I can feel others emotions
Empaths and Anxiety: Is There a Connection?
Empathy helps you understand the feelings of others and see things from their perspective. This important social response can promote compassion and care for other people’s well-being.
Everyone has a natural capacity for empathy, but it’s generally considered more of a skill than a fixed trait. It develops through a combination of your experiences and relationships, beginning with childhood caregivers. It’s important to note that genes also play a small role in the development of empathy.
As a result, people end up with varying levels of empathy as adults.
Some people, known as empaths, have such high empathy that they seem to take on the feelings of others.
If you’re an empath, you might find yourself absorbing the emotions of those around you. When they experience joy, you get caught up in their happiness. When they experience sadness you carry that emotional burden, too.
It may come as little surprise, then, that there’s a potential link between high empathy and anxiety. Here’s what to know about that link, along with some guidance on protecting your emotional health.
Understanding the different types of empathy can make it easier to understand how anxiety and empathy intersect.
- Cognitive empathy. This describes the ability to understand what someone else feels. For example, specific clues in body language and tone of voice might offer insight into their underlying thoughts and emotions.
- Affective empathy. This refers to the ability to share what someone else feels. This emotional empathy, which generally happens automatically, can foster compassion and motivate you to offer support.
Empaths tend to have high affective empathy. When people you care about face worry and stress, you experience that emotional pain right along with them. As long as they continue to struggle, you might feel anxious and concerned on their behalf.
If you live with general anxiety, you may spend a fair amount of time worrying about the future or cycling through negative unwanted thoughts.
You might worry about a choice you made that affected a friend. Or, you might mull over broader fears.
“How would I feel if that were me?” you might wonder. This thought can spur your desire to help and make it easier to imagine yourself in a similar situation. But when you have high empathy, existing anxiety can feed off the emotions of people around you, making you feel even worse.
You might become so fixated on their pain that you have a hard time distancing yourself from it. It might feel difficult — if not impossible — to “turn off” this heightened empathy and detach from your anxious concern.
One 2018 study exploring the link between anxiety and empathy looked at teenagers admitted to a private psychiatric hospital over a period of 6 years.
Participants completed three self-report assessments of empathy, anxiety, and depression. The results of the assessments suggested a positive correlation between affective empathy and anxiety: When one increased, so did the other.
This may happen because sharing emotions often prompts distress. If you feel you’re unable to help your loved ones, you might feel guilty when you think about their struggles or share their pain.
Your guilt can fuel worries about them being disappointed in you or rejecting you. This perception could eventually lead you to withdraw or strain the relationship in other ways. As you begin worrying about the relationship’s health, the dominoes continue to fall.
The same 2018 study found support for a negative correlation between social anxiety and cognitive empathy. Participants with lower cognitive empathy were more likely to have higher levels of social anxiety.
Those with high affective empathy and low cognitive empathy, on the other hand, seemed to experience more severe social anxiety.
Remember, high affective empathy typically means you experience emotions along with others. But with low cognitive empathy, you have a harder time understanding what people feel, so you might struggle to make sense of what those emotions actually mean.
This can easily become confusing and overwhelming, especially when it comes to unpleasant emotions.
Lower cognitive empathy can make it difficult for you to navigate social situations and get along with your peers. If social interaction is often a challenge for you, it’s possible that you’ll start feeling pretty nervous about it. It might seem easier to stick with the few people who you understand, and the idea of talking to anyone else might increase your anxiety.
Another take on this connection
A smaller 2011 study took a different look at the link between social anxiety and empathy.
Researchers had people of varying ages complete different assessments of anxiety and social anxiety symptoms. They found that participants with higher social anxiety also showed greater empathy.
Yet after they adjusted the results to take general anxiety into account, people with higher social anxiety showed greater cognitive empathy, not affective empathy, conflicting with the results of the other study.
The role of perspective-taking
These different findings may come down to perspective-taking, a key component of cognitive empathy.
Social anxiety involves significant fear and worry about the way others perceive you. You might regularly evaluate yourself through the eyes of other people and become hyperaware of positive or negative judgment, including shifts in body language, facial expression, and tone.
