11 Ways To Prevent An Empath Shutdown & Reasons (2024)

Welcome to my guide on empath shutdown.

Empath Shutdown
Photo By Anthony Tran On Unsplash

Below you’ll learn what the empath shutdown is, what causes it, why it happens and how to avoid it.

In my role as a life coach, I am often helping clients better understand themselves and those around them. 

That’s why I’m keen to share this guide with you. 

So, let’s dive in. 

What Is Empath Shutdown?

An empath (or highly sensitive person) is someone with enhanced sensitivity when it comes to other people’s emotions. 

They have a lot of empathy, making them especially kind people who are great friends. 

But it also means they’re more susceptible to being overwhelmed in emotionally charged situations.

To protect themselves from this emotional overwhelm, many empaths will shut down all their emotions.

They’ll go into a complete state of apathy – and may feel a desire to isolate themselves from the world for long periods of time. It’s common that shutdown can last for many hours. 

This is an involuntary response, rather than a conscious one.

It’s sometimes referred to as ‘compassion fatigue’.  

Related Content: How To Spot An Empath

Triggers For Empaths

  • The main trigger for empaths and highly sensitive people are emotionally charged situations. Negative emotions are most likely to lead to a shutdown. Arguments, grief or sadness, anger and situations of mass hysteria are common triggers. 
  • Untreated trauma can also trigger emotional overwhelm in empaths and highly sensitive people. The situations that can cause traumatic pain body attacks are vast and not always directly relevant to the root cause of what happened. 
  • Empaths and highly sensitive people are more attune to other people’s emotions – but an inability to regulate their own emotions can make them more likely to shut down.

Related Content: Types Of Empaths And How To Identify Yours

What Happens When An Empath Is Overwhelmed?

The Empath Burnout Cycle

  • An emotionally charged situation occurs. 
  • The empath or highly sensitive person feels an outpouring of empathy. Their own emotional state begins to change. 
  • They begin to feel emotional and physical symptoms of overwhelm. 
  • Unable to cope, the empath or highly sensitive person begins to involuntarily shut down their emotions. 
  • The empath or highly sensitive person enters a state of apathy.
  • They may also feel the need to escape the emotionally charged situation to feel safer. 
  • The recovery period. They may need several hours alone to calm down and return to their normal selves.

This cycle can occur in a moment or two depending on the sensitivity of the empathy and the  intensity of the situation. The recovery period may take several hours for certain people. 

Can Empaths Go Numb?

Yes, emotionally numb. This is a common sign that the empath shutdown is around the corner.  

Can Empaths Turn Off Emotions?

Yes, cultivating apathy is a key signal of the empath shutdown.

How Can An Empath Switch Off?

This is an involuntary response to being overwhelmed with the emotions of others. Most empaths would prefer not to shut down in emotionally charged situations. 

Empath Depression

When empaths shut down, they enter a state of complete apathy. They show no interest in the emotions of anyone, even their dearest loved ones. They have no motivation to do anything, even engaging in their favorite hobbies. Often, they just want to be alone doing very little. These are all symptoms of depression, so calling it an ‘empath depression’ is somewhat apt. 

When An Empath Gets Hurt

The unique quality of the empath shutdown is that they can be overwhelmed by the emotions of others.

Of course, if their own feelings have been hurt too, this can cause a bigger outpouring of emotion making a shutdown even more likely. 

Traumatized Empath

If an empath or highly sensitive person has untreated trauma and this is triggered, it’s also likely to cause an emotional shutdown. 

When An Empath Stops Caring

If you encounter an empath who has shut down, you may be upset to notice they don’t seem to care about you. 

However, It’s important to remember that the empath shutdown is an act of self-preservation. It’s not because they don’t care.

In fact, empaths and highly sensitive people care too much and that’s what causes this emotional overload. 

Tips To Avoid Empath Shutdown

The empath shutdown is an essential survival mechanism for empaths and highly sensitive people, but it’s not great if you want to live a vibrant lifeand experience the little joys of each day..

