Experts in our culture are finally identifying the challenges and gifts that come with being an empath. In the fields of psychology and spiritual practice, leaders are speaking and writing about the reality of the empath as it becomes clear how it can overlap with codependency.
Are You an Empath?
Being an empath is defined by an individual who is more highly sensitive than the average person. An empath feels the world more deeply and can absorb the emotions and energy of others- even without it being their intention. For an empath, boundaries can be an issue, and there must be an emphasis on developing methods to center and protect the personal energy field. Beyond simply being able to feel the emotions of others, empaths are also highly intuitive. Empathic individuals will sense what is below the visible surface of expression. These combined qualities will make it difficult for an empath to be in crowded public places. It will also mean that empaths typically need a healthy dose of alone time regularly.
The bright side of empathy is the gifts that come with it. Many people are not acutely in touch with their intuition and can overlook underlying negative energy or motives in others; This can lead to negative relationships or interactions. Empowered empaths can avoid situations such as these by seeing the true nature of a person or situation.
The dark side? An imbalanced empath who hasn't learned to maximize and protect their sensitive nature can be overly vulnerable. If self-esteem is low or the empath isn't protecting their need for solitude and boundaries, problems ensue. Often, an imbalanced empath can find him- or herself in a codependent relationship.
What is a Codependent Relationship?
In the past, we understood codependency always to involve a person with an addiction. The other member of this relationship model enables the one with addiction while simultaneously being dependent on him or her. In a codependent relationship, boundaries are blurry for both partners. Where one partner's feelings, thoughts, and responsibilities end or begin is not clear to the partners. Although this relationship may be quite unhealthy and dysfunctional, those involved remain dependent and enmeshed.
As you can see, issues relating to boundaries, self-esteem, and ownership of one's feelings and thoughts overlap between codependency and empathy. An empath is at a higher risk of winding up in such a relationship.
Here are 10 Clues That you may be an empath enacting unhealthy relationship dynamics:
Poor Self-Esteem: Poor self-esteem usually traces back to one's childhood experiences. If you were routinely ignored or mistreated as a child, your self-esteem might be low. Likewise, having a parent with poor self-esteem models to a child that this is a typical relationship to have with oneself. Many factors can create low self-esteem, and this condition contributes to poor relationship dynamics between adults. Empaths with poor self-esteem are particularly vulnerable to the effects of damaged self-esteem as it plays out in relationships.
Being a People-Pleaser: Many individuals learn early in life to please others as a survival tactic. While wanting to make others around you feel good is normal and healthy, people-pleasing goes beyond productive parameters. In codependent relationships, one partner typically feels imprisoned by the imperative to please the other- often at their own expense. Empaths will be particularly likely to suffer from this dynamic because he or she is acutely aware of and affected by the emotions of his or her partner. Empaths are naturally very giving and generous people in their relationships. While generosity brings warmth and care to healthy relationships, it comes at the expense of the empath in a codependent relationship.
Lack of Healthy Boundaries: As you can see, boundaries play an essential role in our discussion of empathy and codependency. Healthy boundaries are crucial for a healthy relationship. For empaths, the distinction of what belongs to who can blur. Codependents can go to both extremes of the boundary equation. You may find yourself taking the blame for the feelings and behaviors of your partner. Conversely, you may be blaming all of your problems on your partner. Both of these scenarios are codependency.
Taking Everything Personally: In Don Miguel Ruiz's famous book, The Four Agreements, we learn about not taking things personally. Ruiz's spiritual classic enlightens the reader in four life-changing practices to personal freedom. Learning not to take things personally can indeed free partners from codependent aspects of a relationship. The empath who is not balanced and centered will often be extremely reactive. Everything the partner says goes straight to the heart and causes a strong reaction. Again we see how weakened boundaries play out.
Caretaking: In a normal, healthy relationship, you learn to care for one another and share the responsibilities inhered in your connection. In a codependent relationship, one partner takes on an excessive amount of responsibility. This partner may assign themself the task of 'fixing' the other person and solving all of his or her problems. In extreme cases, the partner may even become angry or hurt if they aren't allowed to help.
Control Issues: The dynamic of control occurs on a spectrum within codependent relationships. When we talk about power dynamics, we are always necessarily talking about safety as well. When one partner or both feels insecure internally, the exertion of control within the relationship can create a guise of feeling safe. If you feel insecure inside, being controlled may offer a sense of structure. Being constantly bombarded by the emotions of others, am empathic person may feel lost in a whirlwind of energy. Though controlling one's partner is part of codependency, it provides a temporary band-aid for the unhealthy empath.
Communication Breakdown: Dysfunctional communication is a hallmark of codependent relationships. As an empathic person, you may not feel confident or secure enough to communicate what you need or how you think. Because your partner doesn't know how you feel, resentment can build in the relationship. If you do not communicate your needs, your partner cannot meet them. Because empaths cannot readily divide up the line between self and others, they may not know how they feel or what they need, which only makes the communication situation more complicated.
Obsessive Tendencies: A codependent empath may become obsessively focused on a person or event. Past mistakes, failures, and past relationships can take over the empaths thoughts and mind, making it hard for these individuals to see clearly. The critical distinction here is that an empath is focusing on happenings outside of him or herself.
Dependence on Others: The codependent empath is a perfect storm of many factors; poor boundaries, low self-esteem, and an inability to communicate effectively. When all these factors come together, there is often a dynamic of dependence. When you depend on others, you may require approval, attention, and acceptance constantly. Because this type of person is heavily dependent on the input of others, they may remain in an unhealthy relationship to avoid the pain and loneliness of being alone.
Denial of Many Kinds: Codependent relationships often evolve and survive while being fed on denial. If you are in denial of your own needs, boundaries, and value, it will be easy for the dynamics of a relationship to devolve into codependence. If you are in this type of relationship, you may also find yourself in denial of this reality. Denying the truth makes change impossible. Therefore, the first step is to take an honest look at your relationships and be willing to evaluate if you are enacting unhealthy empathic tendencies.
Healing Codependent Tendencies
Codependent relationships can be very complicated. As an empath, you go through life with challenges unique to your empathic nature. Navigating life and relationships will require special attention to your needs and boundaries. Healing childhood wounds and developing healthy self-esteem is an ideal place to start. It is imperative that as an empath, you build your toolkit of protective and restorative practices. You may require limiting time with others, taking time alone in nature, and making it a point to assess how you are feeling and then communicate those feelings. Remember that your character is unique and wonderful. You may require a little bit of specialized attention and care, and you are worth it!