The Anxious Empath: Anxiety and Other People's Feelings
Empaths are often anxious. Empathy is described as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. All humans have the ability to empathize in moments of tragedy, even if they have not experienced a similar situation. However, empathy is an innate trait that is more acutely developed in certain members of the population (Intense Anxiety And The Highly Sensitive Person). Empaths are individuals who are unconsciously affected by other people’s moods, desires, thoughts, and energies. They can, literally, feel the emotions of others in their bodies and attempt to carry these emotions on their shoulders without ever being asked. It's for this reason that there are often anxious empaths.
The Trouble with Being an Anxious Empath
It sounds good in theory; empaths are caring, understanding, and great listeners. But they are often focused outward on others’ feelings, rather than on themselves. As an empath, you may struggle to comprehend suffering in the world and dream about fixing all of the world’s problems.
Quite a large task, right?
Being this in tune with others seems like a gift, but empaths are saddled with the burden of their own emotions as well as that of those around them. They feel a pull towards fixing, meddling, and emotional understanding; a call that often cannot be ignored.
The Empath's Anxiety
Individuals with social phobia (SP) show sensitivity and attentiveness to other people’s states of mind.
Meaning that individuals who suffer from social anxiety may also be extremely empathetic and susceptible to the feelings of others. This study concludes that:
. . . socially anxious individuals may demonstrate a unique social-cognitive abilities profile with elevated cognitive empathy tendencies and high accuracy in affective mental state attributions.
This hypersensitivity to emotions also causes empaths to become ill and suffer from stress, experience burnout in the workplace, and suffer from physical pain more often than others (Are You Too Sensitive? Try These Tips).
Life As an Empath
Empaths are often described as sensitive. They cry during movies, commercials, weddings, and funerals; I know these feelings all too well. I have attended parties where someone isn’t having a good time or the hostess was feeling overwhelmed, these minute situations have inhibited me from enjoying myself until all crises have been remedied and everyone is enjoying themselves. Empaths are extremely in tune with everyone's emotions, but, sometimes, empathy becomes a burden too big for the anxious to carry. It is so important to learn how to adequately manage your feelings of empathy in order to prevent compassion fatigue and other symptoms of stress and anxiety.
Managing Your Anxiety and Empathy
1. Know Your Emotional Limits
Empaths are intuitive healers and people are often drawn to them for this reason. This makes setting functional boundaries so important. Learn the limits of your abilities; you cannot carry the world on your shoulders and that is okay.
2. Recognize New Feelings
Take note of the way different people make you feel -- this is meaningful. Are you nervous? Do you feel deep sadness? Learning how the feelings of others manifest in your body will allow you to better manage the multitude of emotions you may experience around other individuals (The Importance of Emotional Regulation in PTSD Recovery).
3. Find an Outlet
Empaths normally push their feelings aside in an attempt to help others. Emotions always find a way out in the body. Make it a point to develop a routine or habit that you enjoy and one that helps you express yourself. You cannot pour from an empty cup (Why Self-Care is Important for Your Physical and Mental Health).
4. Use Grounding Techniques
Whenever emotions become too strong, look around the room to ground yourself. Find an object, not a person, to study and focus on. Being aware of its features can ground you in the moment and bring your outside of the intense feelings happening in your body (Top 21 Anxiety Grounding Techniques).
Make Empathy A Gift By Managing Anxiety
Being an extremely empathetic individual, especially an anxious empath, can often feel like a burden. You may feel as if your nerves are literally on fire when you walk into new situations or when you watch the news. Your anxiety may even trick you into thinking you have to fix the entire world (Anxiety Affects Our Perspective). This can cause symptoms like fatigue and digestive disorders, or the many other symptoms empaths face.
Hawkins, W. (2016, February 10). The Anxious Empath: Anxiety and Other People's Feelings, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, July 20 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/treatinganxiety/2016/02/the-anxious-empath
Author: Whitney Hawkins
Anyway, I feel a lot like this, but it’s getting worse and worse. In some way, it distracts me from feeling sad about my own issues, even though I know others’ issues will become mine anyway. Cycles, man!
I came here to make myself feel better, in knowing others are also going through this. I’m not saying I love that someone is suffering because of this, but I feel less... crazy? This was the first comment I read, but I’m going down the line. Hearts, to you!
