Subscribe: Apple Podcasts | RSSEpisode 14 of the Highly Sensitive Person Podcast is about empathy, which is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another being. I talk about wondering if Muay Thai fighters are lonely or sad…and crying about the tragedies of people I don’t think I have a right to be that sad about.
Mentioned on this episode: Dr. Elaine Aron’s empathy brain study
- On this blog: Fearing other people’s death
- On this blog: Feeling the physical pain of others
- The Condolence Note Coach website – a wonderful resource helping people deal with and write condolence notes
- A Few Suggestions for “Regulating” Fear, Grief, Anger, and Joy by Elaine Aron
- Being empathic versus being empath – crucial differences
Do you like the show?
If you enjoy my podcast and blog, if you find it helpful, uplifting, or entertaining, that’s awesome! Would you consider giving just $1 per episode? It would allow me to continue making these shows every week. Check out my Patreon page to see how it works. You can get special rewards, too!
Note: All podcast and blog content is free, as always, I’m just asking for support!
And sign up for the twice-monthly newsletter to be notified of the latest blog posts, podcast episodes, and HSP news.
Podcast music attribution: By the Coast (2004) (Antony Raijekov) / CC BY-NC 2.5
I relate to this so much, and while it can help me in my job (I’m in public health and this trait keeps me passionate about my job), it can be terribly painful in other ways.
I’m not proud to admit this but when I see someone out and about who is physically or mentally handicapped, the empathy I feel for them is suffocating. I don’t know which way to look, I turn away to protect myself from the intense empathetic emotions, but then feel guilty for not acknowledging them as people and I force myself to interact by smiling.
An example of this is any time I see a blind person on the Metro. I feel so bad for them, having to navigate the dangerous, chaotic metro system without the almost essential power of vision.
I have shared this with my mom and she’s told me, “the last thing that person wants is for someone to feel pity for them, their life is not horrible and you should see that. If anything, recognize how amazing it is that despite being blind, he’s so mobile! Going to work, being amidst people, –he’s engaged in every day life, not limited by it.”
How uplifting that viewpoint is! Mom’s response makes me feel guilty (again!) for feeling pity for someone who doesn’t want to be looked down on…but I don’t think I look down on them? I just feel extreme sadness that they have had to struggle more in life with a disability. That’s all. That they have to live life without the helpful tool of vision–making their struggle so much more than if they weren’t blind. I want people to be free of pain and struggle. As if I could do that! What burden I take on. 🙂
Shelly, what a great comment! I, too, act like that when I see someone with a physical challenge–or homeless people (I have a post about that!). Your description of it feeling “suffocating” is so accurate. When I see homeless folks, especially the elderly, a feeling grabs me in my chest, but at the same time, I do nothing, and I look away–then I feel even worse about that.
Your mom’s comment is awesome. 🙂 I love how other people’s perspectives can make a big difference in how we see the world.
This is the first comment I’m writing on this website that has has my attention for DAYS. I want to tell you that as an HSP that has worked with children with severe disabilities for the past 17 years, we have such a unique ability to engage. I remember when I was a child/teenager, if I saw someone in a wheelchair, particularly a child, my blood would turn to mercury and I would get completely overwhelmed. I’ve never told anyone that before. I started nannying for a child with Down’s Syndrome in my early 20’s and it changed my life forever. I knew the *child,* not the “disability.” It was because of my HSP trait that I was able to know him as a person. In addition to your Mom’s comment, I think the more time you spend with people who are differently abled, it would give you so much confidence in yourself, because we have that ability to see beyond the curtain, and oh, what a curtain to see through! So I hope that helps a bit.
i know you may never see this but i just want to reach out and let you know how much you’ve changed my mindset in a matter of two days. I’ve spent my whole life being told i’m too sensitive or weak, thinking something was wrong with me. i discovered your podcast on spotify and i think I’ve been crying for about two days straight. I’ve learnt so much about myself and started accepting myself more and it started because of you. I have been thinking something is wrong with me or i’m flawed or broken for sooooo many years that knowing now, i’m not alone is like lifting this enormous weight off my chest. this episode touched me so deeply, because my empathy is so strong it controls most of my life, i could watch a commercial or listen to a song and feel every word to my very core, i cant even argue because i always break into tears thinking i’m causing the other person sadness/ pain by going against their wants/ideas. These feeling have always made me nervous/anxious for who might see, I’ve been avoiding opening up to people all my life because i was afraid of really being seen as crazy. thank you for helping me to finally start loving myself for who i am and not to hide such a huge part of myself from the world and the ones i love because of fear of judgement. you’re an amazing person and i wish you all the success and happiness in your life!!
Sandie, wow, thank you so much for sharing!! I am so touched that the podcast helped you!! :)) much love!! 🙂
I do this all the time. It can be so energy sapping. The worst, for me, is feeling this way for people in tv/movies/books. I actually seek out spoiler, read movie synopsis’s and read the last chapter of a book to avoid this feeling.
