Empath and HSP

6 Triggers for Empaths and How to Protect Yourself

Published by
Janey Davies, B.A. (Hons)

Empaths are highly sensitive people who can tune into other people’s feelings. Often called emotional sponges, empaths feel another person’s distress as if it were their own. They can easily burn out, becoming overwhelmed as they soak up emotional baggage. But what triggers an empath? Are certain situations more likely to provoke a response than others? Here are 6 triggers for empaths.

6 Triggers for Empaths

1. Death

One of the biggest triggers for empaths is death. Losing a loved one is devastating for everyone, but death is a huge trigger for empaths, whether the empath is grieving for their own loss or supporting someone.

Some are afraid to grieve or acknowledge the loss because they fear falling into a deep depression. The worry for empaths is that they’ll tap into these all-consuming feelings of devastation and they won’t be able pull themselves out.

However, it is necessary for empaths to experience grief so they can process the feeling of loss.

2. Being misunderstood

Empaths are authentic, understanding people who value sincerity. They often open up and reveal their own vulnerabilities to help others.

Being misunderstood is triggering for empaths because they are so honest. They’re always genuine, so to be misunderstood is heartbreaking for them. They assume people know they are not putting on an act or presenting a false front.

If this is triggering for you, try re-framing the situation; for example, change the perspective of your relationship with others. Stop seeing one as the victim and the other as the villain. Once we change the energy around the situation, it allows healing to take place.

3. Fake people or situations

Another trigger for empaths is fake people. It’s why empathic people find small talk so challenging.

Empaths are self-aware and know their strengths and weaknesses. They never hide one or exaggerate the other. You rarely see empaths posting dozens of gurning selfies on social media because they don’t need to live up to the fake hype of a perfect life.

However, this expectation of presenting a false front is also triggering. There’s an unspoken pressure to conform and be inauthentic on stage. Empaths fall into this trap as they strive to fulfill others’ needs.

If you’re triggered by fake people or situations, give yourself permission to sit in the audience, quietly clapping but not being part of the performance. And don’t forget, you can leave.

4. Helplessness

Empaths have an ingrained sense of responsibility to help others; whether this is people, animals or situations. But of course, they can’t help everyone. Charity adverts asking for donations trigger empaths because they want to help end suffering. The world’s atrocities often go unnoticed by others, but not empaths.

You have finite resources and there’s only one of you. Learn to protect, develop, and use what energy you have in the right places. You do not have unlimited energy. Remember, step away when you need to.

Otherwise, you’ll burn out and be no use to anyone. I would also add, be wary of manipulators who are happy to lead a parasitic life with sensitive people like you.

5. Over-commitment/Letting people down

This trigger for empaths follows on from helplessness. In the quest to be whatever others need, empaths often over-commit and then feel a dreadful sense of guilt when they can’t deliver what they’ve promised.

Empaths will always say yes, to their own detriment. They can get lost in other people’s narratives and neglect their own needs. But empaths sometimes need help too. Likewise, an empath feels obliged to accept an invitation and hasn’t got the energy or inclination when the time comes.

This is a trigger for empaths, as they hate to disappoint people.

To overcome this, think of yourself as the protagonist in your own story, rather than a character in someone else’s. You are as valid as anyone else, and there will be times when you are the most important person and times when you take a backseat. You don’t always have to put your needs last.

6. Being called different

Many empaths are introverted, solitary people who need time and space alone to recharge their energy. They are not at their best in crowds (I mentioned small talk is difficult for them) so they’ll be reluctant to attend large gatherings. They think on a different level than everyone else.

Wepeople who are different weird and ostracize them. Empaths have a few close friends, rather than a wide circle of acquaintances. They are better at one-on-one conversations than flitting from person to person. It’s hard for empaths, after all, we’re all supposed to be social butterflies these days.

Perhaps you are the black sheep of your family and you’ve never understood why, but it is triggering for you. It is OK to be different. And you are not alone; there are many more people like you out there.

What to Do If Something Triggers You as an Empath?

  • Where does the trigger come from?

My favorite saying about empaths is ‘You can’t pour from an empty cup.’ It is important to recognize triggers for empaths and work through where they originate from. Perhaps something in your childhood makes you susceptible to certain situations, or maybe you have always been a people-pleaser?

  • Look after yourself

Acknowledge you feel others’ pain, and that is a wonderful gift. However, you must take time to recharge yourself. Accept there will be times you don’t have it in you to help, and you cannot help everyone, or please everyone.

  • What do people really want from you?

Frequently, people just want someone to listen to them. When you allow a person to verbalize their worries, they can work through them. Don’t feel you always have to come up with solutions. Appreciate that we are all on different journeys and it’s not up to you to figure out someone’s life.

If something triggers you, imagine observing at a distance and thinking objectively, rather than getting embroiled in other people’s problems.

Final Thoughts

There are many triggers for empaths, but remember, it is not your responsibility to make other people feel happy, relaxed, or comfortable. Empaths are acutely self-aware, so why not use your triggers to further your own self-development?


  1. apa.org
  2. journals.sagepub.com
  3. wikihow.com

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Published by
Janey Davies, B.A. (Hons)
Tags: empathy