Why Empaths shut down and what to do instead

Empath shut down

“Stop crying, or I’ll give you something to cry about.”

I remember my mother yelling these words growing up. She said I was too sensitive and should stop being a baby. I was bullied at school and misunderstood at home. It was hard, and felt like I had no other choice but to suppress my emotions. Crying under my pillow became a nightly habit. I learned to shut down and hide my sensitivity from a world that demanded I “be stronger.”

When did you learn to shut down?

If you’re like me, you might have grown up feeling misunderstood. Maybe you were praised for suppressing your emotions or for acting like a “little adult.”

Over time, you may have learned to protect yourself by turning off your awareness and going into Empath Shutdown mode. Maybe you came across as being “mature for your age,” but really, you were numb and emotionally disconnected because you learned to shut down your gift of empathy.

For Empaths, your greatest gift can feel like your greatest weakness.

You feel the world more vividly than others. Your sensitivity to energy enables you to feel what other people feel, sometimes even before they do. Emotional overwhelm is a daily occurrence for you.

You might *stuff* your emotions to numb and escape from them.

Here’s the problem with *stuffing* your emotions: eventually, your body will speak up when you don’t. When your body can’t handle your suppressed emotions anymore, it speaks to you through physical symptoms like autoimmune conditions, migraines, vertigo, stomach issues, and chronic fatigue conditions.

Warning signs that you’re about to shut down.

You experience some or all of the following…

  • You are physically, emotionally, or mentally exhausted.
  • You escape to unhealthy behaviors like overbusyness, overdrinking, and overeating.
  • You feel numb, and you don’t care about anything.
  • Your mood changes suddenly, and you experience unexpected emotions.
  • You notice unexplained physical sensations like crawling skin, a knot in your stomach, or feeling shaky.

Empath Shutdown is a short-term solution that protects you from painful emotions and experiences.

It saves you from the discomfort of feeling your own pain or the pain of others. Our primal survival instincts tell us to do whatever we can to avoid pain. Think about a cornered animal: it gets very still, protects its stomach (vital organs), and stays low to the ground. It tries to disappear.

Being vulnerable and open can be scary, especially for empaths. It can even feel dangerous. But it becomes a problem when we get stuck in the habit of shutting down.

Shutting down is useful as a survival mechanism-NOT for living a vibrant life.

When we get stuck in the survival mechanism of shutting down, our health and wellbeing suffer. Sure, it may feel safer at the moment to go numb, but you’re doing yourself more harm in the long run by cultivating apathy instead of empathy.

Some empaths take isolation and disconnection to an extreme as a way to cope. When they try to transition back into life, it’s difficult. One of our members of The Thriving Empath Facebook Group said, “It’s hard to get back out into all the noise and chatter. I need to find a better way to cope with feeling overwhelmed instead of shutting down for long periods from exhaustion.”

The downsides of Empath Shutdown.

  • You end up even more drained.
    Shutting down might feel like the safest option when you’re emotionally overloaded but swinging back and forth between suppressing and being flooded by your emotions is draining. The pendulum swing between the shut-down world and the emotionally intense world isn’t sustainable. Living in extremes keeps you stuck in a rut of ups and downs.
  • You deprive yourself of joy.
    You don’t just block negative energy when you shut down-you also deprive yourself of the little joys in life that your soul needs. By shutting down, you don’t allow yourself to enjoy your experiences to the fullest. You often lack joy because you block your ability to receive it.
  • You block out love.
    When you block out other people, you also block the possibility of making real connections with them. You cheat yourself out of making memories with loved ones. When you regularly shut down, you project an “I don’t care” attitude that others might not understand. By the way, if you’re looking for a way to explain what it’s like being an empath to your loved one, send them this blog: 8 Things You Must Know about Being in a Loving Relationship with an Empath.

My journey from shut down Empath to Empowered Empath.

I was so excited when I started my career as a social worker years ago. However, it didn’t take long for me to realize the job wasn’t what I expected. It was hard, emotionally draining, and less fulfilling than I imagined. I was exhausted and depressed every night, and I found myself starting to retreat inward. I’d shut down, miss work for days, and dread going back after just slightly recovering.

Everything would have made sense if I had known that I was not just an empath but a disempowered one.

I left the social work field only a few years after entering it to spend the next decade as a music teacher. It was around this time that I also started learning different healing modalities. At first, it was for my personal healing, but over time I realized I could use my gifts to help other people. After years of meditation, Shiatsu, color therapy, reflexology, aromatherapy, and my most life-changing healing tool, Reiki, I became a certified Life Coach and Reiki Master.

Now I’ve come full circle and feel more vibrant than ever with a daily spiritual and self-care practice that allows me to serve other women without feeling depleted.

The healthier alternative to Empath Shutdown.

Now that you know the downsides of shutting down and why it’s only a short-term solution, what’s the long-term solution?

Practicing self-awareness is the key to managing your sensitivity without shutting down.

Replacing your tendency to shut down with daily spiritual and self-care practices is critical. By coming back to your breath, your body, and your emotions, you’ll become more comfortable with what it feels like to be you, and you’ll be able to catch the warning signs of Empath Shutdown much earlier.

Developing self-awareness is the simplest and most powerful skill you can develop as an Empath.

Once you recognize that you’re about to shut down, you can identify what triggered you and use your self-care and emotion-regulating tools to bounce back as quickly as possible.

You may still feel overwhelmed-you may still need to retreat into solitude for a short time to recharge. But with self-awareness, you’ll come to realize that Empath Shutdown isn’t something to fear. It’s something that can not only be managed but over time, embracing your empathy can become your greatest gift.

What is your #1 tool that helps you work through times of Empath Shutdown?

Mine is Reiki. It is and has been my lifesaver for many years and sharing it with empaths like you is my passion. Read my blog on Why Reiki is a Must for Empaths and HSPs.

And if you are looking for inspiration on how to thrive (not just survive) as an empath, please join my Thriving Empath Facebook Group for Women and become part of our tribe.

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