Celebrating the Highly Sensitive Man
It's a tough world for any empath, but there are particular obstacles and challenges encountered by highly sensitive men. Psychiatrist and energy expert Judith Orloff offers some clear steps to help empathic men deal with being sensitive in a world where men are told that being "too emotional" is bad.
Sensitive men are incredibly attractive. They are path-forgers in the new paradigm of the evolved man. Strong and sensitive. Intuitive and powerful. They’re able to give and receive love without ambivalence, being “unavailable,” or commitment phobia.
In my book Emotional Freedom, I write extensively about the power of empaths and describe strategies for how empaths can stay centered and strong in an overwhelming world. Since I’m an empath and worship sensitivity, I want to help empathic men (and women) cultivate this asset and be more comfortable with it.
Empathic men often have a harder time than women because in Western culture sensitivity may be seen as a weakness or too “feminine.” This is a huge misconception. The new evolved man is skillful in balancing both the masculine and feminine in himself, embodying his full power.
Empaths are highly sensitive, finely tuned instruments when it comes to emotions. They feel everything, sometimes to an extreme, and are less apt to intellectualize feelings. This is particularly challenging for men as they are often told by society while growing up, “Big boys don’t cry.” That’s why it’s so important for sensitive men to let go of stereotypes and learn to embrace their gifts.
I understand how hurtful the negative messages about being “overly sensitive” can feel—also how easy it is to get overwhelmed by excessive stimuli in the world. I've always been hyper-attuned to other people’s moods, good and bad. Before I learned to protect my energy, I felt other energies lodge in my body. Crowded places amplified my empathy.
The great beauty of male empaths is that they can feel where you are coming from. Some empathic men can do this without taking on people’s feelings. However, for better or worse, others, like myself and many of my patients, can become emotional sponges for other people’s stress. This often overrides the sublime capacity to absorb positive emotions.
If empaths are around peace and love, their bodies assimilate these positive energies and flourish. Negativity, though, often feels assaultive, exhausting. Thus, empaths are particularly easy marks for emotional vampires, whose fear or rage can ravage them. As a subconscious defense, empathic men may gain weight as a buffer. Plus, an empath’s sensitivity can be overwhelming in romantic relationships; many stay single since they haven’t learned to negotiate their special cohabitation needs with a partner.
A man’s empathy allows him to love more fully and be more committed in a loving relationship. But empathic men must nurture their sensitivities while also grounding themselves in their power and setting boundaries with negative people so they aren’t drained.
Recognizing that you’re an empath is the first step in taking charge of your emotions instead of constantly drowning in them. As one empath to another, I want to legitimize your sensitivity so you don’t think you’re losing your mind. I’d had numerous patients who’ve said, “I thought there was something wrong with me. I feel like such a sissy.” Not so. Our systems are just more permeable.
Also realize that the fact that you’re the only person feeling something doesn’t invalidate your perceptions. To maintain resolve in an emotionally coarse world, empaths must have enough self-knowledge to clearly articulate their needs. Staying on top of empathy will improve your self-care and relationships. Here’s a summary of this highly sensitive emotional type.
The Upside of Being an Empathic Man
- You’ve got a big heart, and you are gifted in helping others
- Your sensitivity makes you passionate, a great lover, and exquisitely sensual
- You’re intuitive about people’s thoughts and feelings
- You’re emotionally responsive, and you can relate to the feelings of others
- You’re in touch with your body and emotions
- You have a palpable sense of spirituality
Downside of Being an Empathic Man
- You’re an emotional sponge, absorbing people’s negativity
- You’re so sensitive to emotions, you feel like a wire without insulation
- You’re prone to anxiety, depression, and fatigue
- You may feel hemmed in while living in the same space with other people
- You may have chronic, debilitating physical symptoms
- You have difficulty setting boundaries with draining people, or get run over by them
Honestly accessing which traits are productive or not makes you freer. Of course, you want to be emotionally charitable, intuitive, and open, which are an empath’s assets. However, empathy won’t make you free if you walk around perpetually raw, easily fractured, or have your wildness go out in a whimper because you’re constantly having to emotionally defend yourself.
For a male empath to be comfortable in his own skin it’s important to find the right mix of intellect, feeling, and grounding. Here are some exercises from my book, Emotional Freedom, to help you achieve this.
Emotional Action Step: How Empathic Men (and Women) Can Find Balance
Practice these strategies:
Enlist your intellect. When you’re emotionally wrung out or suspect you’ve taken on someone’s distress, think things through to counter anxiety. Use both positive self-talk and logic to get grounded. Repeat this mantra: “It is not my job to take on the emotions of others. I can be loving without doing so.”
Allow quiet time to emotionally decompress. Get in the habit of taking calming mini-breaks throughout the day. Breathe in some fresh air. Stretch. Take a short walk around the office. These interludes will reduce the excessive stimulation of going nonstop.
Practice guerilla meditation. To counter emotional overload, act fast and meditate for a few minutes. Find a private place to close your eyes. Lower your expectations; it doesn’t have to be Shangri-La. Do two things while meditating. First, keep exhaling pent-up negative emotions—loneliness, worry, anxiety, etc. Feel the negative energies dissipate with each breath. Second, put your hand over your heart and visualize lovingkindness permeating you from head to toe. These actions will quickly relax you.
Define and honor your empathic needs. Safeguard your sensitivities. In a calm, collected moment, make a list of your top five most emotionally stressful situations. Then formulate a plan for handling them so you don’t fumble in the moment. For example:
- If someone asks too much of you, politely tell them “no.” It’s not necessary to explain why. As the saying goes, “No is a complete sentence.”
- If your comfort level is three hours max for socializing—even if you adore the people—take your own car or have an alternate transportation plan so you’re not stranded.
- If crowds are overwhelming, eat a high-protein meal beforehand (this grounds you) and sit in the far corner of, say, a theatre or party, not in dead center.
- If you feel nuked by perfume, nicely request that your friends refrain from wearing it around you. If you can’t avoid it, stand near a window or take frequent breaks to catch a breath of fresh air outdoors.
- Carve out private space at home. Then you won’t be stricken by the feeling of too much togetherness.
When empathic men can learn the above skills to develop their sensitivities and ward off negativity, they will be more alive, more loving, more creative. Over time, I suggest adding to this list to pinpoint new protective strategies. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time you’re on emotional overload. With pragmatic strategies to cope, empaths can feel safer, and their sensitivity talents can flourish.
Adapted from Judith Orloff’s New York Times bestseller Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself From Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life (Three Rivers Press, 2011).