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When a person is described as “sensitive”, the label usually carries with it negative connotations. But as Dr. Judith Orloff suggests, there are plenty of advantages to a sensitive nature, and this disposition should be encouraged and nurtured rather than suppressed. In the second episode of a series with the ‘Thriving as an Empath’ author, she and the Amens discuss tips for people to use their sensitive nature as an advantage.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way podcast. I'm Dr. 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 like 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 Brain MD where we produce the highest quality nutraceuticals to support the health of your brain and body. To learn more, go to brainmd.com
Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome back. We're here with our friend Doctor Judith Orloff. She has a new book Thriving As An Empath, 365 Days Of Self Care for Sensitive People. This podcast is for you if you are sensitive or if you love someone who is. This could be one of the reasons you guys struggle.
Tana Amen: So interesting.
Dr. Daniel Amen: There is hope. Judith, talk about how to thrive as a sensitive empath.
Dr. Judith Orloff: How to thrive as a sensitive empath is to realize you're a beautiful, precious being who has beautiful, wonderful skills, but you also have to learn self care in order to deal with the challenges of an empath. The secret is not to get less sensitive, to get a thicker skin, as my physician mother told me over and over, "Dear, just get a thicker skin. You've got to toughen up." That's not the answer. The answer is to expand your sensitivities, but learn how to center yourself. Learn how to set good boundaries. Learn how to practice fierce self care. Learn how to have enough alone time. Learn the signs of when you go on sensory overload so you could nip it in the bud before it explodes and then you say something you regret because you're so overwhelmed.
When empaths get overwhelmed, they just want to go and be alone and you don't want to get to that point. You see it builds. You can learn self care to notice the signs in your own body when you start to get overwhelmed, so it doesn't just snowball. And then all of a sudden, and this is what I do and I get overwhelmed, all of a sudden I feel like I can't be in a relationship. That's all right. Go.
Tana Amen: It's like, "Everybody go away."
Dr. Judith Orloff: Everybody just get out.
Tana Amen: Yes, he's the only person that's like never done, like he gives me space. It is great.
Dr. Judith Orloff: I know, but that's how it is. That's why I bring it up so everyone knows that's just part of it. My partner's been trained if I ever get to that place to say, "Oh, I think you need your alone time now. You need a good cry or you need something. Just take care of yourself instead of taking it personally."
Tana Amen: Oh, that's so great.
Dr. Judith Orloff: I don't like getting to that place, because I do say things that I don't mean out of desperation of needing to be alone. It feels like you need to be alone forever, but you don't.
Tana Amen: That this is fascinating to me.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Describe for us how you discovered this in yourself. What was that process like?
Dr. Judith Orloff: The process was going through a lot of shame about my abilities as a child because I was alone. I felt lonely. I had always spent a lot of time in solitude and connecting to nature and looking up at the moon and loving animals and loving the ocean very much. The ocean was always been my companion. I never had the support of people. As a teenager I got very heavily involved with drugs to try and squash my sensitivities, my abilities. It was a negative path. I'm not suggesting for anyone. There's actually a chapter, one of my books on him and addiction. It's very common for empaths to become addicted, because you want to just shut it all off. But that wasn't a healthy choice. However, it was the choice I made.
But then I, with a lot of help. I had a psychiatrist who is my angel in my life. I had people help me understand what an empath was and how I had to incorporate my intuitions rather than squash them. I had a lot of good guidance. Thank god I've been open to receiving it throughout my life. And so through that education and then, you know, I had a dream that told me to go to medical school to get my MD, to have the credentials to talk about this and medicine. I mean it's very clear back in my early twenties what the message was, what I was supposed to do. Not that I wanted to do it, but what I learned about intuition is that if you just take one step in the direction of an intuition of guidance, and even if you don't believe it, you'll see if the universe is backing you, you'll see if there's energy there, if it's working, if you're enjoying it. I did. I went through 14 years of medical training.
That was my non empath stage. Because they don't talk about empaths. They don't talk about intuition. I had began to open before medical school. Closed during medical school. Then it reopened again when I graduated. It's been a, a process more me and now my healing path has been integrating being an empath with my psychiatric practice.
Tana Amen: I can't wait to read this book. I've got light bulbs going off like crazy. I'm like over here, this reminds me of someone that we know that we've been helping. Someone in my family who is so sensitive that she feels other people's pain all the time that she started using drugs to shut it down. She can't stand the sensitive, like she's just constantly so sensitive.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Oh, and she has Irlen's.
Tana Amen: It just made my light go off.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Do you know Irlen's Syndrome?
Dr. Judith Orloff: Say that again Daniel.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Do you know the Irlen syndrome? I-R-L-E-N?
Dr. Judith Orloff: No.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Yeah. Look it up online and everybody.
Tana Amen: Sensitive to lights.