I am not ashamed to say that I began using CBD oil hoping that it would help relieve some of my symptoms and side effects (and I believe it helps) only to find it is just as illegal as Cannabis itself in my state- even though I purchased it OTC in that state. It is these things in life these days that are causing me extreme anxiety- that make me want to use Cannabis! Anyway, I need to vent here because I've just discovered this concept of Empath's.
I am not into "new age" kind of things, but I am into physics and, particularly, quantum theory. It is not a stretch for me to grasp that our consciousness lives in the same sea that connects us all- or that some of us might be more in tune with that than others. I sometimes think people question my sanity simply because I understand this to be true because it has been proven- but also because i can FEEL IT. And these past few years, it has been trying to kill me. Let me explain please, but this isn't going to be a short read...
As a child, they said I was self-destructive, hyperactive, manipulative, and was "an accident waiting to happen." When I entered high school, I started using Cannabis because I found it made me feel better and was the only way I felt I could cope. I was condemned for it and labeled a pothead, so I joined the military to escape the constant ridicule.
During Desert Storm in 1991 I was under intense pressure- but the kind I thrived under and I was performing at the top of my game and I think I can even say at an extraordinary level for my rank given the responsibility I was given. I even discovered a new capability that was later developed into a multi-billion dollar technology. So when my command started going out of their way to ruin my career, I sent my life into a slow downward spiral I have not recovered from yet. My entire perspective of the world changed- and so did I. I lost interest in everything after the war.
When I returned to home base before everyone else, that night I recall feeling extremely lonely, disappointed and lost. I went from being a fun-loving person to a loner other than a few close friends and family. I became very serious minded and all business with a huge chip on my shoulder I couldn't shake. I've been there ever since.
It took many years, but I started getting treatment over 10 years later for what I thought was PTSD and it was several more years before a diagnosis was made. My doctor and a therapist he referred me to believed that I had "some form of OCD" that caused me to lock on like a laser to issues related to my work that I felt had to be fixed because they didn't work- or could be done better. It drove everyone nuts- and still does. I can't stop fixing little things that most people are able to ignore (which I can't understand because it's things we repeatedly do all the time for no logical reason). Those things drive me absolutely crazy. For awhile I was able to bit my tongue like everyone else, but I couldn't help to keep asking everyone- WHY?
Sometimes, on rare occasions, there will be a breakthrough, and the powers will relent and change (which makes me very happy) but I feel the ANGER and HATE coming off of those who resisted it for my simply wanting to be more efficient. Gets me into trouble in every job and as a result I have held MULTIPLE CAREER-level positions in widely differing fields, because I have either been fired or had to look for something elsewhere because of it.
What led me here is a conversation that I had with my therapist who believes that I tend to view everything logically and have to be able to understand what I do and what is expected of me and ask questions when I don't; and challenge the answers I'm given when they don't pass the test in application. My therapist suggested that I "see" these weaknesses in others when they cannot support their view. I will continue to challenge them to the breaking point. They relent or I force them to show their true character. I expose their hidden agenda's- that I am also somehow able to perceive immediately- long before we ever reach the reveal.
For as hard as I have been working to control myself- I can't stop. I've seriously considered having an hemangioma removed from my tongue- just to keep me from being able to talk for awhile... The thoughts enter my mind so quickly they escape before my brain has time to process the thought before it's being verbalized. People used to politely say that I am "passionate."
I am not an evil person and do not seek to hurt others. At least not good people... But I do insist on living in a reasonable world where when there are things that don't work in some way and are wasting money, time and energy (they have no purpose in life)- they need attention. If someone comes along with a better way and can point out where the problems are and show a workable solution to them, that everyone should have an "Ah-Ha" moment, laugh about it a bit, make some adjustments or changes and move on- happier and more efficient for doing so. But not any longer. Chaos rules the day!
Now we live in a world where we do things simply because we are told. Nobody questions anything. We can sit and watch our businesses, money, time, everything- go right down the toilet and STILL nobody really seems to care any more because they KNOW THE FIGHT it takes to change anything these days. I call these situations out.
I've learned that in many (most?) of these encounters in my life, the reason turns out to be nothing more than ego, insecurity, or some other hidden agenda that compels *some* people (just as I am compelled to expose them) to resist allowing needed changes in our workplaces not out of ignorance- but by some twisted design that prevents good order, efficiency and productivity- the opposite of Chaos.
