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Empathy: Navigating Your Empathic Nature

An empath has the ability to sense the emotions and feelings of others. An empath can also healthily put their self in the shoes of other people in order to imagine and understand their emotional experience. On the flip side, being an empath comes with the real possibility of being, or becoming overly empathic. Taking on the emotions, experiences, and feelings of others can be stressful and leave an overly empathic person feeling overwhelmed. But, when proper boundaries and self-awareness are in place, being an empath looks more like being compassionate and sympathetic towards others as opposed to taking on another person’s experience as their own.

The Importance of Self-Awareness

A well developed sense of self-awareness can help an empathic person distinguish between their feelings and the feelings of others. This supports an empath's ability to make well thought out decisions; and fosters good self-care habits especially when dealing with the emotions, thoughts, feelings and experiences of others. Self-care is incredibly important for overly empathic people, and can help with the development of healthy emotional boundaries and habits.

It is important for empathic people to prioritize their own emotional experience as opposed to the experience of others. There can also be instances where overly empathic people experience gaslighting as a result of their emotionally open and sensitive nature. This can lead to generalized anxiety or low-level depression.

A "yes" answer to any of the following questions could point to your own overly empathic nature:

  • Do you spend more time thinking about other's feelings, than your own?

  • In an argument do you give all of your attention to what the other person is saying, negating your own feelings, ideas, and opinions?

  • When a person you love is hurting do you start to take on their emotions as your own?

  • Do you obsess over what the other person was thinking after an argument?

What does healthily expressed empathy look like?

Empathy should be reciprocal. There should be equal giving and receiving in interactions, and relationships. It is of utmost importance for an empath to consider if their emotional experience is their own, or that of another. When dealing with an emotional situation, the questions important to consider are:

  • What do I want?

  • What do I need?

  • How do I feel?

“The empathic understanding of the experience of other human beings is as basic an endowment of man as his vision, hearing, touch, taste and smell,” observed noted psychoanalyst Heinz Kohut.

Compassionate Action

The network in the brain responsible for empathy is also responsible for pain and unpleasantness. The network in the brain responsible for compassion is also responsible for love and affiliation. Empathy usually occurs before compassionate action.

Compassion skills can help to negate the pain or suffering an empath may experience. People with an empathic nature can experience emotional burnout and while compassion includes the desire to help, compassion instead prioritizes sending healing thoughts to others. Compassionate action encourages extending feelings of warmth and care to someone suffering, instead of taking on that pain or suffering. These positive thoughts and warm feelings can be sent to close individuals, a neutral person or party, people experiencing difficulties and even strangers.

Building compassion skills can help to change the way an empath copes with distress. Compassion skills help to build resilience and shape a better approach for stressful situations.

Emotions are fleeting and never set in stone. Here are some strategies for building compassion:

  • Foster cooperation

  • Practice mindfulness

  • Do not blame others

  • Practice receptivity without attachment

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