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Empath & Empathy: The Surprising Difference, with Dr. Judith Orloff

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

Have you ever felt like you have an uncanny ability to make judgements about people that turn out to be correct? There may be more than simple guessing involved. In the third episode of a series on empaths, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen are again joined by bestselling author Dr. Judith Orloff for a detailed discussion on the crucial differences between someone who is an empath, and someone who merely feels empathy for others.

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Dr Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. I'm Doctor Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. In our podcast, we provide you with the tools you need to become a warrior for the health of your brain and body.
Dr Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we have been transforming lives for 30 years. Using tools Brain SPECT imaging to personalized treatment to your brain. For more information, visit AmenClinics.com.
Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is also brought to you by BrainMD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceuticals to support the health of your brain and body. To learn more, go to BrainMD.com. Welcome back. We're with Judith Orloff, and we were talking about empaths. This is so fascinating to me. I cannot wait to buy your book.
Dr Daniel Amen: Driving is an empath.
Tana Amen: Yes.
Dr Daniel Amen: 365 days of self-care for sensitive people.
Tana Amen: So, I did not know what to expect today, Judith. I really didn't. And my little brain is on fire at the moment, so it's just crazy. So, I just didn't really know which direction we were going with this today. But so many things you have said are just triggering inside of me like, "Oh, wait. I understood. This makes sense to me because it's certain things with people in my family."
And I'm assuming that because of that, probably a lot of our listeners are having that same light bulb moment and they're curious. And something you've said, you've made a couple of connections throughout these podcasts this week about intuition and empathy, and I don't know if those are different or the same or they're connected.
Because I know my mom, and we talked about in the last podcast who is "sensitive". she refuses to use the word psychic. She doesn't think of it as psychic. She just feels and sees other things when she's around people. But I think I resisted that because of what happened in my family, and how people saw it. I was like, "Oh, okay. This is just too much for me."
Dr Daniel Amen: A little bit like the Twilight Zone.
Tana Amen: A little too much for me. It's too much Twilight Zone for me. But she would always look at me and go, "You have more of it than you think." And I'm like, "No, I don't. No, I don't." But you always say that I have intuition, and-
Dr Daniel Amen: Oh yeah. No, I can't do anything wrong because I know you'll just know.
Tana Amen: So, I think of it differently. So, I don't see things. I don't see things like that. When I'm around a person, I don't see events and stuff like that. When I'm around people, I know instantly whether I feel safe, connected, whether I feel it's a warm feeling or whether it's like, "Don't go there. This person is not a safe person for me."
Dr Judith Orloff: You have exquisite judgment about people.
Tana Amen: Right. Judgment is how I've always thought of it.
Dr Judith Orloff: And that's a form of intuition. It's just knowing in your body instantly. Bam, bam, and you trust it.
Tana Amen: I trust it.
Dr Judith Orloff: So, that's-
Tana Amen: So, is that connected to what you call an empath? Is that similar? Is that part of it?
Dr Judith Orloff: You're reading energy. That's why you can trust it so quickly.
Tana Amen: Okay. Interesting. Because I refused to believe I had anything to do with any of that.
Dr Daniel Amen: So, what's the difference empathy-
Dr Judith Orloff: I understand it, and you don't have to look at it that way. You could look at it any way you want, so that you're comfortable with it.
Tana Amen: Well, I'm fascinated. No, no. I'm curious.
Dr Daniel Amen: The gifts of empathy and intuition serve us as psychiatrists, that they're actually critical tools. But what's the difference between having empathy and being an empath?
Dr Judith Orloff: Having empathy is when your heart goes out to somebody. They're going through a challenge, and your heart just resonates with them, and you kind of hold a love space for them. Or if somebody has a happy occasion. A baby's born or a marriage happens where your heart gets warm and happy for them, and you can literally feel it in your own body. This isn't an intellectual endeavor. Empathy comes from the heart.
And so, the heart is an energy and you feel it. So, you could feel it in your body, that happiness. But an empath is little bit higher on the empathic spectrum where I can feel what's going on in you. Let's say you're going through an emotional challenge, but I also can feel it in my body. So, there's no filter or boundary, and that isn't what I want because then I start hurting.
And so, one of the key self-care techniques is setting clear boundaries for empaths, and to notice the second someone else's energy comes into your body or you start picking up something or someone else, so you could breathe it out, so, you the practice meditation, so that you can expel it. You don't want it. But because tend to be over helpers, and they always want to help, they always want to heal, and they feel that the way to heal is to suck somebody else's pain out of their body into your own.
You don't think about it that way, but it's an instinctive motion, energetic motion. And so, that's something you have to be very discerning about in making a choice rather than an instinct.