When it is real people, I can understand this aspect (sort of) of my life. But with fictional people, it really bother me that I do this! Spoiling things is the best way I can avoid it.
So interesting!! When I used to read a lot more, I would often read the last few pages of the book at the beginning! I always thought it was because I was impatient, but after your comment I think it was because I couldn’t stand the suspense. I remember someone telling me I was crazy for reading the end of the book–and I kind of agree–why would you want to ruin the ending, right!? But I couldn’t help myself.
I’m in tears. That was beautiful. Me being in tears now is just an example of that, hey! I remember feeling a time distinctly where I felt my pain is everyone elses.
I certainly can relate to feeling like how your classmate’s father passed on, as a representation of all people and what we all go through, what you and I will go through. I feel like that for people who I know of who have passed on, especially people who have committed suicide. THAT gets to me; I think about them a lot, even though only one of those people was a family member. And I also find myself feeling and wondering if I have the right to feel so deeply about it, I wonder for what reason.
I also used to think experiencing this level of empathy and consideration for other people was normal for most people. I guess I just assumed
Thanks for your comment and I’m honored it resonated with you! I never know how people will like/not like the episodes, so it’s good to know I’m not crazy. 🙂
Thank you for this podcast! One statement really stuck with me – “There’s no benefits to these thoughts other than making myself feel sad or worried.” Also, the comments on here are incredibly insightful. Thanks again.
Thank you, Molly! I’m happy it was helpful to you. 🙂
I find empathy wears me down, cause me to withdraw (I’m an extroverted HSP) and want to isolate. I have trouble knowing where I end and where others begin. It is exhausting to care so much. Boundaries and coping skills help some, but I can’t help but wish I just didn’t feel so much.
Thank you for your podcast. <3
Angie, that’s such a true way to put it: “I have trouble knowing where I end and others begin.”
I really can relate to this podcast! But I have a contradicting issue with the empathy thing, i’m wondering where this comes from. Although I have strong empathy for other peoples emotions and problems (on tv/ in books/ etc), I somehow lack the ability to “read” social situations in real life sometimes (in conversations or quick interactions etc.). Maybe I already put up a wall or avoid contact not to be overwhelmed, I don’t know. Does anybody else has this as well?
E.g. when someone in the room tells you something in a serious way and I believe them if it’s plausible what they say because i’m a nice person, yet everybody else in the room (i’m guessing non-HSPs) already knew it was a joke… and then they laugh. Or when someone just acts normal/happy to me and later other people tell you that the person was clearly troubled and why I didn’t act on it…. Maybe it is because I never look at people that good as it scares me to have real (eye)contact and miss out on the little signs?
It really bothers me that other (non-HSP) people around me always tend to make a big deal out of me missing the signs of the social situation weather it’s a joke or not 🙁 I keep thinking about them for weeks after they’ve happened and feel bad about it missing the signs. I’m sure they will just forget about it real quick, but not me. I notice putting up a huge wall to people in general to avoid these situations, which is sad, because now I look like a bitch or a cold person. I’m caring way too much about this i suppose.
It’s not I wish I couldn’t feel empathy, I wish I could manually control it! I read a few comments from HSPs who were talking about how they felt about having HSP, and…well, I won’t mention what they said…but, when I read them, it’s not that I wish they could be happy with who they are and after learning information on HSP, but I wish that *I* could dial back upon my sensitivity and move on!
Some would say that it’s selfish to not think about others, but I would care *more* if I could control how much I felt pain. For a brain that scientists claim cannot feel pain, it hurts…a LOT!
So percise, thank you!
By accident I saw your beautiful comments on people with HSP. I thought there were a few people out there somewhere, because I know only of one person with HSP, my best friend, she lives in Germany. I lived there for the first 24 years of my life. I always wondered why I was a HSP, because my mother left when I was very young. She was 56 when she contacted me and I took care of her, she died of uterus cancer for one year later. My first husband had a child from a girlfriend, 3 months after my daughter was born and I paid that child’s child support because he did not work. He beat me for 2 1/2 years. Then I met someone (he was stationed in Germany) and went with my child and him to America. When he started beating me (I had no one around here) that was it for me. I raised my two girls by myself , worked and supported the 3 of us, until they were ready to be on their own, no child support. My third husband was a very good person, we treated each other kindly and with respect and love, but he died when he was 57 of Round-up chemicals. Now I am really content, I live with my small doggie, but no one really knows me. I think I was born melancholic. My 2nd daughter was a narcissist, my older daughter was a nurse and she told me her problem. It is horrible to live with a narcissist, that is your own child. She is almost 53 years old, she moved to Idaho recently (I live in California) and she started to apologize to me, that she was very nasty and mean to me for so many years. I told her the past is the past and we live now. Thank you so much for listening to me and it helped to read about other people that are HSP.