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June 19, 2019

Codependent or Empath: 4 ways to Tell the Difference.

I’m so used to people calling themselves empaths these days.

It’s so common that my neighbor even insists that her dog is an empath…I do believe, however, that we are all empaths to some extent. Unless of course you are a psychopath, or a sociopath, and you lack the ability to feel empathy.

In that case, you’re sh*t out of luck. You can’t jump onto this spiritual bandwagon.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of an empath is “one who experiences the emotions of others.”

This is where lines seem to blur between empathy and codependency.

Are you taking on the emotions of others as your own? (codependency) Or are you able to hold space for others to share their deep emotions in your presence? (empathy)

Are you anxious all the time because you believe you have picked up someone else’s energy? (codependency)  Or are you able to feel calm, regardless of someone else’s intense emotions, because you recognize them as theirs and not your own? (empathy)

Do you feel the need and responsibility to fix people when they are having emotional difficulties? (codependency) Or are you able to sit with someone who is suffering? (empathy)

Do you feel that everyone is always taking advantage of you and draining your energy? (codependency) Or do you feel that your relationships are fulfilling for the most part? (empathy)

Codependency, as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is “trying to satisfy the needs of another who may have an addictive or emotionally unstable personality.”

Let me first own the fact that I have lived a large part of my life as a codependent.

I took on everyone’s emotions and problems as my own, and as a result, I felt taken advantage of and was constantly swimming in victim mentality.

Are you broken? Cool, let me fix you.

Or, at least, let me get completely depleted from trying.

I loved a good human project, because it allowed me to focus on something other than my own issues—not a good way to live.

I have always been a very sensitive person. I remember many times in my childhood that I took on the emotions of others—children and adults alike.

So, when I began my recovery from codependency, I started to see my sensitive nature as a detriment even going so far as to call it a character defect. It took a lot of work on my part to learn to see my sensitivity and empathy as a gift.

Being highly sensitive is actually one of my greatest assets. It allows me to be extremely compassionate.

My problem was a complete lack of boundaries and no self awareness.

Once I learned to care for myself and how to set healthy boundaries, things changed entirely, and I was able to let go of the victim mindset.

Yet, I have never felt comfortable calling myself an empath, even though I have always been able to feel the emotions of others on a deep level.

I think, for some, calling themselves an empath is a form of spiritual bypassing—avoiding their own emotional issues in the name of their personally deemed superpower: empathy.

Some say it with an air of arrogance, as if they are better than the rest of us. Terminally unique. Enlightened.

This spiritual superiority is likely to make us sicker down the road. Avoiding our own issues is really just saving them for later.

They don’t disappear when we compartmentalize them, they are always there, and they are often guiding our interactions with others.

I’m not trying to deny anyone the title of empath—we all have the right to self-identify however we wish. I do hope to trigger a little self-reflection though, because that is where the healing truly begins—the ability to see things in ourselves that need to change and the willingness to change them.

Learning to set better personal boundaries will help in the long run. You can totally call it “protecting your energy” if that makes you feel fancy. I do that sometimes too. Whatever you want to call it is fine with me.

Really, it’s just a form self-love in disguise.

Just make sure that you are being true to yourself, and your own emotions—never deny them in order to fix someone else.

~

Shannan Fiorenza

author: Shannan Fiorenza

Image: Ana Francisconi

Editor: Michelle Gean

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