There have been an increasing number of articles posted of late about empathy? Are you an empath? Where on the scale do you fit? Why is it even important?
"Empathy is the ability of people to recognize and respond to the emotions of others. It’s the foundation of both sympathy and compassion. Without empathy, sympathy and compassion are more likely to be inaccurate and may lead to increased friction and resentment. This is because the individuals who are the targets of sympathy or compassion have heightened sensitivity to actions that are not based on empathetic understanding. They may feel that actions such as an act of charity or a compassionate word are degrading forms of pity if they are not based on an attempt at understanding the recipient’s reality." as quoted from Teleos Leadership Institute
First off we all have some level of empathy generally - its part of human nature, however Empaths do have some more definining traits:
Signs of being an empath are that traditionally you are someone who typically likes to look after others and feel very engaged! You also tend to absorb a lot of those around you’s concerns and issues (often not letting them go and becoming drained by them)
You feel it they whilst others understand or rationalise it.
You find some people emotional vampires and have a desire to escape them or remove yourself from their company as if its going to make you sick. You find yourself being affected by others moods. You are always open (and leave yourself open) and process other peoples energy, moods, and intentions, motivations as if they were your own.
The result is that you experience fatigue, pains, and aches, don’t want to get out of bed some days, and just want to shut down.
As for other traits? Straight-talking. Achievers. Crap at taking compliments and can be slow to accept them! Cry at soppy stuff (animals and kids mostly) on the TV! Natural teachers, storytellers and caretakers.(You can find all sorts of articles out there about the extensive list of traits, so I won’t go on)
Do you recognise most of the above? OK -so you are an empath and you take on other peoples stuff. So now what?
Well before I get to that - there are always two sides to everything - so if you aren’t relating to the above strongly then it is also worth noting that empaths are highly sensitive people and whilst they may not always seem so, they absorb every word and action, and can be easily hurt, prickly or sometimes even aggressive in response. This might explain that friend who is often overly defensive or hurt by things or events, for example, but they always put on a brave face or an exterior persona whenever they themselves are suffering or in pain - seeming more robust/strong than they are.
Secondly empaths are often also highly auditory and sensory people so will hear significance in words and actions and hear undertones of pitch or intent, sarcasm, lack of authenticity, and thus have a natural intuition in to lack of integrity or genuine behavior. Words in song lyrics for example, pace straight to their heart - stories in themselves, especially when related through a specific person or event.
One of my favourite quotes follows:
“Empaths may be excellent storytellers due to an endless imagination, inquisitive minds and ever-expanding knowledge. They can be old romantics at heart and very gentle” *
And the world needs its Romantics! But don’t automatically assume that because they seem strong and robust that they are totally fab underneath and don’t need your support once in a while.
Needless to say, empaths tend to invest a lot of time and energy into people around them, and what is key, is to maintain a healthy balance between others’ challenges and issues, and being a shoulder to them and helping or advising; but then being able to step back and refrain from absorbing.
I for one have struggled with some of this in the past and tend to chuck myself in. I invest myself, time and energy in everyone around me but this often results in the same outcome for me whilst they move on. They - newly buoyed up and invigorated! Whilst Ive felt left hanging or taken advantage of. What happens then is a bit of a crash! Some people refer to it as burn-out. The shutters come down. The phone goes off. Radio silence.
This is a familiar state to many, especially people who are strongly empathic with those around them. You have a natural desire to care and help, to ease the other persons pain or struggle. You want to reassure people....To provide them with a lean-in mechanism. You aim to give your all to bolster others. Not to say most people don’t suffer burn-out or ‘draining’ at one time or another - we can all get run down from heavy workloads, family life being hectic, and the general pace of life that we all seem to be racing through these days. Its just that with empaths, this can happen somewhat more regularly, if not controlled, and be incredibly debilitating. So understanding your role and how to release the energies and feelings that you absorb or dont, is a healthy way of being able to get the right balance.
If you don’t find the balance the outcome is likely to becoming drained or sapped and then followed by illness or depressive feelings of the world being against you. That’s when life goes on pause emotionally or into retreat. There is increasing medical evidence that stress for example, can create constant negativity, pain, and often trigger serious illness or disease. Our state of mind is very powerful in its role for triggering or fighting and preventing illness.
We are the only ones who can change our worlds.
We all take our own time to progress things and move things forward or even to change our own behaviour when the patterns are repeating.(as that's the only way to get a different or desired outcome) Sometimes it takes a massive event to shake us out of our holding patterns. Sometimes it's illness, loss, or just plain and simple - tired of feeling miserable or bored or uninspired or nothing changing.
So when I'm providing that shoulder to those around me and letting them lean-in: be it borrowing my belief in them or even just holding the space whilst they find their way, the trick is not getting emotionally caught up. I accept that I am there and able to support, assist and sometimes advise or make suggestions, but I don’t take on their issues as my own. I'll admit here that I have struggled at times as I feel others' stress and pain quite deeply and I hate them feeling that. It presses all my innermost 'caring' buttons to reach out and support and help if I can. I hate the very idea of others hurting. But. I know that when I take that on in a very all encompassing way, it drains me and sooner or later I go into shut down. So I choose to step back.
There is another key here too - because people see empaths as strong and supportive and there for them, it is often the case to never be asked in return? People assume because they are strong, that they are fine and robust and coping with everything that the world throws at them.
It's sort of weird when you consider that just part of being human is enduring life's highs and lows so in that context why would some people be any better or more enduring than others.... they might hide it better, but it shouldn’t mean that they feel differently.
To close on this, years ago I read a book called the Celestine Prophesy by James Redfield. It was big news when it came out. But one of its core tenets was that there needs to be a balance of give and take in every relationship we have. If we invest more we become drained when all they do is take. If people don't reciprocate or invest in us in the same way, we need to pull back our investing and move our interests and attention elsewhere. This is mostly due to the fact that when someone is a constant taker or drainer and never gives in return, those of us giving become so depleted in our 'battery life' that we need to gain energy elsewhere for more positive sources- those who choose to invest in us in return.
So if you are an empath and want to identify people who are ‘draining’ you, then I suggest you ask the following questions:
Is this one sided with this person?
Does the other person ever invest in me or take time to ask me how I am?
Do they commit to their words and actions?
Do they make an effort for me?
Do they criticise? Nitpick?
Do they ever compliment me or do anything nice in return?
Do they even acknowledge me?
When they aren't having a crisis do they ever reach out to spend time with me in other environments or circumstances? (or do they just see me as that person to moan and whinge to?)
To regain balance and perspective, take a step back with the person/s you are engaging with and ask how much you are absorbing of their situation? Do you feel tired and depleted? If you do I would suggest a few moments to ask yourself how their situation is affecting you and whether you need to feel it as well. It won't aid you to take on their pain as that only causes double the issue. It doesn't aid you or credit you or assist you. There mere act of being you is what counts. Look at how their words make you feel and then step back to reframe them to a comfortable place.