But here’s the interesting thing: Authors from the 2011 study compared participants with high and low social anxiety and found that people with high social anxiety had more accurate affective empathy and less accurate cognitive empathy.
So, even when you spend a lot of time imagining how others see you, your impressions may not be accurate. This is because you’re operating from the assumption that they see the same flaws you see in yourself.
Experts have also found support for a relationship between empathy and depression.
People with depression often respond more strongly to the pain and emotional distress others experience.
In a small 2017 study, participants listened to sad or neutral music before watching videos of people being touched with either a syringe needle or a cotton swab. Those who listened to sad music had more distress after watching the video with the needle.
This increase in empathetic distress could help explain why people with depression often withdraw. When you’re experiencing depression symptoms, seeing other people in pain can make you feel worse.
Depression and empathy often play off each other cyclically. You worry about loved ones and want to help them. When you can’t, because you’re experiencing an episode of depression, you might believe you failed or see yourself as worthless. This can intensify both guilt and depression.
Maybe you even blame yourself for their pain. Research linking guilt to empathy suggests depression-related guilt could partially stem from greater empathetic distress.
Either way, you pull back from others to avoid further hurt, but this can cost you the potential benefit of social support.
It’s worth noting that lower levels of empathy can also contribute to depression. Say you find it challenging to empathize with others and feel like you always mess up when it comes to social interactions.
Eventually, these empathy-related mishaps (real or perceived) lead you to avoid people more often than not, and you might end up feeling alone and frustrated. The resulting loneliness you experience could play a part in depression.
By now, you might wonder what these findings mean for you. Does high empathy always trigger depression and anxiety? Are you always going to experience distress because you care? Maybe you’ve already noticed how internal turmoil related to the concerns of people you know, or the world as a whole, triggers worry.
What if you’re on the other end of the spectrum? You want to work at developing your empathy for others, but you don’t want symptoms of anxiety and depression to follow or get worse if you already live with either.
But consider this: Now that you know about the connection, you can take steps to address its effect.
Practice mindful acceptance
Empaths often find their emotional sensitivity difficult to switch off. Maybe you’ve noticed that the emotional energy given off by those around you prompts stress or a low mood. You can’t help experiencing these feelings. But acknowledging them and letting them go can make a big difference.
You don’t necessarily have to “turn down” your capacity to care — you can boost resilience and cultivate concern for others at the same time.
Say your partner feels hurt and frustrated after arguing with a loved one. As they explain what happened, you feel their pain and sadness along with them.
To keep it from overwhelming you, try this exercise:
- Take a few deep breaths to ground yourself.
- Acknowledge the distress you feel.
- Remind yourself that taking on their pain won’t help them.
- Take a few more deep breaths, imagining the distress leaving your body as you exhale.
Remember, empathy isn’t the same as compassion. Getting stuck in distress can affect your ability to offer support. Mindfully releasing emotions helps you move from the “feeling” stage to the “acting” stage, where you can show compassion by validating their distress, asking how you can help, or offering a positive distraction.
Finding it tough to accept and let go of difficult emotions? Consider giving meditation a try.
Honor your boundaries
Strong personal boundaries are key for empaths.
Feeling overwhelmed by emotions can lead you to avoid situations that put pressure on your empathetic resources. You might struggle to manage difficult feelings and withdraw from loved ones to better protect yourself.
Setting limits around situations that tax you emotionally can lower your risk of reaching a breaking point.
If you’re already feeling low, maybe you reschedule plans with a friend who drains you emotionally. When you feel anxious, you might skip scrollingthrough news articles and social media in favor of reading a favorite book or watching a comforting movie.
Good self-care also matters. You’re more likely to feel anxious and low when running on empty. Keep your batteries charged by paying attention to what you need in terms of quality rest and solitude. Then, set aside time to fulfill those needs.
Watch for looping thoughts
Rumination, or cycling through the same distressing thoughts again and again, can happen with both anxiety and depression.
Circling through fears and worries might seem like a good way to resolve them, but ruminating on negative experiences and emotions can actually make it harder to find solutions. In the end, you’re more likely to feel trapped by the cycle of distress.
