Hyper empathy & personality disorders
According to an article, hyper empathy syndrome is identified as a trait of personality disorders and not as a separate diagnosis by the DSM-5. It is believed by experts that if any behavior pattern causes distress to an individual and affects their regular functioning, then it may require a medical diagnosis and treatment. For hyper empaths, their ability to constantly feel others’ pain leads to stress, frustration and general distress in their lives. Hence, abnormal degrees of empathy can be considered as a sign of personality disorder.
Although a lack of empathy is associated with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), psychopathy, and autism spectrum disorder (ASD), hyper empathy, particularly affective empathy, may be related to borderline personality disorder (BPD). According to a 2010 study, BPD and emotional hyper-reactivity are closely linked. The study states “The majority of empirical studies in this area have concluded that patients with borderline personality disorder are indeed hyper-responsive to experimental environmental stimuli, whether the stimuli are negative, positive, or even neutral or ambiguous.”
How you can deal with hyper empathy
Psychologist Dr. Marcia Reynolds believes that people suffering from emotional contagion and empathic reactivity can follow certain coping techniques that can help them become more aware of their empathy in a non-judgmental way. These exercises can enable you to observe and better regulate your emotional reactions. Dr. Reynolds suggests that when you realize that you are experiencing empathy overload, make sure to –
- Breathe and relax to let go of the physical, emotional and mental stress you are holding on to.
- Be mindful, “clear your mind of all thoughts,” and practice detachment from your emotions.
- Focus your attention on your breath and bring your awareness to “the center of your body just below your navel,” to have mental clarity.
- Practice affirmations and focus on certain power words that help you feel the desirable emotions.
“When your own emotions distract you, breathe and recall your keywords to maintain trust and connection. Allowing others the safe expression of emotions could help them diffuse their feelings and see a possible path forward,” she suggests. However, if you are highly prone to suffering from empathy spectrum disorders, like hyper empathy syndrome, then here are some additional self-help strategies to help you overcome compassion fatigue:
1. Identify the signs
Learn to recognize the symptoms of excessive empathy when they start to manifest. Developing self-awareness can help you recognize certain signs like personal distress, guilt, intrusive thoughts, emotional exhaustion, dissatisfaction and depression.
Read also: How To Deal With Overwhelm As An Empath
2. Practice self care
According to an article by the American Psychological Association (APA), when it comes to empathy, one must follow the basic tenet of flight attendants – “Put your own oxygen mask on before helping others,” explains psychologist Amy M. Williams, PhD. Following a healthy self-care routine will ensure that you have a balanced diet, get enough sleep, exercise regularly, socialize adequately and practice relaxation techniques. You can also take a day off from your normal, scheduled life and engage in any activity that makes you feel good and happy. It is also important that you learn to set strong boundaries and know when to say ‘no’.
3. Value compassion satisfaction
Compassion satisfaction refers to positive feelings related to helping others, such as pleasure, satisfaction, pride and happiness. By focusing on the smaller daily accomplishments instead of the lost battles, you will be better able to cope with compassion fatigue. Psychology professor Kerry Schwanz suggests “There can be terrible things going on, but focus on the wins.” Practicing gratitude is an excellent technique for experiencing compassion satisfaction and coping with hyper empathy.
4. Focus on self-compassion
Helping others is a noble act, but it should never come at the cost of your own well-being. Compassion is like charity, it always begins with yourself. So take time to reflect on your own needs, desires and thoughts and focus on fulfilling them. “You want to really respect the fact that you’re human, too,” adds the APA article.
Read also: Why Empathy Must Start With You
5. Seek help
If you think you are unable to manage your elevated empathy levels by yourself or if you are suffering from severe stress, anxiety, depression or any other underlying mental health issues, then it’s best to consult a mental health professional. Talking to a psychologist or a therapist can not only help you balance your emotions and empathy, it can empower you to better care about yourself as well.
Detach from hyper empathy
Empathy is a vital human trait. However, just like everything else, excessive empathy can lead to some toxic habits and patterns of behavior that can affect your well-being. This is why it is crucial that you learn to detach yourself from negative emotions that aren’t even yours. This will help you practice healthy empathy and compassion enabling you to help others in need, while protecting your own emotions. It is only by releasing yourself from the burden of compassion fatigue that you can truly help others and build meaningful relationships.
So let go of others’ emotions & stress and focus on developing personal boundaries that will enable you to help others and yourself.