You have probably heard the term “empath” or “highly sensitive person” before, and you may even think it applies to you—but what does it mean? And how does it impact motherhood?
Do you feel things more deeply and are more easily overwhelmed than most people?
That’s the question that Dr. Elaine Aron sought to answer in the late ’90s when she identified herself and many of her clients as “highly sensitive persons” (HSPs).
What is a highly sensitive person?
Dr. Aron’s definition of a highly sensitive person (also known as an HSP) is someone who has “a sensitive nervous system, is aware of subtleties in his/her surroundings, and is more easily overwhelmed when in a highly stimulating environment.”
It’s estimated that about one out of every five people possesses this distinct personality trait, which is not to be confused with an empath.
The difference between an HSP and an empath
Many people can’t distinguish between a highly sensitive person and an empath. You might think they’re the same because they seem similar, but there are some differences.
An empath can take on the emotional energy of others. Unlike a highly sensitive person, empaths can often feel other people’s emotions as their own. When empaths spend too much time around negative energy, they may become drained or overwhelmed.
Dr. Judith Orloff, the author of The Empath’s Survival Guide, says that empaths “energetically internalize the feelings and pain of others.” It can be difficult for some empaths to distinguish others’ discomforts from their own.
It’s also important to note that some empaths have profound spiritual and intuitive experiences, which aren’t usually associated with highly sensitive people.
Benefits of being an empathetic or sensitive mother
The endless lists of emotions that you experience when you become a mother can be overwhelming for anyone. The emotional roller-coaster can be more intense for highly sensitive and empathic mothers, but some definite benefits too.
- The ability to tune into your child’s needs with greater ease
- Offer them space to be vulnerable and express themselves
- Give your kids a safe place to explore their emotions.
- Particularly attuned to when they’re struggling
Because you have experience with these things yourself, you will be able to give them the tools they need to navigate their feelings.
Handling motherhood as an HSP or empath
As highly sensitive and empathic mothers, we can feel our children’s emotions, which can be great when it comes to knowing what they need, but it can also be tricky when they’re upset and overwhelmed.
When you’re already overwhelmed by your children’s emotions, it’s easy to feel worn down by your own.
Our senses are highly tuned to sights, smells, and sounds, making parenting more difficult. When you’re already overwhelmed by your children’s emotions, it’s easy to feel worn down by your own.
When your baby is crying, and you’re at a loss for how to calm them down, you may get carried away in your swirl of anxiety and worry. But you can learn to recognize the feeling for what it is.
Tune into your feelings
If you find yourself overwhelmed because your child is upset, take a moment to notice which emotions are coming up for you.
Are you afraid? Angry? Anxious?
Whatever feeling or combination of emotions arises, stay with it and see what it feels like in your body. Acknowledge that this is not your emotion but that you feel it because of your connection with your child.
Say to yourself, “This is not my emotion, but I feel it because I am connected to my baby.”
This will help you separate the emotion from yourself and give you space from its intensity so that you can decide whether to engage with it.
And then take a deep breath
When emotions are coming at us from all directions (especially when they seem out of proportion), we get flustered and can’t think straight, making parenting more complicated than it needs to be.
So, take a deep breath and remind yourself that everything is fine – it’s just an emotion. Then remind yourself that there is no problem here; you’re just experiencing what feels like an intense emotion.
Self-care for the highly sensitive mother
It’s easy to get lost in the maze of parenting when you’re also trying to manage your own emotions and energy. Here are some tips for navigating motherhood as a highly sensitive or empathic mother so you can feel empowered.
1. Find the right balance of social interaction
Being around people provides valuable stimulation for many empaths and HSPs—but it’s important not to overdo it.
You already know that being around people always isn’t something that works well for you. So as a mom, you must make sure you schedule some solo time each day—whether for 20 minutes of meditation or an hour to read a book and drink coffee before your little one wakes up.
Whatever it is, ensure you’re getting your alone time every day and that your partner is on board with this (or doing this themselves). It will ensure that you (and, by extension, your child) are happy and healthy.
2. Identify your triggers
It’s essential to identify your pressure points, whether physical or emotional. Having these in mind will help you take care of yourself more effectively.
As an HSP or empath, you’ll want to know which feelings and emotions might upset you, especially regarding parenting. If something is emotionally difficult for you, make sure someone else is around to support you. It’s okay to ask for help and get the support you deserve.
3. Identify your support system
Identify the people in your support system. When times get hard, it’s essential to have a support system. Identify who in your life is part of your inner circle and who are those you can call when you need help.
More thoughts on being a sensitive mother
There’s no denying that motherhood is demanding. But, if you’re like me, it is also the most rewarding thing you’ve ever done.
If you’re an HSP or empath, remember that you are not alone. There are plenty of other parents like you, and they get it. And all parents can use support sometimes.
While it’s great to have your partner there for support, sometimes it’s even better to reach out to other parents or friends who can truly understand you.