Dealing with other people’s pain
Dealing with other people’s pain as an empath is something I have always struggled with. When I see something devastating in the media it tears me up and I feel so helpless and full of despair. If someone I know is in pain I can’t help but feel what they are going through and it hurts everywhere. It’s hardest though, when it’s someone I love and care about who is going through pain. Their feelings, emotions, sensitivity, rawness all become an overwhelming part of me and I find it hard to know what to do.
These reactions and ways of being have been in my life for as long as I remember. I grew up in Kenya in a wealthy, expat society where the contrast between wealth and poverty meant I often saw the pain many in extreme poverty went through. Whereas I didn’t directly in my privileged bubble, I often felt it through the lives of those much less fortunate. Life felt so unfair to me, even though for me personally it was not at all.
I developed coping mechanisms to deal with what was happening around me, to process my feelings as a child and then later a teenager. These involved many numbing and escaping actions – eating too much, sleeping, watching endless hours of Friends or another TV show and generally avoiding reality and being around others.
When I moved abroad to the UK (which is where I now live) these coping techniques stuck; although I didn’t always know what it was I was numbing or escaping from, as my surroundings were different so the triggers were also different.
I spent all of my twenties like this. Often feeling extreme feelings, taking in what was going on in my life, the lives of people I cared about as well as absorbing the general vibe if something more mainstream happened. I also continued to deal with these things through my same methods of numbing and escaping, only this time I also started including drinking regularly as it allowed me to escape and it made me feel good – the opposite of the confusing pain I was feeling.
It was only when my health really started to suffer I had to take a good look at how I was treating myself and start to make small changes. At this point I still didn’t know I was an empath, I just knew I felt more than others and was a lot more sensitive to things going on around me. Through lifestyle changes including developing a yoga and meditation practice, only eating real whole foods, stopping drinking regularly and including more creativity and time in nature did I start to realise that maybe some of the pain I was feeling wasn’t mine. It didn’t make sense. To go from feeling content in myself and what I was doing one minute to being so overwhelmed and upset about something the next didn’t add up.
It was like a lightbulb moment. I felt like maybe I wasn’t so weird after all. Perhaps I wasn’t too over-sensitive like I was often accused of being. Even just realising this was helpful as it lead me to the few techniques I have today which help me through moments when I feel too much of others’ pain.
It’s so easy to be triggered, for example if you happen to hear about something devastating in the news or know someone going through something painful. Here’s what I do to help me from getting too carried away in what’s going on:
- I try to stop for a moment before the feeling begins to overwhelm me and take a few long, deep breaths into my whole body. (Ideally I do this away from others, where I can get some fresh air).
- If the pain is still bubbling up, I allow myself to feel what I am feeling: I cry, I scream, I let it out – I feel the pain for a moment.
- Then I remind myself it isn’t mine. Yes, I care about the situation or person, often deeply, but it isn’t mine and I am no good to anyone (let alone myself) when I am in this state.
- I also often remind myself that sadly things happen out of our control and this is nobody’s fault.
- I ask myself if there’s anything constructive I can do to help and if so, I do it. If I can just be there and send love and support then that’s what I do. Putting myself into a position of ‘action’ where I don’t feel like a victim is helpful and makes me feel more positive overall.
I often still find that I want to resort to my old numbing and escaping habits and patterns to deal with things, so I have also started including more healthy habits, which were hard to make myself do at first although got easier as they became more established in my life. For me these include going for a walk in nature, journaling, doing yoga, meditating and speaking to a close friend to share what I am feeling.
Dealing with other people’s pain is absolutely one of the hardest things for me personally as an empath and how I react each time totally varies and is something that I can’t control. I’m not sure if it’s something I’ll ever have full control of, or even want to. In some ways it makes me who I am as I can empathise so deeply with others, so can be there for them and help them through the pain, in ways others cannot. But, having a way to discern between others’ pain and my own is a necessity as are ways to process the pain when it is not my own.
I hope this may have served you in some way. If there is anything you are struggling with in particular when it comes to others’ pain, please feel free to share in the comments below.
As an empath self-care is so important as it helps with energy levels, not feeling so drained, respecting boundaries, learning to do what’s best for your body, mind and soul – and so much more!
With this in mind I’ve put together a free 7-day self-care challenge for empaths, which includes a daily email with some self-care love, guidance, ideas, journaling prompts and other resources which will hopefully help you with your self-care as an empath. You can sign up here.