I was reading about this hyper empathy syndrome online, and I am wondering whether hyper empathy syndrome is actually a real thing. I must say that I know plenty of people that have a lot of empathy, and that people who will be there for you without any questions asked. They seem to be able to feel your state of mind and understand you without the need to tell them much at all.
The bit I don't understand is how this is a disorder. Can you really have too much empathy, or is it just all in the realm of human experience? I know one person can be more sensitive than another but surely, not everything is a disorder. So in short, is hyper empathy syndrome real or just made up?
I've said this before and I will say it again:
- Hyper empathy syndrome is not currently a disorder that can officially be diagnosed, though it was covered under "personality disorder not otherwise specified" not too long ago when the DSM IV was in place.
- Empathy exists on a spectrum, that much is very clear. Everyone acknowledges that too little empathy is a serious problem and yes, part of several disorders. It's not too much of a stretch that too much empathy could also be a problem, right? Too much empathy can severely impact someone's daily life, and even take it over.
Rather than asking if a person can have too much empathy, I'd ask whether it's possible to have so much empathy for other people that it causes problems. When I think of domestic violence situations, and my sister was in one, I often think those relationships started because the abused partner fell for the sob story the abusive partner shared, because they felt the need to take care of a person. And that might also be why they stay for longer than is safe for them.
In that sense, yes, it is possible to have so much empathy for other people that you forget about yourself, and that places you at risk of all kinds of things.
Everything humans experience is in "the realm of human experience", but that doesn't mean it is normal or healthy.
Imagine if you can feel emotions even from a distance, if you feel the pain of people you don't even know well, if you are overstimulated by other people's feelings all the time (like being in a room where the music is way too loud), if you're a people magnet and some of those people are abusive because they sense you'll do anything for them even when it's not in your own best interest....
Yes. There is such a thing as too much empathy. I think it can ruin your life.
I think I have hyper empathy syndrome though the word is very much new to me.
High school was hell. All the backstabbing, badmouthing, bullying... Office politics felt pretty much the same to me. Having a lot of empathy might be good, but absorbing the things other people feel isn't. It is quite literally painful at times.
It's also difficult to talk about because it feels like a humble brag. Like "look at me, I have so much empathy, aren't I special?". Well, it's not like that. I think empathy may even be the wrong word because it's more like a curse.
I think hyper empathy syndrome isn't just about how much empathy a person has, but about how that empathy affects them. I read that diagnosing hyper empathy syndrome under the DSM IV required that the person is significantly impaired, interpersonally and in terms of self-identity. It can even drive some people to psychosis, because of the empathy they feel, or it can make them feel like they're a slave to their empathy.
On the other hand, you also have people with super sensitive empathy who don't experience too many negative consequences from it and who can even thrive with sensitive empathy.
Empathy means you understand how someone feels, and you try to understand what it would be like for you if you were in the other person's shoes. Can't have too much of that, can you? I think the word is sometimes used wrongly, too. Compassion is the experience where you yourself start feeling what the other people is feeling, and try to do something to make things better for them.
Now, can you do that for everyone? Everyone? No, you can't. That's why most people tend to help their friends and relatives and not the random stranger down the street, when it comes to bigger things, and also why people prefer to give to charities they can relate to. There's such a thing as compassion fatigue, and charities know this. You're more likely to help an orphan whose name and age you know than just to "donate to an orphanage".
Hypothetical people who don't have this built-in mechanism of switching off could have issues, I'm sure. I guess hyper empathy syndrome or hyper compassion syndrome is a theoretical possibility.
Too much empathy can cause a person to see their levels of the stress hormone cortisol go through the roof. This is bad for their mind as well as their body.
Too much empathy can also cause feelings of depression, and even lead to clinical depression.
Burnout, where everything becomes too much for a person, is another possible outcome of excessive empathy.
It is important for people to be able to feel non-reactive empathy, empathy where they do not feel they need to jump in to solve other people's problems, because that can be bad for both parties involved.