Over time, regular shutdowns can do more harm than good to your mental and physical health. 

So, here are 11 tips to avoid empath shutdown. 

1. Recognize Your Triggers

Note if there are certain situations which lead to emotional shutdowns. Be on high alert for these. 

When you’re aware of the situations most likely to trigger you, it becomes easier to emotionally prepare or completely avoid them. 

2. Stay Calm

Once you understand the emotional and physical symptoms of your shutdown, you can be quicker to engage in exercises that calm you down and remind you that you have nothing to fear. 

Breathing exercises can bring a sense of peace to your mind. Quiet affirmations can help to calm your anxiety. If possible, escaping from the situation momentarily could be all you need.

3. Stay Present  

Mindfulness exercises like meditation are brilliant to stop you from being overwhelmed with emotion. They can also help you spot the warning signs of a shutdown, because you become more aware of your body. See my list of proven ways to empty your mind for more information.

4. Grounding Exercises

Exercises like yoga, Tai Chi or Reiki are all highly recommended self-care exercises. They’re great for fostering healing energy to help you gain greater control of your emotions and become a more empowered empath. 

5. Switch From Empathy To Compassion

The empath’s shutdown is sometimes labelled ‘compassion fatigue’, but the truth is: empathy and compassion are different emotions. 

Compassion means to feel “for” someone, rather than “with” them. Compassion is a healthier feeling and less likely to lead to an emotional shutdown.  

It’s not easy for empaths, but it is possible to consciously switch from empathy to compassion. 

Try repeating affirmations to remind you that this is someone else’s energy and their feelings belong to them.

This is a great idea to help empaths to focus on their own feelings without sharing the suffering and negative energy of others.  

6. Stay Away From People That Drain You The Most

It can be tough to cut toxic people with too much negative energy out of your life – but you need to put your own needs and your own emotions first.

Otherwise, you sacrifice the ability to do any good for yourself or for others in this world. 

7. Avoid The Places That Drain You The Most 

Are there certain environments which trigger an emotional shutdown? Busy transport hubs? A stressful workplace? If so, make a plan so that you don’t spend a moment more than you need to in these places.

8. Create A Safe Space 

Do you have a room where you feel safe? Somewhere you can spend time alone to recharge your energy? If not, your first step should be to create one. It’s much harder to recover from your emotional shutdown when you’re still in a stressful environment or surrounded by people.  

9. Stay Away From Drugs And Alcohol 

It can be tempting to turn to short-term pleasure from drugs and alcohol to help you feel good after an emotional shutdown.

But this is not good for you in the long run. 

It’s better to focus on the more healthy self-care solutions suggested in this guide. 

10. Seek Professional Help

If you’re struggling to come to terms with feeling overwhelmed so often, it’s no use suffering in silence

Therapists, counsellors or life coaches are all professionals with tons of experience at helping people overcome problems with emotional sensitivity.

These professionals have the ability to help you understand who you are and why you act the way you do. 

They’ll be able to help you identify what causes you emotional pain and the best ways to overcome this suffering. 

There’s nothing wrong with seeking therapy for any emotional issue you’re struggling with.  

What’s more, it’s easier than ever to make an appointment to speak to a therapist in-person or over the phone, thanks to the launch of some incredibly helpful therapy apps

This could be the best step you take for self-care.    

11. Need More Ideas?

For more ideas on how to deal with your emotional sensitivity, see my extensive list of Empaths Protection Tools.

Any More Questions?

Thanks for reading my guide. I hope it helps you gain more control over your emotions so you can overcome your compassion fatigue. 

If you have any questions on this topic, feel free to leave a comment below. 

It would be great to hear from you. 

About The Author

Bijan Kholghi is a certified life coach with the Milton Erickson Institute Heidelberg (Germany). He helps clients and couples reach breakthroughs in their lives by changing subconscious patterns. His solution-oriented approach is based on Systemic- and Hypnotherapy.