I hear a lot of people in my clinic feel that they are too empathetic. They can feel the other person’s discomfort or pain and just want it to go away. This is the result of a high level of emotional enmeshment. Emotional enmeshment is when personal boundaries are unclear. When one becomes emotional, the other does too. Often happiness is dependent on the happiness of the other person and the security of the relationship. If this is under threat, both people become reactive, unsettled and experience extreme anxiety.
It’s easy to feel we have ‘too much empathy’ when our boundaries are being walked all over.
For example: You have a partner who you know is struggling with depression. They want to stay home with you all the time and don’t like you to go out without them because they feel insecure. You feel their pain and fear, and you love them, so you stay home with them a lot and stop going out with your friends. When you talk about going out with friends, they become sulky and withdrawn. Over time you become resentful. You think, ‘I feel too much empathy for their situation’. What is actually going on here is a boundary issue.
Remember: You are not responsible for anyone else’s mental health. You are not responsible for keeping your partner happy all the time (that’s not realistic). It is okay for your partner to be unhappy with you (if it is a healthy relationship, you will work it out). Boundaries are healthy and sometimes need to be re-negotiated (what might be okay at one stage in a relationship may not be later on). Feel free to Read some of my earlier posts on boundaries and assertiveness.
When you think about having had too much empathy in the past, has it really been a boundary issue? Let me know in the comments.