Dr. Daniel Amen: We talk about it in our podcast a lot. Helen Irlen's a psychologist in Long Beach and discovered that a whole bunch of people who have diagnosed as ADD, anxiety and depression, what they have is light sensitivity. That their brains are sensitive to certain colors of light. Wearing colored filtered lenses makes a huge difference not only in reading but also in their emotional states. We just had one of our nieces whose nine diagnosed with it. It's going going to change the rest of her life. That'll be one good thing you get from this podcast. Learn about it. I bet a lot of highly sensitive people have the Irlen Syndrome. One of the things I want to know is how did your medical colleagues at UCLA deal with what some people would label as a pretty soft science of empathy. Although I would argue in general, psychiatry is a pretty soft science.
Dr. Judith Orloff: Yeah. Well at the time that I was going through medical school and my residency, I didn't tell anybody anything. I didn't tell any of my peers anything. I felt like I finally belong somewhere. I really loved my medical training. I was growing and changing. I went more towards the scientific side and learning all of that. Also working with patients I've always loved, but I never used any words like intuition or empathy. The place that it was most dominant to me was when I worked in hospice, and I was with people as they were dying because in your empathy turns on. Then everything was instinctual. Everything in me, the healing and state within me turn on, very strongly helping somebody make that transition or being with death and dying and grieving that is such an important, important transition that I secretly expanded it at that point in my medical practice. But I didn't tell anyone because I was afraid of what they would think of me.
Tana Amen: That's so interesting.
Dr. Daniel Amen: But later on you came out. I mean, I don't know if that's the right term, "coming out."
Dr. Judith Orloff: I came out in the late '90s when I wrote Second Sight, my first book. It took me eight years to write that book, because I had so much fear. Steven Mitchell, the sacred translator, one of my readers of that book. He would write notes on that book, "Too much anger at your parents. Too much this. Too many unresolved feelings. Go back and work on or before you come back to this book again. Too much fear, work with your fear."
Tana Amen: That's interesting.
Dr. Judith Orloff: That book was my coming out book, but it took so long to come out. There were so many fears about coming out as an empath and psychiatrist.
Tana Amen: You've said it, you've said so many things that are just like ... Like I said, the thing about, it's actually my sister that is, she's struggled with addiction, because she's so sensitive. She can't stand to feel, which is so interesting because I grew up very much like you. She's my half sister. I grew up alone, very much alone, an only child and by myself a lot. I found that, like we talked about, I feel overwhelmed sometimes by people around me. While she drugs, because of the drug situation in my family were not an option for me, so what I did is just start building walls. So I'm assuming that empaths, I'm not saying I am one, but I'm assuming that they handle things in different ways. I know when I feel overwhelmed by people, I don't know what to do. I just start building walls. Other people do drugs.
When my dad was dying and he was in hospice, I'm a trauma nurse. I can handle anybody intubated and sedated. I'm good. Slit your skull open and I'm good. The minute that they start with the emotional stuff, I shut down. I just completely checked out.
Dr. Judith Orloff: Oh, interesting.
Tana Amen: Yeah, when my dad was going through hospice, I literally, I've never in my life had a migraine until that day that he went into hospice. Then I just could not deal with ... It was the hospice nurse that helped me. They're amazing human beings.
Dr. Judith Orloff: Oh, fantastic, fantastic.
Tana Amen: I'm listening to this, I can't wait to read this book. Because I'm listening to you and I'm thinking, "Wait, there's so many unanswered questions that I'm now like little light bulb moments or going off."
Dr. Daniel Amen: I wonder if there's a genetic component to it because Tana's mother clearly has gifts, if you will, where she can see ...
Tana Amen: And feel.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... and feel other people and was actually studied at UCLA in their parapsychology department. Does there tend to be a genetic component to this, Judith?
Dr. Judith Orloff: I think so, because it was passed down on my mother's side of the family, my grandmother, my mother, my aunt, my cousin. But nobody ever told me. My mother purposely withheld it from me because she didn't want people to think I was weird. She had a big thing.
Tana Amen: It was my mom. Growing up with my mom, it was interesting. I can feel that.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, your mom was weird.
Tana Amen: Well, but the gift is what really made her stand out and have people look at her strange.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Yeah, no and I adore her.
Tana Amen: But when you speak that language, people don't hear you, they don't understand.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Yeah, no. You have to behave yourself when you're around them cause you never know if they're feeling ...
Dr. Judith Orloff: But also one thing that I don't mind doing is being sensitive to the vocabulary of other people. I would never use the word, psychic. I made the mistake of ...
Tana Amen: My mom won't either.
Dr. Judith Orloff: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's just not, it creates too much resistance. You want to use intuition. You want to use empathy. People can get that. I don't care as long as people develop their empathy, developed their intuition. That's the goal of my books and my teaching is to help people awaken this part of themselves. Whatever language you want to use is fine with me as long as it's compassionate.
Dr. Daniel Amen: All right, when we come back, we're going to talk about the science behind empathy and also empaths. Stay with us.
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