Jennifer from America asks:
Do you think it’s possible for someone’s sensitivity and/or empathy to shut off or be dulled?
She goes on to elaborate:
When I was younger I had a lot of the signs of being a highly sensitive person and an empath but as I got older it slowly stopped. I no longer feel empathy for people… or anything now that I think about it, and I’m not as observant as I used to be. My empathy just seemed to go away and I’m not sure if I even want it back. I deal with anxiety, panic, and depression, so I don’t think I need to be any more susceptible to feeling. I’ve spoken about it to my mother, who is highly sensitive, and she thinks I subconsciously numbed myself for protection.
I want to say something before biting into this question:
Almost every empath that I’ve spoken to, listened to, and observed – at one point in their lives – has numbed out their sensitivity, including ME.
Reality for the highly sensitive or empathic person is often harsh, overwhelming, and confusing. The only form of defense many of us can put up against the world is the shield of numbness, which we develop through workaholism, food addiction, T.V. addiction, drug addiction – you name it!
Here is what I recommend for the empath whose sensitivity has dulled or completely disappeared (if you would like more in-depth support, check out our empath book):
1. Don’t force yourself to be anything other than what you are, right in this moment.
The more desires and expectations you build for yourself to be “more sensitive,” “more understanding,” “more empathic,” the MORE you will suffer. Give yourself the permission to be apathetic, cold, and unemotional right here, right now. By accepting your current state of being, you open up space for growth to occur.
It is ridiculous to expect yourself to go from 0% empathy to 100% empathy straight away. Getting back in touch with your empathy and sensitivity is a process. And accepting who you are – no matter how ugly or imperfect – is the first step to this process.
2. Start setting rules and boundaries for yourself.
The reason why you feel anxious and depressed is that you haven’t set rules and boundaries for yourself in the past. This is normal and natural: most empaths and highly sensitive people neglect to do this when young because they haven’t had any role models or any guidance.
You don’t need to be a disciplinarian or a nun to set rules and boundaries for yourself; you just need a healthy understanding of the difference between “comfortable” and “uncomfortable.” Take some time out to sit by yourself in a quiet place and reflect on what places, people, and situations make you feel comfortable, as opposed to uncomfortable.
For example, you might discover that you feel very unsettled around a particular person at work because they suck the beauty out of life. Perhaps this person is negative, bitter, and judgmental. Or perhaps you might discover that you feel calm and balanced in a certain area of your house, or place outside. You might even discover that the source of your anxiety or depression is triggered by the environment you live in, the temperature, the lack of nature, the weather, the pollution, and so forth.
Setting boundaries is about limiting your exposure to uncomfortable situations, places, or people. You can master these situations later, but first, you need a real break from them, finding solace in what makes you feel balanced, comfortable, and calm.
3. Learn the art of being gentle with yourself.
When we lose touch with our sensitivity, it is common for us to start mistreating and abusing ourselves without knowing it. Subtle forms of self-abuse include binge eating, eating toxic food, not sleeping enough, not getting enough sunlight, staying indoors too much, pressuring ourselves to be perfect, unconsciously acting out our core beliefs, and many other forms of self-sabotage.
Being gentle with yourself is an art because it requires practice. As a highly sensitive or empathic person, it is vital that you realize that in order to be compassionate with others you must first learn how to be compassionate with yourself.
Here is an article I wrote on how to love yourself.
4. It’s OK if you DON’T want to get back your sensitivity.
Life can be a cruel mistress, I get it. When Sol first told me that I needed to be more empathetic with other people, I scoffed at him and rolled my eyes. Why on earth would I want to be understanding towards other people if I couldn’t even handle myself? For a lot of my life I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression, and the thought of being a sweet, caring angel was completely beyond me.
Eventually, as I began to set rules and boundaries for myself, and learned how to love and care for myself, I realized that it was actually possible to be empowered by sensitivity rather than crushed by it. This is why only YOU can go through the process of self-growth and discover the truth for yourself. I very much doubt that simply telling you here how beneficial regaining your sensitivity is will bring about a miraculous change of mind.
All I can say is that when you learn to understand, honor, and harness your sensitivity and empath abilities life is much richer, deeper, and fulfilling.
Forgive yourself, forgive other people. That’s it. On any emotional, psychological, or spiritual path in life you need to be willing to forgive – and you need to learn how to forgive – because without forgiveness you will build up an entire fortress of resentment, hatred, and grudge-holding around you.
I want to reiterate that regaining your ability to feel and empathize is a process. This process could be short, or it could be long, but it is nevertheless an immensely strengthening journey which many sensitives all over the world have found worthwhile.
If you have any recommendations for the empath who has lost their ability to feel, please share below!
P.S. If you do want to rediscover your empath roots I recommend reading this article about understanding other people and their pain (which will help you a lot).
Keep reading our other empath articles here.