Not all empaths experience anxiety, and there’s some evidence that suggests rumination might provide a possible connection between empathy and anxiety.
This makes sense if you think about it. If you don’t ruminate on the emotions you share with others, your distress may be fleeting rather than a source of persistent worry.
Squash the worry with these 10 strategies to stop ruminating.
You can sometimes ease the emotional overwhelm that often accompanies empathy on your own. When it begins to make you feel anxious or distressed, though, it may be time to talk to a professional.
Anxiety and depression often don’t go away without treatment.
A therapist can help you identify links between empathy and distress and work to address any patterns causing difficulty. In therapy, you can also learn about setting healthy boundaries and building a toolbox of coping skills, including meditation and self-care practices.
Therapists can also offer support with developing empathy by helping you practice active listening, mindfulness, and other helpful approaches.
Experts haven’t reached any definite conclusions about how empathy leads to anxiety, or vice versa, but research suggests a link of some kind between them.
This doesn’t mean empathy is bad or that you should block out feelings to enjoy good emotional health. It does, however, make it important to expand your emotional regulation skills and learn helpful ways to manage difficult feelings.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.
What Is An Empath? 15 Signs and Traits
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Empaths are people who have a lot of empathy for others and good intuition, but who may have difficulty setting boundaries.
Do you often feel deeply tuned in to the feelings of people around you? Do crowds make you uncomfortable? Would you (or the people closest to you) describe yourself as a sensitive person?
If so, you may be an empath.
Dr. Judith Orloff, a pioneer in the field, describes empaths as those who absorb the world’s joys and stresses like “emotional sponges.”
In her book “The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People,” she suggests empaths lack the filters most people use to protect themselves from excessive stimulation and can’t help but take in surrounding emotions and energies, whether they’re good, bad, or something in between.
Kim Egel, a San Diego-based therapist, expands this further: “Empaths have a higher sensitivity to outside stimuli such as sounds, big personalities, and hectic environments. They bring a lot of heart and care to the world and feel things very deeply.”
Sound familiar? Here are 15 other signs you might be an empath, along with tips for dealing with being one.
The term empath comes from empathy, which is the ability to understand the experiences and feelings of others outside of your own perspective.
Say your friend just lost their dog of 15 years. Empathy is what allows you to understand the level of pain she’s going through, even if you’ve never lost a beloved pet.
But as an empath, you take things a step further. You actually sense and feel emotions as if they’re part of your own experience. In other words, someone else’s pain and happiness become your pain and happiness.
Empaths often find frequent close contact difficult, which can make romantic relationships challenging.
You want to connect and develop a lasting partnership. But spending too much time with someone leads to stress, overwhelm, or worries about losing yourself in the relationship.
You might also notice sensory overload or a “frayed nerves” feeling from too much talking or touching. But when you try to express your need for time alone, you absorb your partner’s hurt feelings and feel even more distressed.
Ever felt like you have a strong gut reaction to things that feel a bit off? Maybe you pick up on dishonesty easily or just know when something seems like a good (or bad) idea.
This may be your empath trait at work.
Empaths tend to be able to pick up on subtle cues that provide insight on the thoughts of others, suggests Barrie Sueskind, a therapist in Los Angeles who specializes in relationships. “An empath’s intuition often tells them whether someone is being truthful or not,” she says.
As an empath, you might put a lot of faith in your instincts when making decisions. Although others might consider you impulsive, you’re actually trusting your intuition to guide you to the choice that feels right for you.
Anyone can benefit from spending time in natural settings. But empaths may feel even more drawn to nature and remote areas, since natural environments provide a calming space to rest from overwhelming sensations, sounds, and emotions.
You might feel completely at peace when hiking alone in a sunlit forest or watching waves crash against the shore. Even a quiet walk through a garden or an hour sitting under trees may lift your spirits, soothe overstimulation, and help you relax.
According to Sueskind, empaths can absorb positive and negative energy just by being in someone’s presence. In crowded or busy places, this sensitivity may seem magnified to the point of being almost unbearable.
