Am I growing cold?

For a long time, I could empathize with others to the point of stopping my daily routine or activities until they are okay. When someone was in such agony, I felt it in my heart as well. I would absorb people’s emotions to an alarming degree—whatever they felt, I felt as well, regardless of whether it was a crowd of strangers. Occasionally, I’d break down and sob over the well-being of someone else. And what’s even more interesting is that the person wasn’t shedding a tear. I was unable to discern my emotions from those of others.

I had the sensations of their pain and emotions as my own. I’d question myself, “Why am I like that?” especially that the emotions/feelings don’t belong to me. It was so awful that I was constantly exhausted and drained myself to the point of self-abnegation. But why did I feel responsible for their issues or distress if there was nothing I could do? Although I am an empath, I had to learn to discern my own sensations from those of others. Why was my empathic capacity unhealthy to a certain degree? – It had reached the point of continual burnout and I simply couldn’t handle it any longer. I was constantly emotionally depleted. I needed to find a way to balance the external influences, or else I risked dealing with my own mental health.

What is Empathy?

According to Merriam Webster, Empathy is “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.”

Affective empathy and cognitive empathy are two distinct types of empathy that are studied by researchers. Affective empathy refers to the feelings we experience when we are able to relate to the emotions of others. There is a possibility that other people’s emotions could be transmitted: If they appear to be happy, you are happy; if they appear to be unhappy, you are unhappy; if they appear to be in pain, you are in pain. You may also become more sensitive about the welfare of others because of your ability to detect their emotional states. Affective empathy, on the other hand, can sometimes heighten your own distress when you face suffering, preventing you from effectively providing support.

Cognitive empathy is the ability to comprehend the thoughts and feelings of another on a mental level. For those who don’t like the idea of constantly absorbing other people’s negative feelings, some argue that cognitive empathy may be more advantageous. Somatic empathy, according to some, is the third type of empathy. In this case, a person can feel the bodily sensations that another person is feeling.

Who is an Empathy?

An empath is someone who is extremely sensitive to the feelings as well as emotions of others. Their capacity to discern what someone else is feeling extends beyond empathy, which is defined simply as the capacity to understand another’s feelings, to actually taking on those feelings; experiencing what the other person is experiencing on a deep emotional level.

As described by Dr. Judith Orloff, an empath is someone who soaks up the joys and stresses of the world around them like “emotional sponges.”  Emotional and energetic stimuli, good or bad, can’t escape from empaths, according to her book “The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People,” which she published in 2012. This is explained further by Kim Egel, a San Diego-based therapist—Empaths are more sensitive to external stimuli such as sounds, large personalities, and hectic environments.  They bring a great deal of heart and concern to the world, and they are extremely sensitive to what is going on around them.

Empaths who neglect their own well-being can have a negative impact on themselves and those around them. I had to learn how to regulate my emotions and, more importantly, how to take care of myself as a result of the constant emotional drain and distress. Accepting that there is nothing I can do and learning how to let go without feeling guilty or distressed was a major part of my process of self-awareness and self-acceptance. I needed to establish boundaries to protect myself– Establishing boundaries around emotionally taxing situations helped me reduce the risk of reaching my breaking point.

Empaths have a hard time turning off their high level of emotional sensitivity. People’s emotional energy around you can cause stress or depression in some people. You can’t help but feel this way about your loved ones. However, recognizing and letting go of them can have a significant impact. You do not have to “lessen” your capacity for caring — you can increase your resilience while also cultivating concern for others.

Now that I’ve mastered the art of distancing and regulating my emotions from those of another– I’m able to experience what they feel while still shielding myself. It feels incredibly good–I have practiced and mastered emotional regulation, and I will never stop practicing because there is always something new to learn and improve upon. However, there are instances when I feel as though I’m growing cold, particularly in situations where I can’t do anything other than feel what is but also avoid dwelling too much on the situation. At moments like this, I have to keep reminding myself to practice mindful acceptance. It’s okay to be incapable of assisting– it’s okay to preserve oneself.

References

Creative Consultant | Licensed Therapist | North County San Diego, CA. (2022, January 5). Kim Egel. https://www.kimegel.com/.

The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People. (2021, August 9). Judith Orloff MD. https://drjudithorloff.com/empath-survival-guide-description/.

Are You Highly Attuned To Other People’s Emotions? You Might Be an Empath. (2021, June 17). Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-an-empath-and-how-do-you-know-if-you-are-one-5119883.

Fisher, R. (n.d.). The Surprising Downsides Of Empathy. The surprising downsides of empathy – BBC Future. https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200930-can-empathy-be-bad-for-you#:~:text=Yet%20in%20recent%20years%2C%20researchers,them%20into%20aggression%20and%20cruelty..

Empathy. (n.d.). Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/empathy.

What Is An Empath? 15 Signs And Traits. (n.d.). What Is An Empath? 15 Signs and Traits. https://www.healthline.com/health/what-is-an-empath#major-empathy.

Fisher, R. (n.d.). The Surprising Downsides Of Empathy. The surprising downsides of empathy – BBC Future. https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200930-can-empathy-be-bad-for-you#:~:text=Yet%20in%20recent%20years%2C%20researchers,them%20into%20aggression%20and%20cruelty..

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