Being empathic means having a strong ability to perceive the moods of others, which are understood, processed and returned in a healthy way. Empathy is therefore considered to be both an emotional and a cognitive quality. What is less said, however, is that this ability is not innate, but develops in the developmental age and takes on more marked characteristics especially in those who have gone through emotional trauma. In fact, children not feeling satisfied in their primary affective needs (attention, care, love), soon learn that in order to make themselves visible to the eyes of their caregiver(s), and therefore in order to survive, they need to understand them and to do it rather quickly. This is why empathic people are able to put themselves in others’ shoes: because they had to learn to do it since the early age.
Why being empathic sometimes weighs?
Being empathic is certainly a great gift, but sometimes it can also be a double-edged sword. In fact, empaths often experience the sensation of being used by others. This is no coincidence, because somehow they’ve been trained to emotional blackmail since early age.
What does it mean? They grew up muddling abuse with love, they learned that if they listen and help, in short, if they give others what they want, perhaps in return they will receive some attention and satisfy, even if minimally, their emotional needs. In short, they settle for crumbs. And so it’s no strange coincidence if they surround themselves with people with narcissistic traits. Narcissists smell them like bees on honey, precisely because they know that they can get the energy supply they need from them, without giving much in return, since the quality they lack is indeed empathy.
How to make the burden lighter?
You have already taken the most important step: you are becoming aware of it. If you know you are an empathic person and you identify yourself in this description, then you probably also know that this skill can sometimes be a burden too. Exploring the origins of this burden and the way in which it is affecting you today, could be the beginning of a long process of uplift, sometimes very painful, but the benefits that follow could be worth experiencing this process. A greater awareness could help you better select the people you relate to or relate differently to those in your life, whom you feel you cannot do without. When you become the center of yourself, without focusing excessively on others, you will find that it is possible to experience emotional reciprocity in relationships without feeling guilty anymore. Thus, the load will be lighter and you will feel freer to use and measure your empathic qualities as you wish, but above all you, will surround yourself with people who will no longer take advantage of you.
Jakoby, M. (2016). Individuation and narcissism. London: Routledge.
Katey, S. (2019). Empath and Narcissist: Empath survival guide. How to defend oneself against narcissistic abuse, fight energy vampires and affirm one’s empathy leadership in toxic relationships.