I'm an empath. This is a gift I'm still trying to figure out.
I recently learned an important lesson that I think anyone, especially my fellow empaths, can relate to.
You may know that one of my brothers, James, was diagnosed with brain cancer a couple of years ago. I live 1,500 miles away from him and his family.
You may also know that my older sister, Dawn, died earlier this year. She left behind a 14 year-old daughter, Lucy, who I'm very close to. (She is 15 now and lives with my mom, her grandma.) I live 1,100 miles away from them.
Lately, I've been really worried about my brother and thinking about all of the emotions he, his wife, and their 5 kids must be experiencing. And of course, I'm also really worried about Lucy and all of the emotions and grief she's been going through with losing her mom.
As an empath, I've been feeling all of these emotions very deeply, and they've caused me great anxiety and had my mind running a thousand miles a minute!
I should be closer to family. I should be there to help take care of Lucy and lend support to James and his family. I could move back, but everyone is in different places now, so it'd be hard to help them all out. If I moved, I'd have sooo much to think about and do! What about a place to live? What about my cats and boyfriend? What about a car and furniture? What about...AGH!
My head — and my heart — have been reeling!
After talking everything out with my one of my best friends, I finally realized...I've been experiencing empathic guilt!
Ya know, when you feel like you should be doing things for everyone else and end up neglecting yourself.
I had to remind myself that I won't be good support for my family if I don't take care of myself. It's like the airplane thing where they tell you to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others. If I uproot my life to be near them, it'd be like shirking my oxygen mask. I'd end up depleted, run-down, frustrated, and likely, angry. Then what good would I be to them?
There's always an alternative solution that will help you take care of yourself and lend support to others. It may take time to figure out what that solution is, but it's there.
In my case, the alternative is planning trips to see family around the same time every year. In between those trips, I'll video chat with them. This will offer them support and show them that I care, and it will keep my life in Portland, where I'm happy to be.
Thankfully, I was able to pull myself out of my whirlwind of emotions with the help of my friend and some rational thinking (which is hard to come by sometimes, I know!).
The next time you find yourself swirling down the black hole of empathic guilt like I was, follow these steps:
And tell me, have you experienced empathic guilt? How did you handle it? Let me know in the comments. 💖