Bipolar Disorder and Extreme Empathy

June 5, 2017 Hannah Blum

With my bipolar 2 disorder, I live with extreme empathy; to the extent that it sometimes affects my mental health. Find out how on my HealthyPlace blog

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.

APA Reference
Blum, H. (2017, June 5). Bipolar Disorder and Extreme Empathy, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, October 30 from https://www.healthyplace.com/living-with-bipolar-blog/bipolar-disorder-and-empathy



Author: Hannah Blum

Hannah Blum is the HealthyPlace YouTube bipolar disorder vlogger. Check out her I'm Hannah. I Have Bipolar 2 playlist and subscribe to the HealthyPlace YouTube channel. You can also find Hannah on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Dan
November, 4 2019 at 1:46 am

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.

Nancy
October, 27 2019 at 6:17 am

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.

Susan Smith
February, 21 2020 at 1:27 pm

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.
Susan

Megan
March, 1 2019 at 11:50 am

Thank you for sharing your story ? it's relieving to have found others that can connect and relate.

Stephanie
August, 6 2018 at 10:18 am

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?

August, 7 2018 at 12:43 pm

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

KP
July, 23 2018 at 8:01 pm

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.

July, 24 2018 at 12:39 pm

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

Shikha Sourav
June, 6 2018 at 8:00 pm

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.

July, 24 2018 at 12:43 pm

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

Markie
May, 15 2018 at 9:13 pm

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!

Sian
July, 3 2018 at 6:20 am

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!

July, 24 2018 at 12:41 pm

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

July, 24 2018 at 12:42 pm

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

KB
September, 4 2018 at 10:44 pm

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.

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