Inside Voices

It Sucks to Be an Empath

By QUEENIE TANTIONGCO

It has been one grueling year, yet it still isn’t over. It is both tedious and laughable that we have to keep a submicroscopic organism in mind as we go about our lives now, lest we end up sick. As the 2020 Filipino meme goes, sana all iniisip. But you know what else is even more exhausting? Constantly having to feel what others are feeling during this time.

Like everybody else, I feel the need to help, console, and understand others. When this pandemic started — especially as a healthcare advocate — it felt important to extend myself to everyone. While impossible, a huge part of me was hoping I could defy the odds. So, I constantly poured out my bucket to fill someone else’s, and even then, I would dread the idea that I haven’t done enough, that I haven’t felt enough. It seems hypocritical to comfort someone by claiming I understand what they’re going through — when I really don’t. I haven’t lost a job, I’m not homeless, I have food to eat, and I have the capacity to comfort others. So maybe, no, I do not understand.

The struggle to remain true to my nature as an empath is honestly taking its toll on me. This seems counterintuitive, since it’s common to think that devoting oneself to a greater cause is supposed to be, for lack of a better term, fun. It’s supposed to make us happy. But in a time when so much suffering is going on, I tend to spread myself too thin, thinking it’s the best way to help more people. And now, quite frankly, it’s gotten tiring to caring.

Empathy is a trait society generally values. Aside from hard skills, an increasing number of employers and educators tend to go for empathic individuals. But no one really talks about how draining it is. Empathy can be overwhelming and uncomfortable, and yet by their very nature, empaths still somehow continues to offer help, even if it’s actually unsolicited. It will push you to question if you’re manifesting the feelings or emotions you pick up. It’s really exhausting. There is an unmistakable need for self-awareness: Am I safeguarding my energy well? Am I excessively doing more than what I can?

I have come to terms with every twinge of guilt I can find in my body. I have to remember that humans function best and give more from a place of overfill. We take care of ourselves because we want to better serve others. It’s not selfish at all. And if I want to continue to care, I know now, and in spite of all my empathic inclinations, that protecting my energy will have to come first.

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