Bipolar Disorder and Extreme Empathy
Bipolar disorder and empathy. A lot of people reading this might expect that I will be writing about my lack of empathy. However, in my personal experience living with bipolar 2 disorder, I live with extreme empathy; to the extent that it sometimes affects my mental health. The part of my bipolar disorder that allows me to feel emotions so profoundly contributes to this immense empathy and empathetic perspective.
When Empathy Affects My Life with Bipolar 2 Disorder
It is important to be empathetic, but is there a point where you can have too much empathy? This is a question I think about often. It may sound crazy, but I can feel people's emotions, their pain, to the extent that I lose sleep. It does not even have to be someone close to me, like a friend or family member.
Many of my friends and relatives enjoy this part of me because I am an excellent listener who is genuinely trying to help. I am sensitive to other people's emotions, but it can affect my mental health. I want to undo the sadness that other people feel. The less pain they feel, the less pain I feel. I want to respond to every message and email I receive from people struggling with their mental health. When someone is upset and I cannot be there, I beat myself down about it. It is almost as if their pain becomes my pain. It is humbling but can put me at risk of being taken advantage of mentally.
Empathy and Bipolar Disorder Leaves Me Vulnerable
In my previous relationship, I realized that feeling great empathy with those who have wronged you makes you vulnerable to being taken advantage of mentally. My ex-boyfriend was mentally abusive in ways that will be explained in one of my bipolar 2 YouTube videos when I am ready to share that intense experience. The only reason I stayed was that I was empathetic to his situation. He was losing his job and going through family problems. I stayed for two years and took the abuse, causing my mental health to deteriorate.
Luckily, at one point, I finally realized my self-worth and abruptly left the relationship. I have learned that some people are in bad situations for a reason and it is not my job to save them, nor should I feel obligated to help.
Maybe it is a natural part of my brain chemistry, or maybe it's because of my experience living with bipolar 2 disorder. Whether it is brain chemistry or stems from life experience living with bipolar 2 disorder, is irrelevant. I can be empathetic but to a certain extent. When people begin to take advantage of my sensitivity, it is time for them to go. They don't deserve that part of me.
What about you? Has bipolar disorder affected your level of empathy? Share your experience with bipolar and empathy below.
Blum, H. (2017, June 5). Bipolar Disorder and Extreme Empathy, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, June 1 from https://www.healthyplace.com/living-with-bipolar-blog/bipolar-disorder-and-empathy
Author: Hannah Blum
I am bipolar and my level of empathy is just WEIRD. I say that because, I have quit jobs over relatively minor things that were about how the company was treating OTHERS, and I get over protective of any underdog. I feel the need to champion people and be their voice and feel that if I don't do it, no one else will. Which is probably true, because most people realize that it is not that big of an issue and can just let it go. Yet, when my special needs child died suddenly, I was, of course, sad, but not devastated as most parents would be. I find that when I tell the story of my son, people always get really uncomfortable and I just think...What is wrong with you, it was over 10 years ago. So, for the big things, I seem to turn all emotion off, but then will over-react to the dumbest small thing and get super upset over it. I never really thought about how it was related to my bipolar brain, but I think it is just one of those skewed filters that we tend to see life through. It's funny when I look back with a little more clarity to see how I responded to things in the past. I wish I could watch a video or something from others viewpoints, because I often question my grasp on what really happened in many situations.
I would actually categorize myself as a bipolar 2 empath. I’m knew to admitting this and a recent blowup fight with the love of my life made me come to this realization. I think it makes me hypersensitive to love and my love being reciprocated. I’m so incredibly caring and loyal that anything in the other direction sets me off into a spiral of depression which I then fuel even harder with alcohol until I bottom out and get attention for the help I need. It’s a wild ride. Looking to really beat this and get professional and self help.
My wife passed away last year. She had Bi-polar 2 disorder and was the most empathetic person I ever met. She was also very vulnerable, and I agree with everything you wrote. I believe angels have feelings too.
So i know this person who has asked me for the time and space off of this, she was overwhelmed but its like she was being too empathetic to her ex, who had abandoned her and he had been a little toxic in her life like all previous relationships where she had to go through alot putting herself in the line. While in my 6 months with her when she got into her bipolar phases from mania to depressive and then again hypomania and mixed episodes as well as observed hypersexuality as well, i treated her with respect but her empathy towards this ex due to his PTSD and his problems with life got the best of her and created a big void, i tried to understand her and made plans to cooperate with her, but she kept giving up on this and trying back. Her suicidal thoughts were also round the corner, on a drunken night and crying things were a little intense and i think i overwhelmed her with alot of words to enforce on her that she isn't underserving and unworthy cause they chose to abandon her, she deserves so much more, but i was high and even though i had told her she didn't understand. Her empathy is driven through her father and late grandfather (who committed suicide) who suffer/ed PTSD and have been a very big trigger for her as observed.
