Coping With The Gift And Curse Of Empathy

Being able to empathise with your fellow human beings is a wonderful gift. You can understand what other people are going through, you can put yourself in their shoes, and you have a greater understanding of the world around you both in the immediate and global sense. In some ways, you could describe it as a superpower.

Superpowers inevitably come with a downside, however, and that is that this ability to understand another’s pain and worries affects you as if you had the issues as well. This often causes similar issues to the person who is actually going through the mill.

Empathy is different from sympathy in the sense that you can put yourself in the position of the person who is suffering rather than being sympathetic to their plight.

The science behind empathy breaks it down into three areas. They are:

  • Cognitive empathy – Here the empathic person can relate to another’s perspective and is able to identify how to react emotionally to their situation.
  • Affective empathy – Affective empathy describes how the empathic person responds emotionally to another’s emotions. This includes, for example, a person feeling anxious before an event can trigger the same emotion in the empathic person.
  • Compassionate empathy – Here, the empathic person wants to help the person in emotional distress. According to the science, the empathic person is feeling a combination of cognitive and affective empathy.

If you are an empathic person having this gift means you can be a very helpful friend, therapist, colleague, parent, and so on and so forth. This gift, however, can be overwhelming and disabling. When this happens, how do you cope?

Empathy Disorder

Empathy disorder is a condition whereby empathic people either care too much or too little about another’s issues and feelings. Increasingly, people with empathy disorder tend to turn towards empath therapist for help with the condition.

Empathy disorder can be broken down into hyper-empathy syndrome or empathy deficit disorder.

Hyper-Empathy Syndrome

Here, the empathic person is too in tune with a person suffering, and their emotions mirror that of the sufferer to the same intensity. If you feel that applies to you, then you are probably experiencing the following:

  • When someone is experiencing negative feelings, you find you feel the same way and have a strong emotional reaction. This can even be triggered by seeing an old photo or watching a film. This can also manifest physically bringing about symptoms such as stomachache and nausea.
  • You have an emotional response to another person’s pain a few days after you learn about it.
  • You experience another person’s emotions as if they were happening to you, causing you to feel overwhelmed.
  • Due to being focused on another’s problems, you neglect your own problems and or self care. 
  • Saying no to someone is difficult as you feel sorry for them.

It is not uncommon for people with hyper-empathy disorder to be labelled as being over sensitive. The danger is that if left unmanaged you can cause harm to yourself by entering into co-dependent relationships, neglecting your own needs, and having poor personal boundaries.

The disorder can be a symptom of borderline personality disorder (BPD). This is why it is important to get help.

Empathy Deficit Disorder

Empathy deficit disorder is when an individual simply cannot comprehend or understand another’s pain. It is the direct opposite of hyper-empathy syndrome and is often due to a lack of affective empathy.

If you find you do one or all of the following, you may have empathy deficit disorder:

  • You focus on your own needs neglecting another’s emotions even if they are a good friend or family member.
  • Find it hard to build and maintain emotional connections.
  • Highly judgemental of other people and often underestimate the gravity of situations and the related emotions that come from said situation.
  • Rarely show appreciation or gratitude.
  • Don’t relate to or understand the views and opinions of people from different political, religious, or cultural backgrounds.

Empathy deficit disorder often leads to loneliness as meaningful relationships are hard to develop and often elude the sufferer. It can also lead to conflicts. Loneliness, the lack of a meaningful relationship and conflicts are not good and can lead to mental illness disorders.

Empathy deficit disorder is common in negative personality types such as antisocial and narcissistic. It is believed to be a symptom of bipolar disorder. It is not unknown for certain professions to trigger empathy deficit disorder Surgeons are known to develop it.

Again, it requires some form of treatment for a better life.

Empathy Curse Treatments

Now we have identified what empathy is and how it can affect you, what can you do about it? Here are some suggestions:

  • Identify the cause of your anxiety – This is key to managing anxiety levels. If you can get on top of it, you’ll have a better life.
  • Meditate and mindfulness – Once you learn how to meditate you can use it to bring calm and peace, understand issues, and generally even out how you feel about issues and events.
  • Eat good food – Eating nutritiously gives you energy in both body and mind. This energy can be used to help you cope with issues.
  • Sleep well – Lack of sleep causes all kinds of issues that you really don’t want to experience. Make sure you’re getting as much sleep as you need.
  • Exercise – Exercise brings not only physical benefits but benefits to the mind and helps you focus. All of this is great for coping with empathy issues.
  • Socialise – Having a good friendship circle helps you cope. Not just in having someone to confide in, but social outlets allow you to live, which is so important in today’s world.
  • Be creative – Having a creative outlet can be therapeutic and fun. Embrace it.

Other therapies other than talking to an empathy therapist, include keeping a journal of what you’re experiencing it. This is best written down by hand as the writing process helps you cope and understand what you’re experiencing.

Although empathy can be a curse, remember it can also be a gift.

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