Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Overactive Empathy and why it's hurting YOU

Overactive Empathy- The point where a person feels empathy so strongly that they can mentally feel what another is feeling without words.  They absorb the energy of those around them and it manifests into emotions.  


For the past 10 years, I struggled with overactive empathy and didn't even realize it.  Most people think its a blessing, but to someone like me, its debilitating and can cause serious stress and depression in your own life.


The difference between Sympathy and Empathy is internal.  To have SYMPATHY for a person means you feel bad that they are in the situation they are in.  You see that they are struggling, you acknowledge that they are in pain, and you understand its not a pleasant place to be, but that is where the connection stops.  To have EMPATHY for a person means you understand what someone is feeling to the point of feeling it yourself.  You take on that person's pain and feel it mentally and sometimes even physically WITH them.

Having an empathetic heart is actually a very good thing.  It helps you understand why people are the way they are.  It helps you become more accepting of people's actions, words, and behaviors because you understand why they are the way they are.  Its the difference between "I feel with you" and "I feel for you" and can really help someone who is in a tough position in life know that they have support.

The point when Overactive Empathy becomes an issue is when you start taking on other people's problems.  They start interfering with your life, your job, your peace of mind, and ultimately your personal happiness. Overactive empathy is also known to cause codependency.  You stop forcing that person to fix their own situation and start handing them the "cure" but in reality you are just enabling them to continue in their situation while YOU struggle to fix it.

My problem was overactive empathy.  I had a friend who found herself in an unhappy life, and I tried and tried and tried to "fix it" for her but in the end I got burnt out as she continued on with her path.  Unfortunately because I never stepped back and stopped trying to HELP her, I ended up enabling her behavior for many years then resenting her for never appreciating or accepting the help.  Was the problem hers?  No.  It was mine all along.  I had no right in trying to fix her situation.  As a friend my job was to listen, respond when questioned, and give advice when asked.  My overactive empathy had me so wrapped up in her life that my marriage, my other friendships, and my family suffered, and absolutely nothing in her life changed.  I didn't save her, I hurt ME.

When you allow yourself to feel emotional pain FOR someone else you are taking away your ability to be happy with your life.  It is not selfish to step away from a situation that takes too much energy from you with nothing in return.

The most common experience is when you come in contact with someone dealing with grief.  When you meet someone who is grieving a loss, it is very easy for an empathetic person to allow others grief to filter into our minds.  We see their pain, and we feel it.  If you don't take a moment to cut it off and remember that it is not YOUR pain to feel, you can become mentally and physically incapacitated.  It can start taking over your life.

To stop being overly empathetic you need to realize when you're doing it.  If you are having a rough day sit back and think about what caused it.  Did a friend or family member suffer a loss, are they feeling pain, are they emotionally unstable?  Do you feel like you need to FIX their situation?  If so, take a moment, step back, and understand that IT IS NOT YOUR PAIN TO FEEL!  Empathy is good, but not when you allow it to override your mental wellness.  Think about what is going on that day in your life directly around you, if none of those things are causing you pain then you need to shut off those receptors to whatever it is that you're feeling.

Also remember that many people do not appreciate and are often uncomfortable with people who are overly empathetic.  When they come into contact with a person like that, many people often feel overwhelmed or even annoyed by someone taking on their pain.



Instead of allowing someone else's pain to invade your life, give them love, give them your happiness by SHARING IT.  Bring a smile to their face.  Make them laugh.  Let them see the beauty in life around them.  Give them a moment of your inner peace to take away from the pain they are experiencing.  THAT is what an empathetic person should do.  GIVE YOUR LOVE AND HAPPINESS AWAY INSTEAD OF TAKING ON SOMEONE ELSE'S PAIN!

Peace, love, and much happiness to you and everyone,
XOXO
Lauren
The happiest woman alive