Empathetic to a Fault? Learn How to Empathize Without Absorbing
Did you ever notice that you can be in the absolute best mood and then someone comes around you who is in a cranky mood and it instantly drags you down?
I call this the lowest common mood denominator (LCMD) effect. It’s killer.
It has taken me precisely 54.5 years to realize to what extent this affects me – and I have a feeling I’m not the only one.
What’s so important about this revelation is it gives us the knowledge and opportunity to realize when it is happening, step back (figuratively) and mindfully make a choice about how deeply we will or will not allow it to affect us.
Is this you?
You are sitting in your zone – super solidly positive, motivated, happy, in a I-am-kicking-some-butt-today mood.
Along comes one of your kids, or your spouse, or a friend, boss, co-worker, or a phone call or even a stranger – who is in a grumpy, negative, cranky, angry or antagonistic mood – and BAM. Your happy mood shrinks downward as quickly as a sunflower at sunset.
I think this is common and a natural reaction for most people, but some of us are particularly susceptible to this LCMD drag down.
Furthermore, it’s the level and length of time to which we are dragged downward that is more important and sets some of us highly-sensitives apart.
If you’re like me, you can get dragged way down.
Maybe also have a hard time rebounding back up to where you were, even after the bummer-mood source goes on their grouchy way.
Here’s the epiphany:
I used to look inward. Thinking I was the one who was too moody. Wondering why I couldn’t regulate my own moodiness better, thinking that within me was the source of the blues, the cranky, woeful well holding me back from better days.
And occasionally it does stem from me and my own thoughts, worries and fears.
But often, I now realize my happiness spontaneously combusts whenever someone near me is feeling less than enthusiastic.
You might say it’s being sensitive. Yes, it is. But this is something deeper and understanding it is life-changing.
In a conversation with a friend about how the moods of others seem to affect me so dramatically, she mentioned the word empath and it struck my interest.
So, like we do with every other question in our lives these days – I googled it – “what is an empath?”.
“Psychologists use the term empath to describe a person that experiences a great deal of empathy, often to the point of taking on the pain of others at their own expense.” – psychologytoday.com
That sounds about right.
After reading a bit more about empaths and empathy, I learned that there is an emotional scale that goes all the way on the one side from barely being sensitive to the feelings of others (a narcissist), to being highly-sensitive somewhere in the middle, to way off the chart on the other side as someone described to have paranormal abilities.
Why is all of this so interesting and (I think) life-altering?
Because knowing that those of us who are highly-sensitive and empathic are deeply affected by the moods of others – not because we are “too sensitive” (in the negative sense) or necessarily moody or unbalanced ourselves, gives us power.
We aren’t in those moods. We are picking up those vibes around us that don’t belong to us!
“An empath is an emotional sponge. They absorb the emotions, physical symptoms and energies of others around them.” – Judith Orloff, M.D., psychiatrist
You know the saying, “if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”?
I think it’s the opposite. If you are like me, it’s if those around us aren’t happy, we can’t be happy.
Most humans, especially women, tend to have an instinctual need to solve, fix, soothe, and to experience compassion.
Compassion is a virtue – the feelings and desire to help. Empathy is feeling the emotions of another person yourself. And this is where it gets interesting.
Take a moment to think about and begin noticing how profoundly you are affected by the moods of others.
Do you go beyond compassion and get dragged down to feel the LCMD effect?
Not to say that we need to constantly surround ourselves with happy people and avoid any negativity. That’s simply not real life. Bad things happen. Sadness happens.
We can not isolate ourselves, nor should we.
In fact, we want to be there for those around us who are suffering. To offer support and comfort. Helping others feel comfort can be one of the most gratifying expressions of love, friendship and just plain being human, that we can offer.
The difference is in the knowing.
“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” – Aristotle
So how do we stop being empathetic to a fault?
Once we understand our own susceptibility for LCMD and where we fall on the empathic scale, it gives us the wisdom to recognize what is happening, while it is happening, and allows us to mindfully release those lingering feelings that don’t belong to us, along with the bummer mood, more easily.
We can still be compassionate and empathetic, but we can learn to separate the feelings of others from our own.
When you are feeling positive and energized and someone comes into your zone with negative vibes, you will likely empathize, perhaps still try to soothe and solve – but you can mindfully stop yourself from absorbing.
“Inner peace begins the moment you choose not to allow another person or event to control your emotions.” – Pema Chodron
Feeling empathetic toward the moods of others without absorbing reduces the drag on our ability to stay in the right mindset – in a place of calm, peace and focus – as we work daily on moving forward and living our best life.
Cheers to us as we continue to learn, grow and know ourselves better after 50.
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