Fourteen years ago, I discovered I’m an empath. I always knew, even as a child, that I felt others; pain, but it was good to discover that intense sensitivity had a name. Empath Guide defines it well: Criticism, suffering, hurt, humiliation, shame are hard enough for me to bear. Watching others feel them is agonizing. Knowing I’m an empath explains a lot about my interpersonal struggles. It can ruin or heal relationships.
* I can read hearts. Sympathy is feeling for another person while staying inside one’s self. Empathy is feeling with someone. It’s like I live inside their heads and hearts. I understand others’ motives and reasons better than they sometimes do. I make excuses for them they’ve never thought of.
* I’m in constant pain. Empaths often act depressed. We are. Continually feeling others’ pain is exhausting. Sometimes, it’s plain miserable. It’s like having the weight of the world, with all its sin, hurt and sorrow on our shoulders.
* I’m paranoid. As an empath mom and wife, I feel a flood of compassion, sympathy and closeness with my family. That’s good, except that I worry about them 24-7-365. I could easily become a “smother mother.” I read about a mom who couldn’t let her kids out of her sight for fear something might happen and she wouldn’t be there to stop it. I know how that feels. Other parents, sometimes spouses and kids, most of society doesn’t get that. They just think we’re over-controlling, helicopter paranoiacs. We are. We have to be. Empathy dictates that we be constantly vigilant.
* I try to control others. Because empaths feel everyone’s pain, we start to believe we’re responsible for it and can stop it. The guilt is all-consuming. To assuage it, we try to correct, fix and change others’ behavior. We hope to stop them hurting themselves and us by default.
* I drive people away. I had my empath epiphany at a roller-skating party. A stranger fell and broke her arm. I began to sob and shake. I was incoherent. I felt her arm pain, shock and fright. My friends felt sorry for her, but were horrified by my reaction. One said, “Mar, you really take the gospel injunction to ‘bear one another’s burdens’ seriously!” They acted wary of me after that. And these were friends.
* I’m crazy-vulnerable. If friends can’t take extreme empathy, imagine how raw an empath is with unsafe people. We easily fall prey to victimizers and predators. I have been scolded, shamed, punished, abused, mocked and taken advantage of because of my empathy. Empaths are an addict’s codependent-mate fantasy!
* Empathy is a gift and a curse. Being able to get inside someone else’s heart is a double-edged sword. I’ve seen things that will never cease to traumatize me. Compassion frankly hurts. And all the while I’m being hurt, I kept on empathizing. I intuitively understand where behavior comes from. I can never really be angry with anyone because I can’t distance from them. Anger at someone else is just anger at myself.
* I have panic attacks. This part is the hardest to admit, but the most necessary for me and other empaths to hear. In my agony, I have melted down and hurt myself and those I love. Weird isn’t it, that I would hurt those who I worry most about protecting. I used to feel unbearable guilt for this. Now I realize it’s the logical result of so much inner torment. When loved ones do things to hurt themselves, they’re hurting me doubly. When I rage at them, it’s myself I’m livid with.
My story is still being written, but I think it’s going to have a happy ending. I’m fortunate to have a loving family who supports me. I’m learning to recognize obsessive empathy and redirect it. I’m using this existential crisis to understand myself, my relationships and my purpose. I’m seeking positive outlets so I’m not engulfed by angst. I’m finding healthy diversions and channels for my empathy.