Egel agrees, adding that “empaths can be easily overwhelmed by feeling everything more intensely.” If you can easily sense how others feel, you’ll likely have a hard time handling the emotional “noise” from a crowd, or even a smaller group of people, for an extended period of time.
When you’re picking up on negative emotions, energy, or even physical distress from people around you, you might become overwhelmed or physically unwell. As a result, you may feel most comfortable on your own or in the company of just a few people at a time.
An empath doesn’t just feel for someone — they feel with someone.
Taking in others’ emotions so deeply can make you want to do something about them. “Empaths want to help,” Sueskind says. “But this isn’t always possible, which can disappoint an empath. ”
You may find it difficult to watch someone struggle and act on your natural inclination to help ease their distress, even if that means absorbing it yourself.
Caring about the suffering of others isn’t a bad thing, but your concern for another’s difficulties can overshadow your care for yourself. This can factor into compassion fatigue and burnout, so it’s essential to save some energy for yourself.
Sensitive, empathic people tend to be fantastic listeners. Your loved ones may feel comforted by your support and reach out to you first whenever they experience difficulty.
Caring deeply can make it hard to tell people when you approach the point of being overwhelmed. But it’s important to find a balance. Without boundaries, unchecked kindness and sensitivity can pave the way for “emotion dumps” that may be too much for you to handle at once.
Empaths may also be more vulnerable to manipulation or toxic behaviors. Your earnest desire to help people in distress can leave you unaware of signs of toxicity.
You may have a deeper understanding of the pain fueling their behavior and want to offer support. But it’s important to remember you can’t do much for someone who isn’t ready to change.
An empath’s increased sensitivity doesn’t just relate to emotions. There’s a lot of overlap between empaths and people who are highly sensitive, and you might find that you’re also more sensitive to the world around you.
This could mean:
- Fragrances and odors affect you more strongly.
- Jarring sounds and physical sensations may affect you more strongly.
- You prefer to listen to media at low volumes or get information by reading.
- Certain sounds may trigger an emotional response.
It should be noted that covert narcissists, also known as vulnerable narcissists, are also highly sensitive. They may appear to be empaths to manipulate others.
“Heightened sensitivity to other people’s pain can be draining, so empaths may find themselves easily fatigued,” Sueskind says.
Even an overload of positive feelings might exhaust you, so it’s important to take the time you need to reset.
If you can’t escape overwhelming emotions and rest your senses, you’re more likely to experience burnout, which can have a negative impact on well-being.
Needing time alone doesn’t necessarily mean you’re an introvert. Empaths can also be extroverts, or fall anywhere on the spectrum. Maybe people energize you — until you reach that point of being overwhelmed.
Extroverted empaths may need to take extra care to strike the right balance between spending time with others and restoring their emotional reserves.
If you’re an empath, you likely dread or actively avoid conflict.
Higher sensitivity can make it easier for someone to hurt your feelings. Even offhand remarks might cut more deeply, and you may take criticism more personally.
Arguments and fights can also cause more distress since you’re not only dealing with your own feelings and reactions. You’re also absorbing the emotions of the others involved. When you want to address everyone’s hurt but don’t know how, even minor disagreements can become harder to cope with.
Despite being highly attuned to the feelings of others, many empaths find it difficult to relate to others.
Others might not understand why you become exhausted and stressed so quickly. You might struggle to understand the emotions and feelings you absorb or feel like you aren’t “normal.” This may lead you to become more private. You might avoid talking about your sensitivities and sharing your intuitions so you feel less out of place.
It’s never easy to feel like you don’t belong, but try to see your ability to deeply empathize with others as something special. It may not be common, but it’s an important part of who you are.
Isolation can help empaths recover from overwhelm, so completely shutting out the world may seem healing. But prolonged isolation can take a toll on mental health.
There are different types of isolation, and some may offer more restorative benefits than others. Try taking your time alone outdoors when possible and meditate in a quiet park, walk in the rain, take a scenic drive, or garden.
Boundaries are important in all relationships.