She blocked me and when i tried to reach her through different means (which i am not very proud of) but then she told me she was done tired and enough and pushed me away saying she wants it all to herself and sort it out.
Even though i have always supported her loved her and always wanted her freedom for she is an amazing wonderful person, i don't really know what can i do for her, though i have been trying to reach out to her, but i am keeping hope that she will accept my love. Hoping dearly like truly.
If anybody got a suggestion do suggest. Thanks for this forum though really helped me alot.
I have bin diagnosed as bipolar 1 and spent some time in mental institutions , mainly for manic episodes. Recently I was able to stop a manic episode for the first time in my life. I now am much more empathetic to others. I can feel others pain and happiness. It seems all of my senses have been magnified.. I would like to know what happened and if there are others out there like me.
I spent a week in a psychiatric hospital in July of this year. Right after that is when i finally got diagnosed with bipolar 1. I was smoking weed heavily and apparently it induced psychosis. That was my first bad manic episode I've ever had. Im 25 and I've thought I was bipolar for years now and now I know I am. Bc of it I'm a very empathetic person though. And when i would smoke weed it would make me even more sensitive to the emotions of others. I'd feel them in waves and it was crazy. I feel so different from everyone else around me. It's so easy for me to read people and tell how they're feeling.. sometimes I wish I was ignorant. But in a way it's a gift.. and a curse. Sometimes I get overwhelmed when I'm around a lot of people. It's like I feel the energy coming from every direction and when I finally get alone I have to rest because it's so exhausting.
It's so relieving to find people that I can relate to. Thank you so much for putting yourself out there. It helps so much to know they're are still genuine, caring people in the world. Keep shining bright!
I just got diagnosed with bipolar 1 and I also feel extreme empathy. I've never been able to say no to people and always focused on others more than I focus on myself. I can literally feel the emotions of others on top of my own intense emotions so it can be hard. I can relate so much to this post & I'm glad I'm not the only one. I'm trying to focus on myself more now but I just feel so selfish when I do that. It's a struggle. Sometimes I feel like God created me just to be there for others and honestly I'm happy with that. But sometimes it does get to be too much on me.
It has always irritated me that a lack of empathy is consistently correlated with bipolar with virtually no reference to folks with the exact opposite experience. Like others, I consistently pick up on the emotions of others. I can sense awkwardness from a mile away as well as bad intent. Also as others have mentioned, people share intensely private details of their lives with me. Quite often within moments of meeting me. Unfortunately, being introverted, I find all of this exhausting and overwhelming. I need all sorts of alone time but unfortunately tend towards isolation. The one aspect I wanted to add to the discussion is actual pain. I watch sports all the time but I can’t watch replays of someone getting hurt. It isn’t just that it’s nausea inducing, it’s that I feel sympathy pain. If I see a badly rolled ankle I will feel it in my own ankle. God forbid it be something more severe. I’ve also never found people being hurt physically or emotionally even slightly entertaining. It’s the reason I wouldn’t mind if everything associated with America’s Funniest Videos went out of business. Anyway, just wanted to chime in.
My empathy was my job. I was a hospice nurse. I was always someone that people told their secrets with, but that was my job. The ability to empathize eventually cost me. I felt their pain, I was responsible for relieving mental and physical pain. I eventually ended up with PTSD. I was alone, trying to make sense of it for patients and their families. But I could no longer deal with the mental abuse, financial abuse (that patients endured), and neglect. It was a bad, unsupportive work environment and I didn't realize what was happening to me. I took everything in and felt it was my job to fix it. I eventually ended up in the psyche ward and gave away all of my clothes to another patient because she wanted them. They told me I had to stop trying to fix everyone. I have been taken advantage of many times before. Outside of my job.
I too have Bipolar Disorder and I am an extreme empath. Your story I can totally relate to. I have always been able to sense danger especially. I have excellent instincts. I don't watch the news because it breaks my heart!! Crowed places overwhelme me severely. As of two days ago a 15 month old Eveyln Boswell of Tennessee was reported missing and hasn't been seen since December 26th, 2019. Abused, missing, ect. children always have a profound emotional affect on me, especially because it took two monthsfirvher to REPORTED missing. . But this one is the worst sense of danger I've ever felt with a missing child. I can sense others pain and have physically felt the pain from people I'm the closest to. It's almost like a sixth sense. But a few extremely close relatives have fooled me because of how much I love them. My Dad is a psychopath, my sister a sociopath and my cousin and best friend has Narsacisstic Personality Disorder; all on my Dad's side of the family. Yet had it been a stranger, I would have immediately picked up on the betrayal, gaslighting, deception and abuse. To my knowledge I've yet to meet a another empath and it's hard for family and friend's to understand how I sense what I do that they've seen come to pass. For me being an empath and having Bipolar is so difficult for me. The pain I feel with my depression and the pain from others is unbearable at times. I so much wish that there was another empath that I could text with about how we feel. Please , if there's anyone here that would be willing to help me and I help you, please let me know.
