Since September 2014 I’ve been doing incredible work on myself. Not everyone in my life believes this (I can think of two main people), but that’s because the “work” I’m doing directly affects my relationships with them. And they don’t like the it.
One of the discoveries I’ve made is that I am what the psycho-analytics call an “empath”. This was not something that, after many sessions about how I view and treat the relationships I am in, my therapist pointed his pen at me and said: AHA, I HAVE THE PERFECT DIAGNOSIS FOR YOU! EMPATH YOU ARE!
No, it was more that through these conversations with my therapist about the relationships in my life, past and present, lovers and friends, and through some of my own research that I realized that the “type” of person that I am: empath.
For background on the traits of an empath, all you need to do is a Google Search to find a dozen or more website, some credible, some a little less so, that offer up what an empath is and what it means if you are one. I think as with any type of self-diagnosis, one cannot put too much weight on these websites, such that one changes their whole course of behavior or life based on what a few websites say. We have professionals for a reason. However, I do believe you can take some good information away from these self-diognosis sites and help it to better understand your own identity and at least help to better inform your choices. I have gained an incredible about of self-awareness over the past ten months and I have found that being able to give myself an i.d. (“empath”) helps to find information that will help me to better understand my own behavior and personality.
I like the article on Elephant Journal on Empaths. I’m going to pull a couple excerpts from it and reflect on these as it relates to me and what I’ve discovered about myself in therapy
First, what the author says about her own knowledge of being an empath matches very closely to my own behavior and personality:
I feel the physical, mental and emotional pain of others as though it were my own. This can be and has been emotionally and physically crippling and it has caused me to suffer tremendously. It is often described as being similar to a sponge, absorbing every emotion and piece of energy around me, and then becoming weighted down by it.
I used to talk to my therapist about how I felt like a “chameleon” in relationships. Whomever I was with, be it a friend or lover, platonic or sexual, I would take on their personality as my own. I absorbed them. I felt what they felt, I liked what they liked, I disliked what they disliked. I believe I did this because I was so in love with them (again, I’m also referring to platonic relationships). My love for that person was so intense that I just wanted to take in all of them. Of course, as you can obviously see (but it took me YEARS) it was/is extremely destructive to my own self. Much of the time, I could be a chameleon without it hurting me, and I even enjoyed and benefited from it. (Again, this was not something that was decisive or premeditated, it was completely sincere and subconscious.) But most of the time it’s caused me a tremendous amount of suffering. I’ve let my chameleon go so far that I would lose my own identity. My energy would be focused on that other person, instead of or at the expense of my own self-care.
This trait of mine has left me wondering about my own identity: Who am I? What do I need? What do I want? These are questions I never allowed myself to answer, because it was easier to instead focus my whole self and attention on the person I was with. I’ve been avoiding the difficult job of figuring out who I am because it’s easier for me to love others than it is for me to love myself.
HOLY FUCK. That just came out of me. Just now.
Here’s something else that is 100% accurate of my behavior in relationships that is mentioned in the article:
An empath will often take full responsibility for how others treat them and for anything that goes wrong in relationships. They have a great amount of compassion and can clearly see other people’s emotional baggage and so they make many excuses for why people behave as they do, and this is very often to the detriment of an empath.
I think I’m nearing the end of a relationship/friendship I’ve been desperately holding on to for a while now. This relationship has been completely like what is described above. I’ve ignored it or denied it for a long time. I haven’t wanted to believe it. As I gain more self-awareness and perspective and confidence in my own world view (instead of taking on theirs) our relationship becomes harder and harder to manage. I’ve noticed that since I started therapy and the good, hard work on myself, we’ve been fighting more. I can only suspect (and my therapist agrees) that this person feels threatened by my having my own world view that doesn’t always agree with theirs. I’ve found that the more I stand up for myself, the more this person accuses me of not having my shit together.
My therapist and I talk about this. A LOT. I said, “you probably get sick of hearing about it. Everyone else does.” He made it clear that he doesn’t because each time I bring this relationship up, I gain a new amount of clarity on it and on myself. Today he said to me (I’m paraphrasing): “You have better clarity, but there is still a part of you that doesn’t want that clarity. You’d rather not have that clarity.” I did that nervous laughter thing that you do when you know something is true but you don’t want to admit it.
I want the ‘fantasy’ — to live in my chameleon relationship. And my therapist wants to know why. Where is my self-doubt about this person’s point of view of me coming from? Why does it exist? Why is there a part of me that would rather just continue to be emotionally manipulated and put down by this person? Even though I’m continually gaining clarity of who I am and my own view juxtaposed with their view.
I don’t know exactly. But I think that eureka moment I had above has something to do with it. FOR ME, it’s easier to love someone else than to love myself. It’s easier for me to empathize with someone else than for me to empathize with myself. It’s easier for me to support someone else in their dreams and goals than for me to support myself. It’s easier to accept some else’s wants and needs than to figure out (or be confident) in my own.
This relationship hasn’t been entirely destructive. I’ve learned a shit ton about myself because of it. This person is a beautiful person and has a lot of talents and capabilities. I love this person deeply. This person has helped in allowing me to identify some of my (cough) less attractive personality traits. One of the things I’ll always appreciate is that this person pointed out to me is that I constantly apologize for my existence. Once I became aware of that I started the slow process of stopping. I’m still not 100%, but I’m less apologetic about who I am now. Unfortunately, as I mentioned above, that has also caused problems with this person, who seems to be fine with me discovering myself as long as it doesn’t interfere with me believing in his own world view as the right world view.
I’m proud to be an empath. I know that I am a good friend and a good listener and I love deeply and unconditionally. I’m fiercely loyal to those that I love. But the danger of being an empath is the ease at which, if one is not secure in their own identity (which I am not), it’s too easy to be manipulated by others. This has been true my whole life. I’ve always allowed others to take advantage of me and manipulate me, because the combination of my insecurity of my own self and my empathic personality leaves a gaping hole that allows someone who is prone to manipulation to insert themselves. And because I love others so deeply, I want to believe the best about that person, regardless of who they are or what they are doing to me.
I can’t change who I am. I will always be empathic. And I’m very happy about that. But I need to get a handle on myself for that not to be destructive — for myself and for others in my life.
So what now? How do I get a handle on myself? I’m not entirely sure, but I believe I need to think more about this:
I’ve been avoiding the difficult job of figuring out who I am because it’s easier for me to love others than it is for me to love myself.
And my therapist wants me to brainstorm what it is about myself that I am insecure about. He also wants me to continue to contemplate the two BIG questions:
- Who am I?
- Who do I want to be?
To which I immediately called him a fucker. No, no, I’m kidding. He’s an incredible therapist. It’s difficult stuff, figuring out yourself. It takes a long time. It doesn’t happen immediately. And sometimes it takes losing and gaining love along the way.
I love you, keep going.