Unfortunately, all to often, these people are in positions of power and authority and other have to go through them to make these changes.
Most of the time in these situations, it will be brought to a manager or executives attention and, being the person of character and integrity that they are, they will see the problem and allow necessary changes to be made. But others will refuse, either covertly or overtly- they will block change. When this occurs, I find myself about to experience one of two outcomes:
1. They are simply being cautious and unsure that change is necessary. They need to see proof of it and they also want a workable solution. If these can be provided, the problem is solved. If they remain unconvinced for some reason, they communicate it and the reason has now been identified for why it was being done that way to begin with.
2. If they become defensive, arrogant, dismissive, condescending, or similar- now we're talking about someone who has a hidden agenda. Maybe they just don't want to be shown up? Maybe they are the ones who created a bad process? Maybe they just don't like you? Maybe they are in someone's pocket? It could be anything really. There doesn't need to be a reason at all. They just have been put into your universe to cause you misery in your life because they seem to enjoy it or seeing you have to bend to their will.
Now, I believe I am beginning to understand why I feel this way thanks to this and other articles I have found as a result of that conversation with my therapist. Then, while surfing in a forum for information on Cannabis for relief of symptoms and side effects of the PTSD and OCD (with secondary Anxiety and Panic disorders) i've finally been diagnosed with, but cause me a great deal of dizziness and other issues, Someone reached out to me and I heard the use of the word "Empath" for the first time. It's like this person had known me my entire life and read me like a book. Amazing. Now I know, but I am lost and overwhelmed. I feel like I am going to need the rest of the winter just to rest for enough energy to begin this new chapter of my life... It is very draining.
Thank you for allowing me to vent and explain the life I've been living and trying very hard to come to terms with.
And it affects me for days, months and even years in some extreme cases. And now that I have a son, who is 3...it’s even worse because I can relate to some horrible stories. I actually suffered from post partum depression because of it. I was so scared of loosing my son it became an obsession. I would like to stop feeling this way..,idk if it’s normal. I’ve been scared of going to a doctor for fear of being diagnosed as crazy...lol.
But I also don’t want to be cold to people’s feelings. I love people and all should be loved and respected. But I do want relief from the pain and anxiety it causes.
They run point stare mock and ridicule me in front of me... all because I make them feel cold and uncomfortabl. I have lost jobs and have been excluding myself.... please anyone help me get an understanding of what this is......I beg. (No this is not in my head) I wish it was....
I guess that, after rambling, I also want to know how to avoid people... without seeming like a jerk, who doesn’t have time for anyone. To not feel like I have to find something (sometimes, unconsciously) wrong with everyone and (even weirder), feeling like there are other people in the room, who are just like me, trying to figure out if something is wrong with me.
It would be good to find a way to manage this... as for now, I just want to stay inside, always. Hope you found your way. :)
I would like to say to Lynda, that it's just in the past decade or so that I have had experiences like the ones she describes about narcissists and socios, only I am in a different situation as such people seem also to be "testing me on psychic abilities" and so use others to act on their behalf, making life convoluted, more than confusing and leaving me isolated and feeling heavily abused. I can also relate to the comment about friends.
To Zac, my first insights into my gift/curse came in high school when a guy I had a class with seemed to be able to change my mood for the day depending on his mood when we chatted walking down the hall to class. I could wake up on the totally wrong side of the bed and if he was in a good mood, I'd be bouncing through the rest of the day, if I woke up feeling great and he was in a sour mood I seemed to carry it with me the rest of the day. I didn't have a crush on him or anything like that, but he had a bit of a strong personality. Nothing wrong with that, I've decided over years of various experience that 'people's energy' seems to follow their unconscious tendencies about how they...I'm trying to find the right words here...well, let's try it this way...I grew up with people who generally held themselves as keeping their feelings and problems private, which is not the same as bottling up. My dad didn't and I often felt jangled by his freedom with his emotions. Gosh...I'm glad I read this cause I never really thought about my early life this way before...I guess what I'm saying, Zac, is try mentally deciding, not to deceive or hide who you are, but try thinking of yourself as contained around others...like you are a cupboard and people either have to choose to open the cupboard to 'get a look inside' or that you choose to do so to share with someone you decide to share with...see if that shift changes how people react to you. I stress that I don't mean to imply shutting down or shutting people out. It's kind of the difference between having a conversation with a strongly opinionated person who shares their opinion without expectation of being agreed with or someone who does expect to change the person they're talking to...as the person being talked to it's the difference between sitting and admiring a fountain and having someone point a fire hose at you then turning it on. I've wrestled with this for a long time. The hindus refer to open and closed chakras. I see chakras not as literals, but as symbolic of what I just explained, the choices of where we put our attention and whether or what we open our compassion for. When I 'went out into the world' I FELT someone who I think wanted to 'help' me energetically try to keep my 'chakras' PRIED OPEN all the time cause they thought 'open' was good and 'closed' was bad. it's not true. 'closed' is how we protect ourselves or we get overwhelmed. Sorry to ramble on so long...needed the outlet...thanks!
