Empathic behavior — the ability and habit of sensing and uploading others’ emotions, feelings, and thoughts — is an oft-discussed topic.
Around every click, someone is typing or talking about how their “empathetic natures” impact daily life.
Some are genuine; others are narcissists who falsely believe they’re the second coming of Elenor Roosevelt by way of Galileo and Ghandi.
So today, we’re cutting through the weeds and unearthing the truth.
We’ll review a list of actual triggers for empaths and how to soothe these uniquely sensitive souls during emotional overloads.
Why Are Empaths Easily Triggered?
Empaths are feelers. Common traits of the personality style include:
- Experiencing others’ emotions and pains as their own
- Being highly sensitive
- Having a honed bullsh*t detector
- Feeling helpless in the face of skewed, unjust, or inauthentic dynamics
- Feeling overstimulated in overwrought or highly intimate situations
When you weigh and consider these traits, it’s little wonder people with this personality style are easily triggered.
After all, they must filter and manage their own feelings and experiences in addition to those of others.
Want to know a good way to tell the difference between a true empath and a narcissist with delusions of kindness?
The former won’t complain about supporting others; the latter will.
15 Triggers That Empaths Are Extremely Sensitive To
True empaths have a particular set of triggers that have the power to entangle them in a tailspin. If someone you love is empathic, knowing these stimulants is helpful.
To that end, let’s dive into a list of 15 empath triggers.
1. Other People’s Demands
Empaths’ thought patterns cut deeper than the average individual’s. They’re better “programmed” to see the bigger picture, which can be overwhelming. Moreover, they often process things in ways other folks don’t.
So when people make demands on their time and sympathy wells, empaths may grow annoyed or frustrated as they see the real deal.
Furthermore, since they onboard the emotions of people in their orbits, too many demands can feel like a circuit overload.
2. Sad, Gruesome, or Unjust Content
Between the Internet, streaming content, and advertising, we’re inundated with content daily. Unfortunately, much of it is sad, gruesome, or simply unjust.
The overload can be too much for some empaths, sending them into a tailspin.
3. Individual Pain and Suffering
Other people’s pain can profoundly impact empaths. Since they’re so observant and attuned to suffering, they often internalize it, which can be overwhelming. Resultantly, being mindful of how much you “dump” on a beloved empath is considerate.
But we should add a massive caveat here. Sometimes, people who fall on the narcissistic end of the scale claim to be empaths to avoid being compassionate and graceful to people in need.
They’ll say things like, “I’m such an empath! This [i.e., your problems] is way too much for me!”
A true empath probably wouldn’t think twice about supporting friends and family in need. It may be tough at times, but they’re the last people to say, “Oh no. I can’t be here for you because you’re too much!”
4. Universal Pain and Suffering
Universal fears and hardships — the environmental state of the planet, war, widespread discrimination, genocide, et cetera — are horrifying to empaths. Most people can compartmentalize things they can’t control.
Unfortunately, empaths have more difficulty doing the same. Their souls fill with dread with every passing news story, and they often spend nights hysterically crying over the state of the world.
5. Intimacy Overload
It may sound counterintuitive, but an excess of intimacy can prove too much for an empath to handle, especially when navigating a tough season.
Of course, they enjoy connecting with their partners and providing support when needed. And we’re not saying they’re afraid of sex.
But sometimes, emotions crash in like a tsunami, and empaths can crush under the weight.
6. Dismissive Quips
Being dismissive to an empath can be triggering for them. You may be reading this and thinking, “Ugh! One of my friends is an empath.
She’s too sensitive and makes a mountain out of every molehill. She has no capacity to laugh at herself!”
We hear you. The sensitivities of empaths can be tough to navigate. But thanks to genetic wiring and personal experience, we’re all different. And let’s be honest: Life would be excruciatingly dull if that weren’t the case.
Try to remember that empaths genuinely do feel more than the rest of us, and dismissive quips can hurt them deeply as they see all the connections and potential ramifications of being ostracized or thoughtlessly dismissed.
7. Belittling by Omission
Has someone ever belittled you by omission? Maybe you show them some work you’ve done — a short story, painting, or room redecoration, for example — and they can’t bring themself to say, “good job” or “this is a great start; here are some suggestions.”
Instead, they say something passive-aggressive.
People who do this are usually jealous or mean. And when directed at an empath, it can cause them a lot of distress. Why? Because they’re hyper-observant and interpret the lack of encouragement as a belittling swipe.
8. Being Used or Taken Advantage Of
Empaths give endlessly of themselves. And in some ways, doing so fills them with a sense of worth. They enjoy being a shoulder to cry on or a set of helping hands.
But nobody enjoys being taken advantage of, including empaths. And for them, the resulting sensations and stress can be tenfold in intensity.
9. Inability To Help
Empaths are often fixers. They want to enhance the lives of friends, family, colleagues, and even strangers. In essence, they’re emotional do-gooders. So when they can’t help or don’t have the answers, they can grow depressed or anxious.
