Empaths & Emotional Exhaustion
[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]
"I hate people," I told my friend the other day, "I really, really do."
"I hate people," is something I say often but don't really mean, sort of like how people say they're busy or tired all the time. Most of us are less busy than we fancy ourselves and less tired than we need to be. But we all like to complain, and me complaining about how annoying other people are scratches the same itch as other people complaining about anything else. There is a sort of cultural currency that comes with being busy and tired, but I'm not sure that same currency applies to hating people. Probably, I just seem crotchety and unlikeable, which is exactly the vibe I was going for at that moment.
She laughed, because she knows I don't hate every person, but only very specific people at very specific times. "Hate is a strong word," you might be thinking, but in my world strong words are the only words worth using. The person who cut me off in traffic only to brake check me? Hate. The guy who calls incessantly despite me politely asking him to please pound sand? Hate. The prospective client I call only to have them curse at me or ghost me or call me a sour name? Hate. The person who needs constant validation? The person who kicks their dog? The person who doesn't wash their hands after using a public bathroom? The close talker? The slow walker? The unapologetic narcissist? The crusty ex? The door-to-door vacuum salesman? The wine or beer connoisseur who turns up their nose at everything in an attempt to seem both worldly and superior? Hate hate hate.
"What's bothering you?" she asked.
"People," I answered, leaning into my stubbornness before relenting, "I'm just really tired," I said. "I'm drained. Lately I feel like everyone wants something from me." I was energetically drained from being hyper-social the past few weeks; propping up the energies of those around me; attuning myself to whatever social situation I was in; holding space for people who needed it. I don't mind doing any of this, but it had piled up on me heavily and I found myself unmotivated, tired, and unwilling to be patient or hold space for anyone.
Years ago, one of my half a dozen therapists told me I'm an empath, which is a therapists way of saying I'm highly empathetic, which I happened to already know. An empath is highly aware of the emotions of the people around them and intuitively know what other people may need emotionally. Most of us with beating hearts can relate to this a bit because we all have some degree of empathy. I guess the only difference is that empaths routinely sit at a 10 on the Richter scale of feeling things.
How can you tell if you're an empath? According to one psychologist: you feel other people's emotions, the "vibe" of a room or place affects you, you can tell when someone is lying, you can feel overwhelmed in intimate relationships, people come to you for advice, and many more reasons I don't care to repeat here.
Signs you might be experiencing emotional burnout include:
1. Instead of empathy and compassion, you experience irritability or numbness. Usually, when I'm overwhelmed I go numb, and then go dark. I stop responding to messages, I hole up in my apartment, or go somewhere alone.
2. You feel emotionally or mentally exhausted. I struggle to take on any sort of mentally arduous task, I'm less creative and less sharp.
3. You struggle to fall asleep and don’t feel rested when you wake. Sometimes my mind will race and prevent me from sleeping; sometimes I fall asleep but can't pull myself out of bed.
4. You experience hypersensitivity towards emotional scenes in movies, TV, and books. This is true for me most of the time, but especially when I'm tired.
5. You’ve become more withdrawn or keep seeking to isolate yourself. See point #1.
6. You dread your place of work or hanging out with your friend group. I work from home, so I don't dread that too much, but I definitely dread interaction with anyone that doesn't seem absolutely necessary.
7. You’re using unhealthy coping mechanisms like over/under eating, smoking, or drinking. I drink more often when I'm emotionally spent, or sometimes my appetite vanishes.
There's not much point in identifying a problem if nothing is done to fix it, so how exactly does one recuperate from this type of exhaustion? The first thing I do is not socialize with anyone I don't want to socialize with, which relieves an enormous amount of my mental fatigue. I try to go to bed early, read more, eat some vegetables, and connect with someone who fills my cup rather than people who drink from it. And sometimes, I complain about how much I dislike people because that alone helps relieve some mental stress, like swearing or screaming or hitting a punching bag.
P.S. Read more signs here or take a quiz to see if you're an empath here or read about exercise and stress relief here.