The Curse of the Empath
Someone who has the innate ability to feel what others feel and think on a profound level is known as an Empath. It is both a blessing and a curse to be empathic. Not only can these people walk in someone else’s shoes, they also metaphorically wear them. When people are feel down and want to be heard, they call the empath. When it seems like hardly anyone understands them, they call the empath, and almost immediately, they feel genuinely understood and accepted.
The down side to being a sensitive person who can deeply feel the feelings and thoughts of others is, oftentimes, these individuals neglect themselves. They can get caught up in trying to make others happy, and consequently, forget about their own feelings, self-worth, and well-being. How many times have you been there for friends, family, and associates to lend an ear, shoulder to cry on, or moral support, sacrificing your time to make sure they feel comforted no matter how trivial you think their issues may be? Yet, when you need someone to lean on, those same people whom you offered empathy, either have no time for you, or they say something like, “Geez, why are you worrying about that? Walk in my shoes. You’ll know what real problems are. I have to go. I have a long day ahead of me tomorrow.”
You feel like you got the short end of the stick. But there are ways to strike a balance between being kind and being used. Here’s an example: When you’re on a plane and thousands of feet in the air. Something’s gone wrong and the plane is losing air pressure. The oxygen masks drop. What is the first thing you do?
The correct answer is you put the oxygen on your Self first, before you can help anyone else. Did you understand that? Let me state that again. You put the oxygen mask on your Self first before you can help anyone else. Why? Because without that oxygen, you’re probably not going to be much help to anyone else.
Therefore, the oxygen mask can be a metaphor for other things in life. But it still remains that you have to make sure you’re well before you can help others. Notice that I used the word HELP, not RESCUE. There is a difference (and we will address that in another blog post on another day).
As a healer and a natural empath, it’s been a blessing to be able to feel what others feel profoundly. But I also had wonderful teachers who taught me how to set and have boundaries. This means saying NO, when you have rules you set for your Self. It means letting people know your boundaries and letting them know they are not allowed to cross those lines. It means giving people consequences when they cross your lines and disrespect you.
It means knowing the difference between healthy relationships and unhealthy relationships. It means, knowing you have the right to have your own preferences, feelings, desires, and it’s okay for you not to have the same opinions as your family members, friends, loved ones, or associates. It’s okay to be an individual and have your own unique thoughts.
If someone makes you feel like they will abandon or not love you because you don’t agree with or give in to them, understand, that is not a healthy relationship. Enmeshment is not healthy. Individuation is. You can either talk to them and let them know you can care about them, while still maintaining boundaries, or you can walk away if they don’t understand or honor your differences.
Because you feel deeply for others, it’s also important NOT to take on the responsibilities of others. It’s okay to be empathetic, but it’s unhealthy to not let others take accountability for their actions. It’s unhealthy not to let other people feel their feelings, whether those feelings are of sadness or happiness. It’s unhealthy to shield people from their consequences. It’s important that you not take on the feelings, opinions, preferences, and actions of others.
Finally, if you’re not used to being the bad guy because you’ve made sure everyone in your life is happy (maybe except you), I encourage you to talk to a professional who can help you explore why you’ve taken on the role of fixer or caretaker. They can also help you find ways to heal and have healthy relationships with your Self and others.
Remember, it’s okay to be kind, but it’s not okay to make sure everyone else is happy, while neglecting your own Self and well-being.