There is actual scientific research that proves women possess more social and interpersonal skills than men. One skill in particular, empathy, can be both a blessing and a curse.
According to Psychology Today, empathy is "the experience of understanding another person's thoughts, feelings, and condition from their point of view rather than from your own." Ever heard a person say that they have empathy issues? Empaths have a tendency to be highly emotional, often because they are taking on and internalizing the struggles of those around them. But what distinguishes a highly emotional or sensitive person from an empath? Dr. Elaine Aron states that highly sensitive people (HSPs) have "the need for alone time; sensitivity to light, sound, and smell, and an aversion to large groups" while empaths can sense people's energies, and "energetically internalize the feelings and pain of others - and often have trouble distinguishing someone else's discomfort from our own."
Being an empath without established boundaries is yet another form of emotional labor, which women perform all too often. And as someone who struggles with boundary setting, I can speak directly to the emotional distress that can ensue when you internalize the troubles or trauma of a romantic partner, friend, or family member. This emotional distress that can occur is often the result of compassion fatigue, which the American Institute of Stress defines as "the emotional residue or strain of exposure to working with those suffering from the consequences of traumatic events." Symptoms of compassion fatigue can include physical exhaustion, impaired decision making, and anger or irritation. If your empathy is starting to wear on your emotional and mental wellness, here are some ways to combat emotional fatigue.
When the problems of others start to affect your daily wellness, it's time to do more than face masks and bubble baths. Reassess how you care for yourself and set aside intentional time to unplug from people and social media. Allow yourself time to sit with your own feelings whether through journaling, meditation or therapy. Engage in purposeful activities that remind you that you are just as important as your loved ones. This may mean getting in touch with your basic needs, like exercise, adequate sleep, and eating foods that are wholesome and healing.
2. Say no.
The word "no" might be the one word that's the hardest for women to say. Get comfortable with saying no. It can be easy to be taken advantage of as an empath, and as fulfilling as it can be to be someone's confidant and source of comfort, you can't heal everyone. It is important to strike a balance that lets you retain your compassion but that also lets you recharge from the emotional stress of others. Start saying no, more often. Once you start saying no, you will feel more emboldened to set important boundaries whether that means telling someone that while you feel for them, you cannot emotionally handle their trauma or not answering phone calls past a certain time so that you can focus on yourself.
3. Find your own confidant.
It can feel awkward at first to reach out about your own problems, when you're used to being a constant listening ear for others. But just as you offer understanding and empathy to others, it is crucial to allow someone to do the same for you; that person could be a therapist or a friend. But talk about how you're feeling with others, let them know that you may be feeling emotionally drained or tired. Find someone who can offer you patience and let someone else do the listening for once.
Tiffany Curtis is a Philly-based freelance writer, podcaster, and sex positivist whose work focuses on empowerment for women of color, race and culture, and sex positivity. She has written for sites like Blavity, Refinery29, and Hello Giggles.
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