To be honest with you, I never heard the word ’empath’ before I began studying narcissistic abuse. Of course I know what empathy is, but using it as a noun and personal characteristic is new to me, and I love it! As I started reading all I could on empaths, I kept saying YES YES YES!! That’s me!! Finally, I have a word that describes my inability to NOT get emotionally involved at such high levels and why I feel things so terribly deep. All my life, people have told me I’m just too sensitive and I shouldn’t take things so seriously. And I’ve tried. But it’s like telling a narcissist to start feeling love and remorse! Ain’t gonna happen!
But, there’s a difference here. I CAN change…and they cannot. So, here’s what I’ve really been trying to work on: balancing being an empath while also being a strong, assertive woman. I was reading through my Twitter feed the other day, and someone posted that she was balancing being an empath with being a bitch. And at first, I really liked that!! But as I got thinking about it, I realized I don’t want to be a ‘bitch’. To me, that has such a negative connotation and I picture a ‘bitch’ as being too selfish and aggressive. I don’t want to be too empathic…but I also don’t want to be too combative either. So, my goal is to nurture the empath in me, while also learning to be strong enough to say NO when I need to and to construct healthy boundaries to keep me safe from those who want to use me.
I’ve always felt too much. I remember as a kid apologizing to stuffed animals if I ripped them or neglected them for a while. I truly felt what I thought would be their pain. I remember not being able to hold my tears back in school when I saw someone get hurt and I always tried to help the kids no one else paid attention too. I knew what that felt like. I was a mess as a case worker for Child Protective Services. I worked in this position for 2 years and simply couldn’t handle the horrors I saw everyday. I never got the kids out of my thoughts, and their pain became my pain as well. That job beat me down emotionally to where I knew I needed to really work hard at securing a teaching position. Still today I feel for my students. Many of them will share things with me that break my heart…and I can’t help but hug them, cry with them, and do anything I can to make it better. Hubby 3 used to say it wasn’t in my job description to do this. I shouldn’t be getting so involved in their lives. I understood what he was saying, and knew he was trying to protect me from the pain, but what he didn’t get was that doing those things is in my ‘personal’ description. It’s just a part of who I am. Yesterday, my little dog was barking incessantly and I yelled at her. I cried after I did so. I felt bad that I yelled at this little creature who I love so much.
I know my son gets frustrated by my empathic nature. He doesn’t understand how I can blame myself for things that happened so many years ago and still feel the pain of the situation. When I think about leaving his dad and feeling as if I shattered my son’s life, I still cry and will sometimes even ask for his forgiveness one more time. My emotions are such that they never go away…I can’t find closure easily since they are so deeply buried. The first time my son got his heart broken, I was at a loss as to what to do. To see my boy in so much pain was excruciating and I wanted to take that burden on myself. He’s gotten past that breakup which occurred years ago, but I can still think back on the pain I saw in his face and tear up.
Empaths have a hard time letting emotions go. We ruminate over the sensitive situations and wonder if we could have done something better or different to negate some of what happened. Feeling this deeply is horrible. And so VERY hard to explain to those who don’t. Not that others don’t feel. Of course not! It’s just that empaths go a couple of levels deeper, and the deeper you are in something, the harder it is to claw your way out.
That’s why we are such great targets for narcissists. With just a few interactions with us, narcissists know we are ’emotional’ and sensitive and want to help anyone and everyone we can. (Unfortunately, we often don’t know how to help ourselves). We get dragged into their lives with the love and fun they show us at first…and we think we’ve finally met someone who understands us and truly loves us for who we are! Then, as we start to become devalued by them, we are chided for our sensitivity. We are told we are too emotional. That we act ‘crazy’. And we’re snidely asked why in the world we can’t control our tears. Of course, this all makes us ‘feel’ as if we’ve done something wrong! Everything was so good in the beginning…WE fell in love. WE built a strong, emotional connection to this person and they were perfect for us. So, it only goes to figure that it’s because of US there are troubles. The rumination starts. If only we had done this…or maybe we should have done that. So we try harder. We give more. We invest more of ourselves, because the narcissist just needs to FEEL our love in order to be OK. And when they don’t, the fault is ours.
No wonder victims of narcissistic abuse are so emotionally depleted. We have given literally everything we have which is so so so much. And in our eyes, even that wasn’t enough. Depression kicks in…anxiety becomes almost unmanageable at times…and through it all, we still believe that if we show our narcissist just ONE more time how much we love them, that will make all the difference in the world.
I’ve finally learned this just isn’t true. Nothing will make Sarge love me. Nothing will make Sarge have genuine feelings towards me. Nothing will make Sarge feel remorse at all of the horrible things he did to me over the last year. Nothing.
And to be honest, I don’t know if I could go through all of this again. So I HAVE to become stronger…a Wonder Woman for myself! Someone inside of me that has learned to say NO! Has learned to build a fence around her heart. Not a huge fence with barbed wire on the top. Nope. That’s overkill. But a ‘smart’ fence that keeps the bad out, and lets the good in. I need my inner Wonder Woman to warn me to trust my instincts more and rely on my inner helping nature a bit less. To teach me how to put my best interests first. And to guide me in saying when things need to end…before they become damaging to my spirit. I need to be a Wonder Woman who still has compassion…but after expressing that compassion, can have it’s hold lessened so it doesn’t keep me bound. My inner Wonder Woman needs to teach me to accept what I’ve done without ruminating over it time and time again. And to accept the forgiveness of others and learn to allow closure to occur. And most of all, my Wonder Woman needs to teach me how to forgive myself when I fall short. When I do make mistakes. And to stop me from beating myself up for not being able to use my empathy to fix others. I’ve got to manage this emotional hole I have, and learn to use more effective tools in digging myself out when I do fall into it too deeply.
It’s not going to be easy. It’s a ying/yang sort of thing. Trying to find a balance between my empathic nature and my inner Wonder Woman. It’s going to take time, and work, and tenacity, but I’m ready to do that. After all, doesn’t everyone deserve a heroine in their lives?
This is what I know: being empathic is a magnet for narcissists. They can smell them a mile away, and once they’ve spotted their prey, they are ruthless in making sure it’s trapped. Learning to have the strength to manage that empathic nature is critical so we aren’t used, manipulated, and destroyed again. If we can’t find that in ourselves, we’re going to keep stepping into these dangerous traps.