And YES Linda.... I have also been very bored with the regular ole chit chat here lately?! What is that? I literally cannot hold on to a conversation if its not something deeper than the everyday talk lol
My mom is extremely codependent and extremely empathetic so I’m thinking that this could also be genetically passed down to me. Any help or advice is extremely appreciated.
I feel the same exact way. It is so confusing to me that people can enjoy life in such a materialistic way while others are left to be homeless.
I have always felt like an outsider to life. I advocate for positive affirmations and love.
I will never forget this one time I saw this lady crying uncontrollably in her car while at a stoplight. I could feel her sadness so intensely, and I innately knew that I was stronger than her at that moment. I opened my heart and allowed her pain to come through me. I began sobbing and had to pull over.
Men are much harder to read than women. I have very few women friends because of this. The women I do keep as friends, I’ve had for 20+ years. I can see their heart. I can see the good in others, sometimes so much it blinds me to what is not good. But my empathy revolves around restoring growth and harmony. A flora I’ve been told.
So I am unable to watch the news or anything violent, scary or wicked. I have strict rules in my home regarding the use of words. You are only to speak of things that are good. No name calling, no jokes about violence. I believe when we speak we create, be careful with what you want to create- you will get it.
I have created so much with my words it had left me emotionally paralyzed to make choices at times.
And, yes, overwhelmed at all the worlds problems, wanting to help so badly, but I know that I know far to little to help.
My solace is in positive affirmations, prayer, kindness wherever I can.
My opportunities lie in my adherence to a schedule of any kind. Finding a partner that does not lie.
I understand about the trees....I have to physically stop myself from gardening other peoples yards. Walking through a friend’s home that has sickly or poorly potted plants is very difficult. I almost always end up giving unsolicited advice based on gut feelings.
People open up to me so often that I consider it to be normal.
Recently I suffered a concussion. It was so strange because my empathetic abilities were completely silenced. And my speech was affected. I could no longer see and feel what others were thinking. Words came out so much slower. People said that I sounded drunk, lol. This lasted for about 2 weeks.
During this time, I felt no guilt or anxiety for others....I felt lighter....more importantly, while I could not visualize what I considered normal, I began to visualize drama in the form of a tornado, and I could see it coming. This cognitively unfolded about a week after the concussion, but I saw the drama tornados about 3 days after.
I had profound realizations of who the energy dragons are in my life....and I was able to set boundaries and shut down the conversations. Life changing.
All my life I have been accused of creating drama. I now understand that I see and feel more than other people. I can no longer see the tornados of drama, but I know they are out there.....
So, I guess, everyone has their own journey through life. It is not always fair, but you get to choose if you let it hold you back or learn from the experience.
Believing you can do something is 50% of the task, the other 50% is just showing up to do it.
My challenge is, what do I want to do?
Codependence is an agreement between people to stay locked in unconscious patterns. It can occur when one person's behavior is determined by another's, when one relies on the other to maintain destructive behavior, and when you sacrifice yourself for others. A codependent person has a pattern of relying on another to meet his/her emotional needs.
The author says that empaths "attempt to carry these emotions on their shoulders without ever being asked". This is indicative of an unconscious agreement, which is one aspect of codependence. But I'd say that the anxious empath's proclivity to carry the burden of another doesn't necessarily equate to a being codependent. That said, if the anxious empath has a proclivity to enter into relationships with narcissists and carry the burdens of the narcissist (to meet some unconscious need of his/her own), then perhaps the anxious empath could be codependent. In this way, the anxious empath and narcissist are locked in an unconscious, destructive pattern.
This is not a hard and fast explanation, but simply my take on these terms from the knowledge I have.