What does it mean to have “hyper empathy”

In general, empathy is an enviable quality: being able to understand and relate to how someone else is feeling is key to building strong relationships. While some people are naturally more empathetic than others, it’s also possible for those lacking in this department to become more empathetic through empathy-building exercises like asking open-ended questions and being interested in what’s going on. what life is like from another person’s point of view. And that’s generally a commendable effort.

But is it ever possible to be or become too empathetic? Turns out it’s one of those scenarios where there’s can be a good thing too. A condition called hyper empathy, or hyper empathy syndrome, involves being so empathetic that you actually embody the emotions of others with the same strength or extent as you would your own, so that you lose the trace of what belongs to them and what belongs to you.

Since we all have a limited capacity for how many things it is possible to feel at once, such a tendency can quickly lead to an emotional overflow, negating the potential benefits of being empathetic in the first place.

What is hyper empathy?

As with any other feeling, the capacity for empathy exists on a continuum. If, at one end of the spectrum, you find people who really struggle to feel empathy for others, hyper-empathetic people would fall on the opposite end, says Lorenzo Norris, MD, associate professor of psychiatry and of behavioral science at 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 make up only a tiny fraction of the population (about one to two percent) and are thought to they have the ability to physically feel what someone else is feeling. Emotionally, true empaths and hyperempathic people fully assume others’ feelings as their own, while empathic people (but not in either of the above camps) can tell the difference between their feelings and someone else’s, and identify when they are feeling one in relation to the other.

“Not only a [hyper-empath] feel your emotion, they feel it so strongly that it can either stay with them or it can cause them to lose sight of their own emotions. -Lorenzo Norris, MD, psychiatrist

Although the ability to be SO in tune with someone else’s emotions can feel like a superpower – and it can certainly allow for next-level vulnerability and intimacy – the problem lies in the hyper-empath’s inability to dissociate or check in on the other person’s emotions when it would be healthier to do so. “Not only do they feel your emotion, but they feel it so strongly that it can either stay with them. [for too long]or it can cause them to lose sight of their own emotions or set healthy boundaries,” says Dr. Norris.

3 signs of hyper empathy in action

1. Low self-esteem

Because a hyper-empathic person cannot easily, if at all, differentiate their emotions from those of others, a person in this camp may also have a fuzzy understanding of their own larger identity. “You may struggle to identify what makes you happy, but you can very well identify what makes someone else happy,” says Joy Berkheimer, PhD, LMFT, marriage and family therapist, of a super empathetic person.

This can lead to codependent behaviors in relationships and friendships. “Apart from someone else, a hyper-empath may find they don’t know what they want to eat or where they want to go or what they want to do, but they can say, ‘I know what that other person would want,'” says Dr. Berkheimer. Because they struggle to identify their own needs and wants, there’s a good chance these won’t be considered or met, which can trigger long-term resentment.

2. Limited Limits (if applicable)

A hyper empathetic person feels almost intrinsically connected to others. “There is virtually no autonomy or separation between them and their friends or partners,” says Dr. Berkheimer. As a result, they tend to have no form of boundaries and will gladly change their own plans for the good of others, say “yes” to requests when they don’t have the emotional or physical bandwidth, or otherwise overreach themselves. in an unsustainable situation. path.

3. Emotional overwhelm and mood swings

Perhaps the most glaring sign of hyper-empathy syndrome is being in an almost constant state of feeling…all things. Life can feel so intense for a person in this position because they are basically experiencing whatever the people around them are experiencing through the resulting emotions. And it can be a plot manage. “They may even get to the point where everything is so chaotic that they start to isolate themselves,” says Dr. Berkheimer.

Things can still snowball when others respond negatively to the hyper-empathetic person. “Friends and family members could resist that person’s excessive need to empathize with them, which leads the overly empathetic person to become angry or resentful,” says Dr. Berkheimer.

Cue: yet another set of potential emotions for the emotionally inundated person to deal with. “The empath may be disappointed that everyone in their life is not enthusiastic about their efforts to help [carry the emotional load]” She adds. ”They say, ‘I want to give it all to you – why wouldn’t you want this support from me?'” When in reality the other person is just trying to overcome their own emotions.

Effects of Hyper-Empathy Syndrome

On the person experiencing it

Although it is important and healthy to feel your emotions, a hyper-empath may sit in their emotions for an excessively long time and may be unable to let go of their emotions, which can be stressful and upsetting. “Any emotional state that is fixed will inevitably not be a good thing, whether it’s sadness, anger or even happiness,” says Dr. Norris. However, especially with negative emotions, the effects of sitting for long periods of time can be detrimental to body and mind.

For example, someone who is angry for an extended period of time (including someone who empathizes with someone else’s anger) will also continue to experience the body’s stress response to such an emotion; this includes a spike in the hormone cortisol which can trigger physical symptoms like rapid heartbeat and shortness of breath. “It’s exhausting to be angry for a long time, and it has a very real effect: you’re probably going to be more aggressive towards everyone around you, you may start to lose your focus and you may not sleep well. “, says Dr. Norris.

Being able to easily release feelings of anger (or sadness or joy) is a key part of healthy emotional regulation, adds Dr. Norris, and having hyper empathy makes it much more difficult.

On others around them

A person with hyper-empathy syndrome may inadvertently knock over the boundaries of others due to their tendency to fully assume other people’s emotional states. It’s almost like they’re “constantly falling into another person’s experience,” says Dr. Berkheimer, even though they weren’t really guest do so, explicitly or not at all.

This can have the effect of preventing the other person from truly embodying and living their possess emotions, causing them to feel like their autonomy is being infringed, which can be hurtful or upsetting, says Dr. Berkheimer. As a result, they might try to express or reinforce their own limitations, which might just make the hyper-empathetic person feel unwanted or rejected. The ensuing conflict could then end up alienating them from others, she adds.

How to deal with hyper empathy

If you identify these signs or effects of hyper empathy within yourself, it is important to learn how to separate your own emotions and feelings from those of others. To do this, Dr. Berkheimer recommends working with a mental health professional. “It’s not something you want to leave untreated because you might end up either feeling emotionally upset all the time or isolating yourself because everyone’s experience of energy is so intense for you. you,” she said.

In particular, you might look for a therapist who practices dialectical behavior therapy, which is specifically for those who are experiencing intense emotions. Part of this job is learning to respect other people’s boundaries and setting your own boundaries based on your values. it is essential to understand that just because you can Feeling someone else’s emotions on a deep level doesn’t always mean it’s healthy or helpful for you to do so, either for you or for them (or both).

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