Understanding Empaths: A Catch 22

An empath in a fictional setting is defined as a person with the paranormal ability to perceive the mental or emotional state of another individual. In the real world, being an empath isn’t so much paranormal as it is rare, mystifying and even perplexing to some. There’s nothing paranormal to fear about it, it’s more of a 6th sense (but with little to no involvement from Bruce Willis)…

Before we delve into this discussion on empaths, I must point out that I am head-to-toe an INFJ-T personality type. For anyone familiar with that particular personality type, you’ll know that empathy is pretty much a recurring and even defining feature for INFJ-T types. I may not have the same experience as other empaths, but this article is based on my own thoughts, feelings and empathic traits. Feel free to share your own experiences as an empath or with other empaths in the comments.

Now, let’s chat about one of the biggest Catch 22s of being an empath and how it affects our day-to-day lives…

How does an empath feel?

By reading this, you yourself are being somewhat of an empath. You’re taking the time to listen, to learn and to put yourself in the shoes of someone else. Maybe you’ll even relate and begin to feel some of the feelings I’m trying to represent or portray in this article. Let yourself get lost in the words, the thoughts and the feelings as you read. Disregard logic. Disregard opinion. Just listen and feel.

Empaths want to help. They want the best for everyone. They don’t want people to hurt. They don’t want people to feel sad. When other people feel sad or alone or scared or angry or hurt – they feel it too. It’s like they take a deep dive into the soul of the person they’re empathising with and become completely enveloped in the swirl of emotion. It’s not easy to escape once you’re there and it can affect your outlook on anything from your day ahead to the world around you.

Because of this, empaths think too much. They imagine themselves in situations that realistically couldn’t possibly happen to them, but in their minds they’ve felt how it feels to be there, so they build an anxiety around it happening to them or to others they care about.

Right now, just from writing that last sentence, my brain has gone haywire, thinking of and feeling the emotions that go along with so many scenarios that happen in books, movies, real life, etc.

What if my partner leaves me and I’m left without his love. Heartache.

What if something happens to my cats while I’m out and I can’t be there to help them. Anxiety.

What if I get into a car accident and I lose a limb. Pain.

What if ghosts are real and there’s a ghost in my house right now plotting my eventual gruesome death. Fear.

Most of these thoughts are illogical and statistically unlikely to happen. I know that. But they’re there and they’re highly intrusive. Being an empath and imagining other people who may have experienced these very situations (aside from the ghosts, but also like, what if?) and setting myself in their shoes is a trap I never manage to avoid. It’s like rolling a Nat 1 on an Investigation check every single time (just a little D&D joke for my fellow nerds out there).

So, what is the Catch 22 I’m referring to?

It’s simple. Empaths want to be happy. They want everyone else to be happy. But, how can they be happy when they are so finely tuned to feeling every “negative” emotion under the sun?

In order to be happy an empath feels the need to help others. We can only help others by understanding their situation and providing assistance. If the situation is wrought with anxiety, sadness, fear or loss – we feel that fully. The happiness we get from helping, is ultimately consumed by the “negative” emotions that we soak up like a dirty dish sponge.

It’s a vicious cycle. It takes a toll, mentally. Sometimes we lose sight of who we truly are because we are consumed by the vast ocean of thoughts, feelings and emotions of others. I’m still trying to figure out how to manage it. I don’t want to reject my inner empath completely because it’s a huge piece of who I am. It would be nice to know how to work with it or lessen the effect at times though. If you have any advice or a magical solution to suggest, please leave me with a comment at the end of this article.

How to communicate with or comfort an empath

Keeping in mind the Catch 22 mentioned above, here’s my number one tip for people with an empath in their life who they’d like to be able to communicate better with and understand a little more…

If you notice your empath is feeling a little low, dealing with depression, anxiety or any other form or emotional ‘instability’, here’s what not to say…

“Cheer up. You’ve got a great life. What have you got to be sad about? There are other people out there who are much worse off. Think yourself lucky you’re not in their shoes.”

Why is this the worst thing to say?

Well, we are, in fact, in their shoes. Not physically, not literally, but emotionally and figuratively we are right there with them. We are sad because we can’t help them. We are anxious because we are constantly noticing the suffering, pain and hardship in the world. And there’s usually not a damn thing we can do about it.

In bringing people’s suffering to the forefront of our minds when we’re already down, you’ve essentially magnified our own suffering. You may mean well, but the outcome will not be what you intended.

We know there will always be horrible people who do horrible things. Natural disasters will keep taking lives. Freak accidents will continue to occur. In a world as large as ours and with as many people as ours, pain and suffering is inevitable.

Empaths will ask themselves, “What is the point of living in a world where these things happen and people are miserable every single day? What is the point of being here if we can’t fulfil our intended purpose of helping and comforting everyone who needs it?”

The one thing we can do is try to embrace a “what will be will be” attitude and push ourselves to come to terms with the fact that we simply cannot help everyone, no matter how fiercely we feel the need to. This is a band-aid solution, but it’s much better than losing ourselves to the suffering – mentally and/or physically.

It’s not all bad though, some days are good. We envelope ourselves in love, laughter and joy and our minds and souls revel in it. On days like these, we feel completely fulfilled and the “negative” emotions are kept at bay. Other days are bad. No matter how we try to distract ourselves or see the light in the world, the darkness is all that appears before us.

So, how do you better communicate with or comfort an empath?

In reality, everyone is different. In my experience, however, the best thing to do is to genuinely listen to what your empath is trying to tell you and try to understand and feel their words. Ask them how they’re feeling, why they’re feeling that way and show empathy towards them yourself. Don’t brush off their concerns, their depression or their anxiety. They can’t help the way they’re feeling.

Understanding begets understanding.

Most of the time, you won’t be able to find the right words to help them. They may not need a conversation. Simply sitting next to them, embracing them (if they’re a hugger) or guiding them through the darkness with a simple “it’s going to be ok” could be enough.

I hope this brief glimpse into the psyche of an empath has helped you to understand a little about why we do the things we do and feel the things we feel. Sometimes we’re difficult to be around. We’re not always the life of the party. But we will stand for what is right and we will fiercely and unwaveringly protect and nurture the people we love.

Empaths are a truly valuable piece of the puzzle that is human society. That may sound conceited but I know that I’m doing my absolute best to improve the quality of the lives in the people around me. For today, that’s enough.

Kates x

You can read more about the INFJ personality type here and the difference between the INFJ-T and INFJ-A personality types here.

5 thoughts on “Understanding Empaths: A Catch 22

Add yours

  1. Wow, that was an incredible read. Thank you for the thoughts that it inspired. It may even lead me to write a blog response, as an INFP empath myself. I have many thoughts on the subject, but perhaps you have considered that empaths are “sponges” of energy, as you put it, not only to people, but to animals, and even plants. If an empath only focuses on people, imo, they are destined to be overloaded… People have consistently pushed me towards becoming a counselor/psychologist, but I prefer to widen my potential impact by helping people indirectly, as helping one on one is too much for my to handle. I used to teach, and if a student became upset during the class, it affected me so strongly that I essentially was unable to overcome it- that career ended, and I have been creating my own new career ever since. Very nice post indeed, if the catch 22 is that we want people to be happy, including ourselves, then we need to stay a safe distance, or learn how to help people through misery without falling in ourselves.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Spot on, my friend!

      I’ve considered teaching, counselling and psychology myself but never ended up pursuing them. I think the urge to help others can sometimes blind empaths to the potential toll it will take on them when they do go into those kind of careers.

      What is the new career that you’ve created for yourself? 🙂


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