is feeling right now, then after a minute, stop and return the emotions to the other person. Alternatively, you can also leave the place immediately and allow yourself space to decompress and let go of these emotions.
Pick up other empathic skills.
Third, if you are an empath, you probably have the advantage of using other empathic skills too. So why not learn how to use them? If you are an emotional empath, you can learn how to heal as a physical empath. When you learn the different skill sets of an empath, you can gather more information about another person and form a better insight into them and their problems.
Fourth, know how your gift affects you. It will help you live your life with more awareness. For example, when my students are unmotivated to learn, I quickly get unmotivated to teach too. And sometimes, this mood gets carried over to other parts of my life and I feel unmotivated to write or do any work. Being aware of this helps because I don’t blame myself for not having self-discipline or procrastinating anymore. Instead, I find ways to regain my motivation and release these emotions that I have absorbed.
Lastly, appreciate your gift. Do good with it. Being an empath is wonderful once you have mastered your empathic skills.
If you want to find out more about how to love yourself as an INFJ, be sure to download my free eBook called Self-Acceptance for INFJs.
Featured Photo Credit: Austin Guevara