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I know it is a bit of a strange question, but sometimes feel like a kind of shapeshifter, well known from Star Trek. I feel like I can take on other feelings and almost personalities when I am in their proximity. I feel a lot of empathy when people are sad, angry, or anything else, even if I don't know them well. This empathy and compassion often causes me to want to "fix" everyone. It causes me a lot of grief as well. I suffer with the people, and sometimes the people don't even want my help, which I fully understand but it is hard for me to let go. 

I was wondering if this extreme empathy and compassion is considered a disorder? Maybe I can get some help?

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Hi, 

Please Google hyper empathy disorder. My guess is that it will begin to answer a lot of the questions you have and that you will find a lot of recognition there. 

Is extreme empathy and compassion considered a disorder? Diagnosing hyper empathy disorder might be tricky because only a few cases have ever been documented, but I suspect it is much more common than we know. Anything that has a severe negative impact on your life can be considered a disorder, though. If your hyper empathy and compassion is not bothering you or anyone else you're around, then it's not a disorder for you. But since you say it causes you a lot of grief, I would consider talking to a therapist. You don't need an official diagnosis to do that. Therapists are available for everyone. 

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Yes, there is such a thing as hyper empathy disorder. Empathy is the capacity to relate to what someone else is feeling ("imagine being in their shoes") or to feel what they're feeling. Hyper empathy disorder would be empathy gone wild, where a person helps or empathizes with other people at their own expense, sometimes forgetting about their own needs entirely. They can also have physical symptoms as a result. 

It is not difficult to see why hyper empathy disorder is extremely detrimental to the patient's own health and can as such be considered a genuine mental disorder. That "put on your own oxygen mask first" advice is there for a reason. 

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I wanted to say that I think it IS possible, for some people, to be both very empathetic, outside the norm empathetic, and to still take care of their own emotional health. 

I have a friend like this. She possesses an enormous amount of emotional intelligence that is recognized by everyone who meets her, and she is able to get along well with almost any person — even with people I'd call objectively unlikeable. She is a special needs teacher, and that suits her perfectly. She would also do well as a social worker or therapist. 

Anyway, she's also able to articulate when she needs time to herself and can wall herself off from the outside world when needed. She's not afraid to say she is dealing with empathy overload and needs to veg out with Netflix by herself. 

Basically, I think she has hyper empathy, but not hyper empathy DISORDER. Hyper empathy disorder comes in where the empathy starts to interfere with your own life in a really bad way. 

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Hello,

I have always been a very empathetic person, but I wasn't aware that I might be out of the ordinary until much more recently. Since I have become aware, I have, of course, explored hyper empathy syndrome. My feelings are that it is like being bombarded with other people's emotions all the time. I have also taken autism spectrum tests online, and I find myself there as well, but it appears that being overloaded by other people's emotions causes a shut-off mechanism that resembles autism. 

I do not have a formal diagnosis and don't intend to pursue one, but hyper empathy can be a disorder when your own feelings are drowned out by other people's feelings. 

HTH

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I'll admit that I don't quite understand hyper empathy syndrome, or that I think different people use it to describe different things. 

I read about one person who literally experienced, not just empathy but almost a real-time experience, actual physical pain included, when she watched horror films. She wasn't exaggerating. She actually felt those things. I suspect there's some grand misfiring of neurons in the brain going on in those cases. Basically, what the brain should interpret as the person seeing someone else's experience or as empathy, is interpreted as that person going through the experience themselves.

I'm not sure that's a mental health issue. It sounds like a physical issue with the brain to me.

This is not the same thing as having a very strong sense of empathy.  

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Have you heard of mirror-touch synesthesia?

If you haven't, it's a condition that is very real and that involves people feeling the same physical pain others are feeling when they just watch them get hurt. This is not a cognitive "ouch, that would sure hurt!", but an actual pain in response to seeing others experience pain. 

If it is possible to literally feel the physical pain other people experience, why wouldn't it be possible to also experience the feelings someone else is experiencing? I don't know much about hyper empathy syndrome beyond that it is a real term, but I completely believe it is possible. 

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Atypical empathy is associated with the following mental disorders and other conditions:

  • Autism
  • Psychopathy
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Narcissistic personality disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Bipolar disorder

All of these are typically considered to feature a lessened sense of empathy, but I am not so sure whether that's the case in people suffering from borderline and autism, or bipolar and schizophrenia for that matter. You can only test whether a person is experiencing true emotions through a functional MRI scan, I think. 

In any case, since we already know that atypical empathy exists, I don't doubt that extreme empathy and compassion are possible and that they could be a disorder. 

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