How to Stop Absorbing
Other People's Negative Emotions
By Judith Orloff M.D.
Adapted from Dr. Judith Orloff’s new book “Emotional Freedom:
In my new book Emotional Freedom, I emphasize the importance of learning how to stay centered in a stressful, highly emotionally charged world. Since emotions such as fear, anger, and frustration are energies, you can potentially “catch” them from people without realizing it. If you tend to be an emotional sponge, it’s vital to know how to avoid taking on an individual’s negative emotions or the free-floating kind in crowds. Another twist is that chronic anxiety, depression, or stress can turn you into an emotional sponge by wearing down your defenses. Suddenly, you become hyper-attuned to others, especially those with similar pain. That’s how empathy works; we zero in on hot-button issues that are unresolved in ourselves. From an energetic standpoint, negative emotions can originate from several sources. What you’re feeling may be your own; it may be someone else’s; or it may be a combination. I’ll explain how to tell the difference and strategically bolster positive emotions so you don’t shoulder negativity that doesn’t belong to you.
This wasn’t something I always knew how to do.
Growing up, my girlfriends couldn't wait to hit the shopping malls and go to parties, the bigger the better-but I didn't share their excitement. I always felt overwhelmed, exhausted around large groups of people, though I was clueless why. "What's the matter with you?" friends would say, shooting me the weirdest looks. All I knew was that crowded places and I just didn't mix. I'd go there feeling just fine but leave nervous, depressed, or with some horrible new ache or pain. Unsuspectingly, I was a gigantic sponge, absorbing the emotions of people around me.
With my patients, I’ve also seen how absorbing other people’s emotions can trigger panic attacks, depression, food, sex and drug binges, and a plethora of physical symptoms that defy traditional medical diagnosis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that more than two million Americans suffer from chronic fatigue. It’s likely that many of them are emotional sponges.