If you’re an empath, you may struggle to turn off the ability to feel and find it impossible to stop giving, even when you have no energy left. You might believe boundaries suggest you don’t care about your loved ones when the exact opposite is true.
Because the experiences of others have such an intense impact on empaths, boundaries become even more essential. They help you set limits around words or actions that may affect you negatively, allowing you to get your own needs met.
When you start to feel unable to decipher your emotions from those of others, it may be time to explore healthy boundary setting with a therapist.
Deeper emotional understanding can drive your intuition, and you likely pick up on things other people miss or make connections that aren’t clear to anyone else.
But this increased connection to the world can also have drawbacks. Environments that don’t provide much space for emotional expression can dampen your creativity and sensitivity, Egel says, leaving you disinterested, disengaged, and struggling to thrive.
It can be difficult for empaths to protect themselves from taking on other people’s emotions, Sueskind says.
Good self-care practices and healthy boundaries can help insulate you, particularly from negative emotions and energy. But the emotional “noise” of the world can cause significant distress when you lack the tools to manage it.
There are different types of empaths, including emotional, physical, and intuitive empaths.
This type of empath is highly sensitive to the emotions of other people.
For example, when another person is sad or happy, an emotional empath also becomes sad or happy.
Physical empaths are very sensitive to the pain and illnesses of others.
They may even experience empathic illnesses or symptoms that are not actually their own.
People who are intuitive empaths are extremely perceptive.
Although there is no scientific evidence to support it, intuitive empaths may believe they are psychic or telepathic. Some may think they are able to communicate with plants and animals.
If you are an empath, setting healthy, clear boundaries can help reduce distress, Egel suggests. “You must know how to preserve yourself so you don’t get your energy and emotional reserves swallowed up,” she says.
You can also try taking some of the following steps to help protect your psyche:
- If people drain you easily, consider adding a pet to your life. Empaths may connect to animals more intensely and draw deep comfort from this bond.
- If you’re struggling to manage overstimulation on your own, and it affects your quality of life or keeps you from relationships and other personal goals, a therapist can help you learn to develop boundaries and identify helpful self-care approaches.
- To emotionally decompress, take frequent short breaks during the day to meditate, go for a walk, or do another stress-reducing activity.
- Build your sense of self awareness by paying attention to your own feelings and the characteristics defining you.
- Try to maintain a positive outlook. Avoid negative people and negativity in general.
- Boost your self esteem by repeating positive affirmations.
Remember, your needs and emotions are just as important as the ones you pick up in everyone around you.
The following are some of the pros and cons of being an empath:
|You sense when someone needs help.||You may often feel emotionally exhausted|
|You help others by providing emotional support.||You may spend more time focused on others rather than yourself|
|Because of your strong intuition, you may not easily be taken advantage of or tricked.||Other people may be put off by your intuition|
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.
8 Signs You're an Empath
We admire empaths for their compassion and willingness to help when we see them on screen or in a book, but we don't see the other side of this personality trait. If you do not know how to control this gift (most do not), things do not look so rosy.
Empaths are naturally sensitive to the emotions of others. They don't just understand them, they literally feel the same, says writer Aimee Cartier. An empath is a walking receiver attuned to emotional information. As soon as he catches something, he begins to broadcast it himself, even if he does not want to. An unempathetic person, when faced with someone who is hurting, will say, “Looks like he really had a bad day.” An empathetic person will think, “For some reason, I felt bad.”
Typically, empaths can't figure out what makes them feel bad. The emotion that they are now experiencing does not belong to them: the receiver tuned in to someone else's wave. The stronger it is, the more influence it has on his condition. She may even block his feelings.
Many people are unaware of their abilities. They seem to collect other people's emotions, and then experience them as their own. In this situation, it is difficult to understand that emotions came from outside. Empaths feel the slightest change in the emotional environment, notice what the average person would not pay attention to, and react with their essence.
Are there any signs that can help distinguish an empath from someone who is simply attentive to the emotions of others? The following signs will help you understand if you have this gift and what to do if this term is directly related to you.
