This topic is important to me and especially during these times it is crucial we learn how to choose empathy. What is empathy anyway? It’s a very complex word but basically it is the ability to understand and share feelings of another person and being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. It is truly amazing to have this level of understanding and skill but it can come with some downsides if you don’t fully take control of it and understand it. I decided to research more about empathy because honestly, I knew I have the skill set of putting myself in someone else’s shoes but to what extent is it harmful to our mental and physical health?
3 Types of Empathy:
- Cognitive: “Perspective taking.” Knowing how the other person feels or putting yourself in their shoes.
- Emotional: Feeling someone else’s emotions physically almost like they are contagious. This level can be overwhelming to take over the full emotions and mental state of another
- Compassionate: We understand someone’s tough situation and want to help (basically considering the whole person) This is the “ideal” level of empathy to have. When someone comes to you in tears about a situation and you want to provide comfort and help in any way you can but using your intelligent side of knowing how to handle the situation and not fully take on all the emotions of the other person.
I was so shocked to hear that there are 3 different levels of this but wow it honestly made sense!
Benefits of being empathetic:
- Being able to be there for someone else and help
- Being trusted by another person
- Being a good listener
- Being a good support system for someone
- Someone feels seen or heard by you
- Reduces stress
- Personal growth
- Nourishes connections and deepens bonds
- More awareness
- Compassion for others
- Transforms conflict to support
- Makes a positive social change
Negative impacts of being empathetic:
- Can cause deep suffering
- Can put you in a dark mental space
- Emotionally taking on the hurt of others
- Caring a lot and not being able to not give your all to someone
- Difficult on mental and physical well-being
- Rational decision making issues
- Feelings of guilt
- Depression/ anxiety/ panic disorder
- Making excuses for others
- Obsessing over situations
- Anger or frustration
- Getting taken advantaged of
- Not having boundaries
- Losing money or anything you have to help someone else
Honestly, I have always been an empathic person and it is something that has really shaped who I am to the core. I have been through really tough life challenges and I can relate to people on some deep personal levels which has been a really good thing in a lot of ways. Many people have opened up to me and trusted me with some really personal and sad stories which I am so grateful they feel comfortable sharing with me. I have been able to be there for a lot of my friends and family. I try not to judge and over the years I have tried to listen more then just respond. I know that this is a good quality to have because I see the best in people and have a lot of patience (which a lot of people struggle with). It has helped me as well to learn what other people go through, how they cope, how they struggle, and they have helped give me tips to help me in my mental health journey. They have made me realize things about myself in that process and have taught me patience and understanding. The thing is, I have really struggled with being too empathic and it has been a huge reason I get so anxious and depressed. I think because I have been through so much and care so much that I am in stage 2 of empathy of physically taking on the feelings of someone else but constantly working to be at stage 3.
For so long, I would listen to personal issues from family members or whoever and it would make me sad to my core. I would sit there and worry and stress and try to think of solutions for them. I would talk about it with many different people and get people worked up and get myself worked up and upset in the process. I would sit there and cry and feel so sad for whoever to the point it would leave me in a dark depression for days to weeks. I would sit there and worry about someone so much but then all of a sudden they would tell me that they are fine and everything is solved. I wonder, “why in the heck did I sit here trying to come up with a solution if it wasn’t a big deal to begin with and they are fine!?” or they would disappear and I would sit there and worry about if they are alive or how they are doing yet no response. It would literally PISS me off. I felt so taken advantage of and was mad at myself for caring so much. It started to put me in an anger phase of my healing where I would distance myself from anyone who brought this into my life and would shut them out. I would start to not care and really change the way I handled these situations. The thing is, I am not an angry person and I don’t want to shut people out! I want to still be myself and be able to be caring and listen to what people are going through but I knew I couldn’t physically take it on anymore because of my mental health. I really think because I have suffered so deeply and I know how it feels that I don’t want the ones I love to suffer so I want to help. I don’t want the ones I love in pain plain and simple.
