But hyper empathy is not not a mental health ‘syndrome’ or something a psychologist or psychotherapist is going to diagnose you with, despite internet articles implying it is.
So what we are really talking about here is letting empathy go too far, in ways that one could sometimes debate are still empathy at all…. or have become something else entirely.
[Always feel too much? Ruining your relationships and leaving you shattered? Book a Skype therapist today and start finding your way back to balance.]
The two kinds of empathy
Psychologists talk about both emotional empathy, and cognitive empathy. Cognitive empathy means we can mentally imagine the other person’s experience.
Emotional empathy is where things get tricky. It is when we allow ourselves to feel what another person might be feeling. And this is where we can end up in the realm of hyper empathy, or what Stanford University’s Centre for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education perhaps more accurately term “empathic reactivity’.
The signs of hyper empathy
So how do you know that you are over-empathising and caught up in ’empathic reactivity’? Signs to look for include:
It’s true that some of us seem naturally more emotional that others. We have a personality type that sees the world through an emotional lens and from childhood are deemed, ‘highly sensitive‘.
But as ‘sensitives’, we will also develop ways to manage our over-empathising. We might turn to gardening or exercise, or be a creative, using writing, acting, or art to channel our excess of feeling.
But if we are constantly showing the signs of hyper empathy, and then have a marked tendency to wallow in our feelings? It might be time to consider if it’s not just a natural tendency towards being emotional, but a deeper psychological issue at play – and if it’s even empathy at all.
A thorough overview on the science of empathy put out in connection with the University of Chicago points to four key elements of empathy, with one being self-awareness. “Even when there is some temporary identification between the observer and its target, there is no confusion between self and other,” the study states. But with the following mental health issues, this boundary gets blurred.
Mental health issues and ‘hyper empathy’
The following mental health issues can leave you overreacting emotionally to those around you.
1.Poor personal boundaries.
If we don’t have good boundaries we can not know what is our responsibility and what is really another person’s. We spend all our time doing things for other people as we can’t say no, and we might even try to feel all their emotions for them.
Grew up with a caregiver who couldn’t give you the love and attention you deserved? You might have ‘anxious attachment‘. Trying to love someone makes you nervous and uncertain, and you can believe you have to ‘earn’ love, such as by being very empathetic.
Interestingly, over-empathising with others can stem from not being able to empathise or show compassion to yourself. It relates back to codependency. In an effort to feel valuable, we over-empathise with others.
BPD can actually leave you low on cognitive empathy for people, where you can’t correctly think about what another is going through, or make huge assumptions about what other people are thinking and feeling.
Harley Therapy connects you with top London counselling psychologists and psychotherapists who can help you with hyper empathy issues. Not in London? Use our booking platform to find a therapist UK-wide or call a Skype therapistno matter what country you find yourself in.
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