Are You Too Empathetic?
It is our human instinct to be empathetic. Babies will often cry if they see others in distress. Children will often give their favourite toy to others to relieve sadness or pain. Despite empathy being inherent in our nature, as we become adults, the empathy scale becomes imbalanced. We find that some people seemingly show no empathy, while others have it in abundance.
This empathy imbalance can be confusing. It can seem like one person is putting all the effort in, and the other person is not. For empathetic individuals, this can be incredibly draining, unfulfilling and may lead to resentment in friendships and relationships. So, can you be too empathetic, and is it healthy or possible to be less empathetic?
What Is Empathy?
Empathy is the ability to ‘feel with’ someone. While sympathy is feeling ‘for’ someone, empathy is when you place yourself in someone’s position and experience their feelings.
Broadly speaking, there are three types of empathy;
This type of empathy removes the emotional aspect. Instead, it focuses on perspective. This type of empathy is seen as very rational and logical. It is a chance to put yourself in their shoes and see things from the other person’s perspective, without engaging with the emotions they are experiencing.
This is the type of empathy where you take on other people’s emotions. If you see someone in distress, you will feel distressed. If someone smiles at you, you will smile back and reciprocate their positive energy.
Compassionate empathy is when you understand how someone is feeling and then take action to help. This type of empathy is similar to sympathy as you may feel concern for an individual and consequently try to mitigate their problem or improve their situation.
Which of these three types of empathy do you commonly show?
All of these forms of empathy are positive attributes, but there may be conflict when different empathy types collide. For example, some may say that emotional empathy is over-emotional or too sensitive. By contrast, cognitive empathy may be seen as cold, heartless or unsympathetic. For compassionate empathy, the individual may feel frustrated that their loved one is too busy trying to fix the issue when they simply want that person to understand what they’re going through.
It is important to realise that everyone can display their empathy differently. However, when we fail to recognise empathy displays from others, or we are not receiving empathy in the way we would like, it can lead to tension and resentment.
What Is The Empathy Trap?
The empathy trap is when your sense of empathy becomes imbalanced. This usually occurs in close relationships, such as with a partner, best friend or family member. An empathy trap occurs when one person provides more empathy than they are receiving.
In healthy and sustainable relationships, the empathy balance of giving and receiving empathy should be equal. However, in some relationships, it can feel like one person is giving more empathy than they receive. Consequently, this may mean that they are neglecting their own feelings for the sake of others. This can not only cause resentment but can make it very difficult for the empathy-giver to focus on their own needs, priorities and self-care.
Are You Too Empathetic?
If any of the following points ring true for you, then this is a sign that you are in an empathy trap.
- You worry about your partner’s feelings and reactions more than your own
- It feels like their feelings are now your own feelings when they are depressed, upset or stressed
- The number of arguments has increased
- During arguments, you focus on what the other person might be thinking rather than what you are feeling
- You focus so much on what they have to say that you don’t share what you want to say
- You feel let down when you think your feelings have been dismissed.
Prioritising Your Own Feelings
People with high empathy will find that they often have to support a number of people. Consequently, highly empathetic people will be so tuned in to other people’s needs that they may not have an awareness of their own needs. If you are not thinking about yourself, then it is easy to be all-consumed and overburdened with everyone else’s emotions.
With this in mind, it is essential to develop your own self-awareness. This is when you try to switch off the external noise and focus solely on what you are feeling inside.
To do this, you need to pause, take some deep breaths and ask yourself;
- What am I feeling right now?
- What do I need right now?
How To Be Less Empathetic
Remember, there is nothing wrong with empathy. However, if you feel like there is an empathy imbalance and you always put other people’s needs in front of your own, then it may be time to put yourself first.
It is important to be aware of how much time and headspace you give to yourself and others. When you feel overwhelmed by other people’s worries, you need to make a conscious decision of whether you have enough energy to give to others, or whether you need to focus on yourself.
If you find that you’re struggling with the negative feelings of others, it may be worth asking to reschedule your conversation to a later date. For example, “I’m exhausted today and won’t be able to provide the support I want to provide you right now, can we talk tomorrow instead?”
Another issue that highly empathetic people may be aware of is reactionary empathy. Consequently, you may feel depressed, anxious or angry because of the support you provide to others. Often, this empathy leads you to feel like your mind and body has been hijacked and that you are no longer in control of your own feelings.
To take control over this, you first need to observe your reaction, then let it go. With deep breaths, try to focus your awareness on the centre of the body to clear the mind of all other thoughts. Then pick two words for how you want to feel in that moment and focus on what those words mean and how they make you feel. Now you’ll be able to offer non-reactive empathy, as you’ll be in control of your own feelings.
Empathy to compassion
When you feel caught up in other people’s emotions and forget about your own, it may help to switch your mindset from empathy to compassion. This could be as simple as saying; “this sounds awful for you, is there something I can do to help you?”. With this, you can take a step back from the situation, not adopt the feeling of distress, while still being caring and considerate to others.
Be empathetic to yourself
In order to be empathetic to others, you need to be empathetic to yourself. The more kindness, love and care that you can provide to yourself, the more present you will be for others. So, if you want to help others, it is important to make sure your own needs are being met first.
Take Control Of Your Empathy
If you’re suffering in an empathy trap or feel like you have neglected your own needs for the sake of others, then hypnotherapy can be a great help. Together, we can explore your empathy style and then, use hypnotherapy to shift your mindset to ensure you give yourself the love and self-care that you deserve.
To find out more about how I can help with empathy management, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org to book your free consultation call.