I started to go to therapy and the biggest thing I learned was how to set boundaries with my loved ones. This did not go well with some people who do not understand or like boundaries because that means they can’t throw all their shit on me anymore to absorb and I wouldn’t sit there and feel sorry for them. My therapist taught me to literally tell the people, “okay, you have 5 minutes to talk about this and then I don’t want to hear about it again.” SETTING A BOUNDARY! I want to hear you out and be there for you but I will not let it consume every conversation we have and be the #1 person you dump out all your drama too. (Also, I am not talking about someone struggling with mental health or something, mainly talking about people who constantly have drama in their life and feed off that drama and enjoy it- and make big deals out of things and then say aren’t a big deal, and say one thing and do another, etc!) This also means not answering calls if I cant mentally listen to it and to not feel bad about that. To be okay saying no or that I will call you back when I can. Setting boundaries was the healthiest thing I could have done for myself and it is an act of self-care and self-love. You can still be there for someone and support them without taking on the emotional rollercoaster towards your mental health. I have always been a people pleaser and I have wanted to be liked which meant I would invite drama in just to be liked and I would allow people to suck the energy out of me. I would worry SO much about someone else that I would forget about the most important person in my life, and that was me. I realized I wasn’t taking good care of MY mental health and I wasn’t doing anyone any good by worrying about their problems.
I feel like a huge part of my anxiety and depression and have been from worrying about my loved ones (mainly family). I wanted so badly to control the outcome and for them to be okay. I thought I could save them and by me being there that they would make a change. Instead, it almost completely broke me down to the point I didn’t even know how to be there for myself. This has taken a lot of time, therapy, tears, frustrations, arguments, self-discipline, self-awareness, trial and error, boundaries, and self-love. Sometimes, I ended up being so distant from people because they are not understanding my boundaries and I don’t know how else to show them so I just stay away.
I want you to know that being an empathic person is such a true gift and the world needs more of us. People need someone who truly cares and wants to be there for them. They need someone to try to understand or not talk down on them when they are expressing their worries. Especially right now, the world needs more people to understand how others are struggling and how some situations are a lot harder then others. It is SO great to have a deep care for people and want to help them heal or get better.
ALTHOUGH, realize that you can’t change anyone nor should you want or have to. Love someone for who they are and accept them for where they are at. Continue to be you and show your heart to the world.
Be there for people, listen, truly care, try to ask more questions, try to see their side before forcing your own situations of what you been through on them (but use this as a tool to relate if they need guidance), understand that even though you are OK and these aren’t your fears that they are someone else’s and they are VALID. How you feel is VALID! Never let someone undermine you or make you feel like you are making a big deal for nothing because that is not true.
The takeaway from this is, continue to be you but know how to set boundaries, try not to physically take on someone else’s pain, know that just by you listening is enough, know that you are helping others, know when its time to take a step back, know when you need to focus on you, be okay with not answering a phone call or calling someone back right away, learn how to say no in a kind way, learn how to communicate with people if you’re too emotionally depleted to take on anything more, understand that we can only do so much for someone, you can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be helped, people are going to do whatever they want no matter how much advice or how many times you have told them and that’s OK, people might be in worse situations but that doesn’t mean your situation isn’t bad! Try to see other perspectives and see where someone is coming from before you judge them or completely shut down their feelings or ideas.
I learned that it was important to take care of my life first and make sure that I am mentally and physical stable. I needed to put MYSELF and my Husband first because that is my core family. I needed to take time away from people who emotionally drained me and to try not to feel guilty or let others make me feel guilty for not being there. Guide people in the right direction and love them but know that I can’t change the outcome of the situation. I am choosing to live a happy life and one that I will continue to learn and work hard at everyday. I am not perfect and I am still learning….I still have my weaknesses especially when it comes to my parents. It is important to not project your anger on someone else and judge someone else for their situation. Ask more questions and try to understand why they are doing what they are doing. Most importantly, don’t forget to take care of yourself and put your needs first. Have patience for yourself and know that you are making a difference in the world just by that!
I feel like there is still so much more on this topic but I will leave it at this for now..I would love to hear your journey or your thoughts so feel free to comment, send me an email, or message and we can chat more.
We are collectively going through a hard time right now so have empathy for one another. Spread love! Instead of quickly judging someone and commenting something mean on their post- take a step back and wonder why is this upsetting me? Why do I want to post this? Is this nice? Is this kind? Is this necessary? If not, then maybe try to see things from a different light and ask more questions and send a private message and have a conversation. We are all struggling with different things during this Pandemic and with life in GENERAL so just be kind yall!
Thank you for your constant support and love. I am so grateful to have this blog to be able to share this with you and to be more vulnerable in hopes to help someone else.
Love & Light,