I would love to chat with you.
Mirror image of me. Thought I was insane. Never realized I am not alone. You can add shame base to the equation. Which makes it even more horrible.
You're not alone! I was just diagnosed as bipolar & I'm also an empath. I've always been so sensitive to the emotions of others, since I was just a little kid. I even go as far as mirroring people I get close to. Helping others and having this gift does bring me happiness but sometimes and can be too much. It's hard for me to even walk into a crowded room sometimes because it's like I feel the energy coming from every direction and sometimes I have to isolate myself from all of it. I'm glad I found this page though and found other people like me. It's so hard for me to say no to people and honestly that's one of my biggest problems.. I always see the good in people & that's gotten me taken advantage of plenty of times in the past. My dad's a narcissist and I'm pretty sure my sister is too. It sucks cause sometimes it's the people we love the most that'll use us for their own selfish needs. I'll never completely understand people like that. But I completely get how you feel!
Yes, I related to so much of what you said. The worst for me is the depression. I suffered from suicidal thoughts for years from my own experiences and trauma. But I was experiencing constant hi’s and low’s. But I was hiding my feelings in. Never once considered to think I may be bipolar. But my 1 and only manic episode proved other wise. But before that I had soo many toxic people around me as friends. After being diagnosed a year ago with bipolar I took some time for myself and spent a year in isolation. I discovered I was an empath right before and everyone thought I was nuts. I couldn’t make any sense to why when I watched films if someone’s husband died of cancer and the wife is reflecting on different moments in time and begins crying deeply. All of a sudden I’m crying deeply, and while I fight the urge not to cry (because they’re just actors) I find myself losing the battle and I cry like I’ve lost the love of my life which I haven’t ever experienced but I’m in this insane pain. Anytime I feel negative energy skin is crawling and warning me to get out fast. Anytime I hear abuse on animals or children I break down horribly. Because I can feel their pain. Then my emotions go from sad, angry, to neutral it’s the most odd experience to describe. After isolating myself for a year I realized that I’m happier than before. I realized the friends who had toxic energies wanted me around constantly. Every week spending time together constantly. These people were impacting my life negatively. I realized that I felt drained constantly. I was always called when they were in a bad mood because they told me they liked being around me because they would be happier or in a better mood. At the time I thought it was sweet. But now after my research on empaths after you read it it’s like everything starts to make sense. The ones who had good energies are the ones who I don’t mind being around. Also same thing, people randomly tell me personal things after knowing me for a few hours or meeting me a few times. Even employees would do the same and my coworkers would would do the same. When I left the psych ward the doctors and nurses were telling my mom that all the patients was coming to me for advice and telling me about their lives venting. Everywhere I go I felt like a walking therapist. The life of the party. That’s when I took my break and realized I need to learn how to balance my life out first and do research figure out how to move forward for me. I researched heavily both on bipolar disorder and empaths separately but stumbled upon this because I was curious about empaths who were bipolar and how they deal with it. My battle is self medicating. I’ve been clean since being diagnosed but I used to smoke but the urge to do so is there. I’m trying to find healthy ways to cope aside from only going out to run errands and maybe visit a family member at random. Battling your emotions and your mind and energies around you is exhausting. I want a break without having to completely isolate myself.
You're story made me cry...I feel your loneliness through your words. It's a dog eat dog world and my heart breaks on a constant. The lack of compassion is so overwhelming, and the state of the world is disastrous.
When you said you have yet to meet another empath I think it's s because they are so few and far between. I'm interested to know how many people have contacted you in regards to your request, and if we could start a group together. It may help all of us immensely. I'm praying for your circumstances, and can't wait to connect! I feel like the Lord led me to this page. I hope we have things in common.
Thank you for sharing your story ? it's relieving to have found others that can connect and relate.