Dr Daniel Amen: So, I imagine many empaths get compassion fatigue. So, therapists do this, especially trauma therapists, and I've been a psychiatrist a long time, goodness, for almost 40 years since I made that decision. And I tend not to get it because I'm sort of always excited about helping, fixing-
Tana Amen: Yeah. You're so interesting.
Dr Daniel Amen: ... getting people's brains better. And I don't think that means I have low empathy, but it doesn't sort of come in and wound me, where it sounds like an empath, if they're not careful, can get overwhelmed by it.
Dr Judith Orloff: Yes. And feel the pain. It's very painful because this world has so much suffering, and you don't want to absorb everything. It's everywhere.
Tana Amen: Well, I can't watch the news. I cannot watch the news without getting just wound tighter for him.
Dr Daniel Amen: Especially lately. It's just so filled with hostility and negativity. This fascinating new study on political extremes. People who are at the far right or the far left, they actually have rigid brains. And I've thought about that for a long time. Their frontal lobes work too hard, so if things don't go their way, they get upset.
They tend to be argumentative, and oppositional, and a little on the OCD spectrum, and it was just really interesting. No matter which extreme you're at, you probably have the same brain. They would just hate that.
Dr Judith Orloff: Interesting. Yeah. Very interesting. But empathy allows you to have empathy with extremes. It allows you to have empathy with people you don't like. It's allowed me to see beyond barriers. That's why I feel so strongly about it, because even if you don't like someone or agree with them, your heart can reach out to find out how they're perceiving it.
Tana Amen: So, what happens if you block it? If you block this feeling?
Dr Judith Orloff: That's fine. You can block it. You can make a choice to block it.
Tana Amen: But does it affect you in any way?
Dr Daniel Amen: Well, your mom purposefully tried to block it in you.
Dr Judith Orloff: Well, she did.
Tana Amen: But it didn't help you.
Dr Daniel Amen: And that must have made you very unhappy.
Dr Judith Orloff: Very unhappy like there was something wrong with me. It was a feeling of shame. You shame a young empath when you don't encourage those abilities to come out, when you don't say it's a beautiful thing. And here is how you can develop it, and here are some challenges you may face. When it becomes a healthy dialog, that's a whole different story.
But when it becomes a source of shame, and I need to hide it, and I need to be this other person, my mother always wanted me to go down the main stream, and belong to country clubs, and marry a Jewish doctor and all that, which would have been fine except it wasn't my path.
Tana Amen: Right. And so, can it make you physically sick? Can you take on physical ailments from blocking energy?
Dr Judith Orloff: Oh, from blocking? You can. You can at times. One self-care technique I talk about in the book is building a shield or a bubble around you to block. And many therapists use this with difficult patients. If they're with a borderline and the borderline anger is just searing, they use this deposited visualization technique to purposely block that, but keep the positive going.
Tana Amen: Oh, I think I meant ... I think ... Because that makes sense to me. Protecting yourself. I would see that as protecting myself. I think what I mean is if you are an empath and you don't realize you're an empath or you do realize it, and you don't want to be, and you're sort of like, "No." You would deny it and don't acknowledge.
Dr Daniel Amen: The left and right sides of the brain at war with each other.
Tana Amen: Yeah. The logic and the feeling part of you are in conflict. The logical part of you is like, "I'm not doing this."
Dr Judith Orloff: Yeah. Sometimes that's a phase that people go through, and they need to go through that in order to see that they're paying a price for that because when an empath tries to shut off his or her basic nature, that creates a tension in the body. And so, it's just learning to embrace who you are in a very positive way. And so, it's a balance, but it's very important not to be judgmental of people who blocked things out because that's a technique until they learn other techniques.
You see, that's just an instinctive thing. "It's too much. I'm shutting it out." And it could be shut out with over eating and putting on weight. It could be sexual addiction, it could be substance abuse, it could be alcoholism, could be shopping. "Whatever it is, I want to shut it off because it's too much." That's what's happening.
But they don't know what else to do. So, once they learn the self-care strategies in the book, then they have options. It's not all subliminal and subconscious. You see, you want to bring it up, you want to identify, this as an empathic issue and this is what you do.
There's nothing wrong with you. You're a beautiful being, but this is how you deal with it. And there's so many people I work with in recovery and 12 step programs who are recovering empaths as well. They were just super sensitive. And part of why they drank and used was because they couldn't handle it. It's too much.
Tana Amen: Wow.
Dr Judith Orloff: I mean, when you're a non-empath, it's hard to get that. How painful sensory overload can be. It's very, very painful.
Dr Daniel Amen: I've seen so many children over the years. And when we scan them, there's a pattern we call the Ring of Fire where their brain works way too hard, and they often will present like they have ADHD, and somebody will give them a stimulant. And 80% of the time, the stimulants make them worse. I mean, sometimes suicidal, sometimes rages, and if you don't look, how would you ever know?
That's been sort of the theme of my life. But when we come back, we're going to talk about a very interesting part of the brain called the Mirror Neuron System, and it'd be so interesting to look at that in empaths. And then we're going to give you some more strategies from Doctor Orloff's new book on how to survive, thrive as an empath. Stay with us.
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