Frequently, they’ll chew on the issue for days on end, which can clog their thoughts and throw off their daily routines.
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While empaths come in various personality types, most don’t handle coldness well. They can be like puppies who don’t understand why they’re being kept away from the rest of the family.
Being around “ice queens and kings” fills them with a sense of foreboding dread and causes them to grow anxious.
11. Unfair Accusations
Because they’re so attuned to feelings and circumstances, empaths notice unfair accusations, which stresses them out. To them, it’s akin to lying.
As such, being in situations where people parrot injustice and unkind rumors for the sake of “fitting in” can be exceptionally stressful for sensitive, kind-hearted empaths.
We all tell small lies, but dishonesty can feel like a hot poker to empaths. To them, it feels like a betrayal — even small fibs. So if an empath discovers someone has not been truthful, they may have a mini-emotional crisis.
When it happens, people may accuse the empath of being unnecessarily dramatic. But it’s compassionate to remember that empaths think and feel differently.
Arguably, a little bit of hypocrisy must fall into every personality. In a way, it’s a survival blind spot. But empaths often find it disorienting, and in large doses, it can knock them off their emotional game.
Moreover, they recognize their own hypocrisies better than the average person, and catching themselves can cause them to spiral into a depressive mood.
14. Gross Insensitivity
Most people with empathic personalities see the best in everyone. Since they’re hyper-aware of others’ feelings and emotions, they understand that being a human is hard and complicated and nothing is cut and dry.
Empaths react when they’re around people spewing gross insensitivity. Not only do they recognize the hypocrisy, but they feel the emotional pain of the people being disparaged or disregarded.
15. Their Past Mistakes
For most people, getting over mistakes and past shame is challenging. But eventually, they’re able to let go, walk away from the past, and step into the present.
For empaths, though, it’s even more challenging.
Highly sensitive people are usually kind and compassionate but also imperfect. In fact, many empathic people become more compassionate due to lessons they learned from massive mistakes.
Unfortunately, forgiving themselves for the pain they caused through insensitivity and poor behavior is nearly impossible for many empaths. It can be an ongoing battle for them to maintain a sense of self-worth.
What Happens When an Empath Gets Overwhelmed?
As discussed, empaths can be extroverted or introverted, engaged or withdrawn, and jovial or serious. “Dark empaths” are even a “thing.”
Regardless of their personality style, though, empaths tend to react to being overwhelmed in similar ways.
Let’s review a few.
- Cry: Tears are a biological reaction to an excess of emotion. It’s one of the body’s ways of releasing stress.
- Retreat: Empaths may retreat into themselves and away from others when they need to clear their heads.
- Act Out: When the going gets too rough to handle, like everyone, empaths may act out.
- Rumination: People with empathic personalities tend to ruminate more than the average person, which can erode mental health.
Sometimes, an empath will try to cover or stuff their feelings, especially in situations where acting out or crying would be inappropriate or embarrassing.
If they do this too often without releasing their emotions, they may become anxious and depressed.
How Do You Calm Down an Empath When They Are Triggered?
At this point, after reading through the list of things triggers, you realize the empath in your life may be suffering on the inside. So let’s break down how to help an empath.
Help Bring Them into the Present
Empaths tend to spiral when they become overloaded. They dive head-first down the rabbit hole of rumination, anxiety, and helplessness.
Help bring them into the present moment to avoid this instinct. Remind the empath you love them unconditionally.
If possible, head out together for a quick walk. Fresh air coupled with movement is an effective cure for spiraling stress.
Offer Them Space
Sometimes, empaths just need space to unleash, think, and chill. Forcing them to continue a triggering conversation can push them over the edge. So if they seem like they’re about to explode, suggest separating for the time being.
Then, follow their lead. They’ll let you know if they want you to leave or stay — and you can trust they’ll be honest.
Did you trigger the empath? If so, apologize — sincerely. Remember, people with high emotional IQs are skilled at detecting inauthenticity. So they’ll know if you’re parroting hollow sentiments.
The best way to apologize is to acknowledge the wrongdoing, explain why your behavior or comment was in poor taste, and close with genuine regret.
Offer To Have a Conversation About What They’re Feeling
Empaths like to talk it out as much as the next person — if they have the time and trust their venting partner. So offer to lend an ear.
Offer encouragement and give them a safe space to let it all hang out and be heard. Getting things off the chest can be exceptionally healing, especially for empaths who lug around a lot.
Do Mindfulness Exercises
This may sound a little extra, but breathing, meditation, and stretching can mitigate empath anxiety. It doesn’t have to be a long, elaborate experience. Sitting and doing five deep breaths together works.
As does stretching together for two minutes or watching a 5-minute guided meditation for alleviating anxiety on YouTube.
Being genuinely empathetic is a mixed experience. Sometimes it’s wonderful, but it can also be ostracizing and uncomfortable. So try to keep that in mind if there’s an empath in your life whom you love.
And remember that being highly sensitive to the world around us — on emotional, practical, and natural levels — doesn’t mean a person is “always nice.”