Hi! I am also bipolar and have known I was an empath for many years. I first noticed this when the show intervention first aired. I could not watch it because it would leave me sobbing feeling caged and hopelessly trapped. Any articles about abuse puts me in crisis mode with extreme anxiety. I also find that when I am confronted with extreme emotion from another person it overloads me and immediately sends me into a bipolar episode where I am looking for anyway to make it stop. I have recently noticed that I’m starting to feel as if I comprehend others emotions better than they themselves do. Meditation does not seem to be highly effective however I have found that yoga first thing in the morning leaves me better equipped to deal with this throughout the day. Before this I had gone through a time where I refused to leave my house due to fear of overload. Is it a possible for people like me to finally completely shut down as a defense?
Hi Stephanie! I can absolutely relate to what you are saying. The answer to your question is yes, we can definitely become so overwhelmed with emotions and empathy that we isolate ourselves from others. It is important that we remember to take care of ourselves. Being a little selfish at times is important. We cannot save everyone or take on everyone's battles. Thank you for sharing. -Hannah
Are you sure it isn’t that you are a High Sensory Processing individual? (Highly Sensitive Person) , Which I believe is quite common in a lot of people who have bipolar, As it’s linked to similar systems like the limbic system. Also they are more sensitive to alcohol, caffeine etc, which can go hand in hand with bipolar symptoms of sleep disturbances or self medicating
Highly Sensitive people are very able to understand others more, and are in tune with others (somehow) and often use others to understand themselves further. I suppose for all it’s felt differently. Apparently a HSPs brain is wired differently, and often is deep or introverted, and happy on their own, but also can be good with others that may need help in their own lives.
If you google it , you’ll find more info. Hope that helps somehow.
Hi KP! Thank you so much for sharing your input and bringing this to my attention. I will be sure to look into it. I really appreciate your comments and support. -Hannah
I feel the same as.This has been happening to me since childhood and that has made me mentally ill. I can feel the pain of others mostly from their faces and eyes and that hurts.
Hi Shikah! I can relate to your experience, it has been happening to me since childhood as well. "I can feel the pain of others" is so true! Thank you for sharing! -Hannah
Do you also find with extreme empathy people seek your council? i find that people i barely know tell me secrets in a few short hours and i wonder if it is because of my intensity of empathy that i relate to my bipolar or is that just a personality acknowledgement? i am just curious!
I get this quite often sometimes. Alot of people feel that they can speak to me on a deeper level when we might not even be close. I'm only just discovering my more spiritual empath side. People have always said I'm bipolar but now I'm reading more about empaths and sensitives things are making alot more sense!
Hi Sian! It is so interesting how much people with mental illness have in common. People constantly open up to me on a deeper level. I appreciate your comment and insight. Thank you! -Hannah
Hi Markie! Absolutely! I am in this situation every time I go out with my friends or meet someone new. I think we are emotionally in tune and come off as unbiased. It is a common characteristic of people with mental illness. I really appreciate you sharing this with me. It is interesting how much people with mental illness have in common. Thank you! -Hannah
This happens to me all the time ... I have complete strangers randomly talk to me and tell me things about their life that I have no business knowing.
I also find that most little kids seem to gravitate towards me it’s almost like they sense something about me. It doesn’t matter where I go there always seems to be a random little kid that wants to want to talk to me or play with me.
I live with type 2 bipolar disorder (I like to say “live with” rather than “suffer from” as it helps me feel like I have a sense of control) and I’ve always felt like I had a deep empathy that is extremely painful at times. I often find socialisation very draining because it’s like I absorb all the feelings and energy of people around me - it’s particularly exhausting if those feelings or energy are negative.
I don’t even have to know a person personally to feel a physical pain for them - reading about bad things in the news can affect me for days on end. It sucks sometimes, but on the flip side I hold hope that people who feel this way will make a positive difference in this world and make it a better place.
This resonates with me deeply. I am also bipolar and an extreme empath. I am trying to come to terms with how empathy has played a role in my mental health struggles and setbacks. I joke that I "love hard" and it's very true. This has made ending relationships challenging, as I feel the need to care for and accommodate beyond what is reasonable for my wellbeing. I also realize that sometimes I've truly been blinded by my love for another person, even when I knew the relationship was damaging or dangerous. My life has felt like it was completely shattered over situations like this, and sometimes it kind of was. I am still rebuilding and coming to a better understanding of both my trauma and bipolar disorder. Feeling extreme empathy towards others, and actually feeling their pain - it literally feels like the passage of their energy physically going into my body - indeed feels like a gift and a curse. I have always felt a sense of pride around being there for others emotionally and knowing how soothing it is to share the sorrow instead of dealing with it on your own. So I've leaned into it so hard, definitely too hard, at many points. I've lost myself and my own needs in my empathy and it has really, really screwed with my life and sense of balance. Being in therapy and on medication now, in addition to really seeing this disorder and validating its existence, is helping me to accept all of this as a part of who I am.