You may have heard the keywords and phrases associated with the much-debated topic of empaths by now. “Highly-sensitive“, “claircognizant”, “takes on others’ thoughts and emotions”, “can’t distinguish between their own feelings and others'” and the list goes on. Most of it is true in the sense that, both psychologically and spiritually, empaths are now known to be people who are “super-responders” (a term used by Dr. Judith Orloff, the author of “The Empath’s Survival Guide“) and can feel and sense more than the average person.
Empaths are actually highly intuitive, helpful and spiritually open people generally. A combination of these can often get them into toxic relationship equations with victims and narcissists. And once that happens, the scenario begins to look more like co-dependency. So what is co-dependency?
Co-dependency is a state of getting into relationships that are unhealthy and can cause endless grief to both people involved. It is thought to be a behavioral trait in dysfunctional families and is often referred to as “relationship addiction”. It is also thought to be a learned behavior, that passes from generation to generation.
WHAT DO EMPATHS HAVE TO DO WITH THIS?
There are multiple opinions on the connection between empaths and co-dependency. One of them talks of the great need empaths generally feel to understand people around them and even provide support as far as they can.
The catch here is that empaths typically attract people who either have a victim narrative or an attention-seeking narrative (the narcissist). What compounds the problem further is that empaths usually have poor boundaries themselves, which means they can get sucked into such relationship patterns rather easily.
Another view on this connection is that co-dependency can often be masked under the label of “empath”. How? Well, you may genuinely be an empath, with a high quotient of empathy and sensitivity, but you may not be aware of how this plays out in your relationships. So you might stay in the same relationships, feeling stuck, feeling unhappy, unconsciously playing out the co-dependent side of your own nature.
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO LET GO?
Now whether you’ve consciously regarded your empathic abilities and allowed them to be of service to others or unconsciously been pulled into destructive equations, truth is it has affected your own energy levels, your peace of mind and your wellness in the long run. It is not necessary that you get rid of some of these qualities that define you or even make you who you are – but what’s important is to be able to hold more functional interactions and relationships for yourself.
The following could be your first steps if you want to heal from your own co-dependent patterns.
1. Become more aware of why you do what you do
One defining feature of empaths and most of it is because of the empathy they carry, is to try and ease the pain of others. When you transpose this on to a co-dependent dynamic, what the empath does is “save” the victim or “attend to” the narcissist. For many empaths with a leaning towards co-dependency, the first reaction is to make someone else feel better about themselves. This is often so habitual that you might not be able to catch it. With the intention of witnessing your own behavior though, you can get there. To make it even more structured, maintain a journal that you can go back to write in, time and again.
2. Become clear about negative self-talk
The propensity of empaths to focus on what has gone wrong is real. Come to think about it, it is also explainable. A lot of empaths are born in families that are dysfunctional, which means that even as they develop their skills of intuiting and empathizing, a high amount of focus is on people around. Dysfunctional families don’t have the emotional bandwidth to support their empath child, but if they were to make mistakes, criticism or punishment is often severe. So you can see how negative self-talk may develop in an empath. But what you could not acknowledge as a child, you can now. And to find your way to the truth that you can’t always help or save everyone.