IIn general, empathy is an enviable trait: the ability to understand and engage with the feelings of others is essential to building strong relationships. Although some people are naturally more empathetic than others, it is also possible that those who lack in this regard may become more empathetic through empathy-building exercises, e.g. B. by asking open-ended questions and being curious about what life is like from another person’s perspective. And that’s usually a worthwhile endeavor.
But is it ever possible to be or become too sensitive? As it turns out, this is one of those scenarios where it does may be too much of a good thing. A condition called hyperempathy, or hyperempathy syndrome, involves being so empathetic that you embody the emotions of others as much or as much as your own—so that you lose track of what’s theirs and what you can feel.
Given that we all have a limited capacity for how many things we can feel at once, such a tendency can quickly become emotionally overwhelming and negate the supposed benefits of empathy in the first place.
What is hyperempathy?
As with any other emotion, the ability to empathize exists on a continuum. If you find people on one end of the spectrum who have a really hard time feeling empathy for others, the overly empathetic people would end up on the other end, says Lorenzo Norris, MD, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the George Washington School of Medicine and health sciences.
In this way, there is also a lot of overlap between people with hyper-empathy syndrome and true empaths, who only make up a tiny fraction of the population (estimated at one to two percent) and are thought to be capable of doing this physically feel what someone else is feeling. On an emotional level, both true empaths and overly empathetic people totally accept the feelings of others as their own, while empathetic (but not in one of the above camps) can distinguish between their feelings and those of another person and recognize when they feel one about the other.
“Not only a [hyper-empath] When someone senses their feelings, they feel them so strongly that they can either stay with them or cause them to lose track of their own feelings.” —Lorenzo Norris, MD, psychiatrist
Although the ability to So Being in tune with another person’s emotions may sound like a superpower—and it certainly can enable next-level vulnerability and intimacy—the problem lies in the hyper-empath’s inability to distance themselves from the other person’s emotions or ignoring them when it would be the healthiest thing to do. “They don’t just feel your emotions, they feel them so strongly that they can either stay with them.” [for too long]or it can cause them to lose track of their own emotions or set healthy boundaries,” says Dr. Norris.
3 signs of hyperempathy in action
1. Poor self-esteem
Because someone with excessive empathy cannot, or has difficulty, distinguishing between their emotions and those of others, a person in this camp may also have an unclear understanding of their own broader identity. “You may have a hard time figuring out what makes you happy, but you can very well identify what makes someone else happy,” says marriage and family therapist Joy Berkheimer, PhD, LMFT, of someone with overempathy.
This can lead to codependent behaviors in relationships and friendships. “Aside from someone else, a hyperempath may find they don’t know what they want to eat, where they want to go, or what they want to do, but they can say, ‘I know what this other person wants.’ ,'” says Dr. Berkheimer. Because they find it difficult to identify their own needs and desires, there is a chance that these will not be addressed or met, which can lead to long-term resentment.
2. Limited (if any) borders
A person with hyperempathy feels almost inextricably connected to others. “There is basically no autonomy or separation between them and their friends or partners,” says Dr. Berkheimer. As such, they tend to know no boundaries whatsoever and are happy to change their own plans for the benefit of others, say “yes” to requests when they lack the emotional or physical range, or otherwise overwhelm themselves in an unsustainable way.
3. Emotional overload and mood swings
Perhaps the most noticeable sign of Hyperempathy Syndrome is being in a near-constant emotional state… all of that. Life can feel so intense for a person in this position because they essentially experience everything that the people around them are experiencing , about the resulting emotions experienced. And that can be one much to handle. “Maybe they even get to the point where everything is so messy that they start to self-isolate,” says Dr. Berkheimer.
Things can get worse when others react negatively to the overempathic person. “Friends and family members maybe resist This person’s excessive need to empathize causes the overly empathic person to become angry or resentful,” says Dr. Berkheimer.
Cue: another set of potential emotions for the emotionally flooded person to deal with. “The empath might be disappointed that not everyone in their life is enthusiastic about their helping efforts [carry the emotional load],” she adds. “They’re like, ‘I want to give you everything—why don’t you want that support from me?’” The other person is really just trying to process their own feelings.
Effects of Hyperempathy Syndrome
To the person experiencing it
Although it is important and healthy feel A hyper-empath can remain in emotions for an inordinate amount of time and be unable to let go of emotions, which can be distressing and upsetting. “Any emotional state that gets fixed is bound to be upset, whether it’s sadness, anger, or even happiness,” says Dr. Norris. However, sitting for long periods of time can have a negative effect on body and mind, especially when it comes to negative emotions.
For example, someone who is angry for an extended period of time (including someone who empathizes with another person’s anger) will continue to experience the body’s stress response to such an emotion; This includes an increase in the hormone cortisol, which can trigger physical symptoms such as palpitations and shortness of breath. “Being angry for long periods of time is exhausting, and it has a very real effect: you’re likely to be more aggressive toward everyone around you, you might lose focus, and you might not sleep well,” says Dr. Norris.
The ability to easily detach from angry (or sad or happy) feelings is an essential part of healthy emotional regulation, adds Dr. Norris adds, and excessive empathy makes that much more difficult.
to others around them
A person with hyperempathy syndrome may unintentionally push other people’s boundaries through their tendency to completely take over other people’s emotional states. It’s almost as if they’re constantly “immersed in another person’s experience,” says Dr. Berkheimer, even if that’s not really the case invited to do so explicitly or at all.
This can result in the other person not being able to truly embody and experience their feelings own Emotions that cause them to feel their autonomy is being violated, which can be hurtful or upsetting, says Dr. Berkheimer. As a result, they may be trying to express or reinforce a boundary of their own, which could make the overempathic person feel unwanted or rejected. The resulting conflict could then cause them to distance themselves from others, she adds.
How to deal with hyperempathy
If you recognize these signs or effects of hyperempathy in you, it is important to learn how to separate your own emotions and feelings from those of others. To this end, Dr. Berkheimer to work with a psychologist. “You shouldn’t leave that untreated, because you could either feel emotionally agitated all the time, or you could isolate yourself because the experience of everyone else’s energy is so intense for you,” she says.
In particular, you might be looking for a therapist who practices dialectical behavior therapy specifically for people with intense emotions. Part of this work is learning how to respect the boundaries of others and how to set your own boundaries based on your values; It’s important to understand that just because you’re doing it may Feeling another person’s feelings at a deep level doesn’t always mean it’s healthy or helpful for you to do so, for yourself or for the other person (or both).
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