You are characterized by strong mood swings, which directly depend on how others feel
1. You instantly read the emotional state of a person, even if you have not talked to him and know nothing about him. If someone is laughing or crying nearby, you feel the urge to do the same.
2. Being unable to control the gift, you feel physical exhaustion in the crowd.
3. You always understand that someone is lying and why he is doing it.
4. Sometimes you just feel that you need to stay away from a person, and vice versa, that you can trust him.
5. It is easy to confuse you, because you perceive someone else's attitude as your own. It is difficult for you to single out among the many opinions the one that was originally yours.
6. You have severe mood swings that depend on how others feel. This applies not only to emotions, but also to the mood of society as a whole. When something global happens: a collapse of the currency market, a large-scale catastrophe, you literally feel it with your skin.
7. Sometimes you have the gift of a healer. You are like a natural antidote - in difficult emotional situations, you intuitively understand what needs to be said or done to defuse the situation, calm or relieve physical pain.
8. In most cases, you sincerely want to help and help. You could say this is your purpose.
Empathy can be difficult, and it often takes years to master it. But as soon as you master this skill, you will discover those “bonuses” that nature generously rewarded empaths with. This is a huge potential that can change the world for the better.
About the Author
Aimee Cartier is a writer and founder of the University of Empathy and Intuition program.
Text: Polina Franke Photo credit: Getty Images
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17 amazing abilities of people with developed empathy
Empaths are both powerful and sensitive. They make this world a better place to live. These are unique people, because they are able to feel what the majority is not given.
So, 17 qualities and hidden abilities of all empaths, thanks to which they are so amazing and unusual.
1. They are able to understand how people really feel.
They understand how other people feel when something happens to them. The thing is that they have the ability to literally live through the feelings and emotions of others.
2. They are overwhelmed with experiences in crowded places.
They are uncomfortable in crowded places. Empaths are simply overwhelmed with emotion when they find themselves in a crowd. This happens because they feel all the energies and emotions that are around.
3. They know right away when they are being lied to.
In communication, they are able to understand the true intentions of the interlocutor. This quality is both their advantage and disadvantage. The ability to detect lies causes them to become frustrated with people.
4. They feel the energies around them.
Any negative vibration has a strong effect on the empath and his mood. If they feel, at first glance, causeless anxiety, then the negative energy hovering around them is to blame.
5. It is difficult for them to cope with external negativity.
If the person they are interacting with is negatively charged, empaths begin to feel emotionally drained and stop communicating with that toxic person.
6. They are endowed with developed intuition.
Their inner sixth sense is stronger and more precise than that of other people. When intuition warns them about something, it usually turns out to be true.
7. They find it difficult to cope with their inner pain.
Empaths tend to deeply experience even minor events. Their emotions are very strong, it is not so easy for them to get rid of the pain that they feel inside themselves.
8. Either all or nothing.
They don't do anything by halves. Whatever they are doing - talking to a person, finishing a project - they will focus all their attention on this person or project. Empaths are either all or nothing.
9. They either love or they hate.
With regard to feelings, they often go to extremes: they either love or hate. Therefore, some feel uncomfortable in the company of empaths.
10. These are creative individuals.
Their brains are constantly at work, moving from one idea or concept to another. Empaths have a reputation for being extremely creative and innovative.
11. They never stop.
Time passes much faster for them than for other people. But being constantly on the go goes against their introverted nature, so they don't slow down, they start to suffer from exhaustion.
12. They are excellent listeners.
People come to them to talk about everything they have in their hearts, because they know that empaths will really listen to them. This is truly an invaluable quality.
13. Others blame their problems on them.
Sometimes they let other people use them because they don't know how to say no. To hurt other people is simply against their nature.
14. They have deep inner strength.
They are stronger than many people, even if they do not seem so at first glance. They know that no matter what happens, they must move on.
15. They are always looking for the truth.
They only want the truth and nothing but the truth. Empaths tend to be honest people, so they expect other people to be completely honest with them as well.
16. They do not tolerate selfish and false people.
When they are surrounded by too many selfish or false people, they feel exhausted and exhausted. Their whole nature protests against the nature of such people, so empaths immediately feel uneasy in their presence.