Saturday, August 14, 2010

Empaths In Love: Through The Eyes Of The Empath

One of the biggest questions I get asked about pertains to Empaths in romantic relationships, Empaths in love, as it were. And as I listen to many people describe their situations to me, I often note a trend that is common for quite a few people. This trend begins with the personality of the Empath, so let's explore that in a bit more detail first before we move on to the main focus of this blog.

An Empath is one who tends to be categorized as a healer, a counselor, a friend, a natural nurturer, and a people pleaser. They are gentle, soft spoken, caring, and give of themselves without reserve...even to their own detriment at times. They are observant and hypersensitive to the needs, wants and desires of others. And they have a wish to avoid conflict through mediation.(Note: this is a generalized assessment of Empath traits and does not speak to everyone)

At the heart of this description, there is more to be seen beneath the surface, though. Often times people who exhibit these kinds of behaviors also carry with them a very low sense of their own self worth. With very low self esteem, they are prone to bouts of depression, isolation, anxiety, and codependency on others.

This codependency can often be expressed through the relationships they develop with other people. Because they are hypersensitive to aggression and prefer to avoid conflict, their natural ability to sooth others can be turned into a means to placate others who are easily prone toward anger and aggression. And because of their soft spoken nature, which tends to lean toward a passive attitude instead of an assertive one, they can, sadly, be dominated by more aggressive personalities.

What this means is that people who exhibit this kind of personality can leave themselves open to being used by others who they consider close to them. There is a higher risk of being manipulated and abused, whether the Empath sees it consciously or not. And because this type of person is heavily based in healing and emotion, as well as giving of themselves without reserve, there is also a higher risk of them ignoring such negative behaviors, making excuses for the other person, or blaming themselves for whats happening to themselves, instead of seeing what is really happening to them. And all of this can happen to even the healthiest of Empaths.

The Origins Of This Personality Type

The origins of this personality type can come about naturally or through conditioning. And there are all types of conditioning that can bring about this issue. Those that come by it through conditioning, though, often share some types of issues which allow for the onset of low self esteem, such as emotional abuse, verbal abuse, psychological abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, domestic violence (even if it is watching domestic violence in other family members as a child), violent crimes, or through some other type of tragedy. And this type of conditioning can begin from a very early age or sometime into one's teens.

Those who come by this predisposition naturally, are equally as prone to being open toward the above types of conditioning. Because whether one is naturally a sensitive person or one has their psyche changed through these kinds of experiences, as children and young adults, we are left to the whims of others sometimes. And the behaviors we develop in order to survive become the survival skills we carry into adulthood. Just as the way we perceive ourselves as children, through the eyes of those that condition us, carries over in some shape or form as adults.

Low Self Esteem

Wikipedia says this about Self Esteem: Self-esteem is a term used in psychology to reflect a person's overall evaluation or appraisal of his or her own worth. Self-esteem encompasses beliefs (for example, "I am competent" or "I am incompetent") and emotions such as triumph, despair, pride and shame. A person's self-esteem may be reflected in their behavior, such as in assertiveness, shyness, confidence or caution.

So low self esteem would occur when a person has a very low and negative overall evaluation/appraisal of his/her own worth. In other words, this occurs when you set others above you and consider them to be of more importance than you. And through comparison with others, you are always found lacking in some way.

Here are some of the characteristics of low self esteem, but remember, these are only a few traits and there are many more.
Characteristics Of Low Self Esteem
  • Lack of Satisfaction. For people with low self esteem, the grass is always greener on the other side. These sorts of people are never satisfied with any aspect of their lives whether this aspect is their family or their car, these people constantly want more with the feeling that something bigger will give them the joy they desire.
  • Apprehension of the Unknown. People who have low self-esteem are often afraid to try new things. Their fear of the unknown prevents them from doing what they really want to do and achieving their full potential.
  • Staying in the Past. Low self-esteem sufferers are constantly unable to focus on the "here and now" they spend a huge amount of time bothering about the future and thinking about their past mistakes. These people often fail to enjoy the current joys that life provides them with.
  • Self Dissatisfaction. Such people often fail to be comfortable with themselves; these people constantly focus on the negative and focus on losses instead of successes. They constantly neglect themselves or focus too much on their appearance because they lack the belief in their looks.
  • Acceptance of Imperfections. These people are constantly unable to accept the fact that they're not perfect. They strive for perfection at all times and become increasingly distraught when they fail to achieve the superficial standards of perfection they set for themselves. These people are also over sensitive and worry about criticism at all times.
  • Lack of Intimacy. These people can't be really intimate with other people and find it hard and impossible to be intimate with friends, family and other people. The relationships they have tend to be surface level at best.
  • Busy Bees. Busy people don't have the chance to look at their fundamental problems and issues, so people with self-esteem issues often hide their real feelings and issues by appearing to be constantly busy.
After reading some of the characteristics, try this quiz we put together to see if you might suffer from low self esteem: Do You Have Low Self Esteem? Quiz

People, Empaths in this case, with low self esteem may fall into a form of codependency defined like this:

Romance~relationship addiction ~ “You’re no one unless someone loves you.”
  • must be in a “relationship” and be “special” to someone in order to be OK with oneself
  • may use caretaking and sexuality to gain approval/acceptance
  • goes from relationship to relationship.
Here are some signs of Love Addiction:
Progressive Stages of Love Addiction

1. Increasing tolerance of inappropriate behavior from others
“Well he only hit me 3 times and I didn’t get many bruises.”
“She was only out once overnight this week.”
" I only threw the telephone.”

Greater Dependence
Surrender more and more responsibility to the other party.
Have them handle papers, make appointments, pick up children because “I just can’t

Decrease In Self Care:
Grooming declines, baggy clothes, disheveled look.

Numbness To Feelings.
“I’m ok, fine” But they’re feeling pain, anger, fear, shame, jealously

Feeling Trapped or Stuck
Helpless to fix the relationship.
Helpless to escape pain by ending relationship.
Lost the ability to care for and value self.
Increasing despair, disillusionment, depression.
Loss of power, Loss of ability to respond.
Behavior can become bizarre.

The Final Stages

Feeling abused and becoming abusive.
Can only see out of a negative filter, missing the good things in partner.
Cannot see own immature irrational offensive behavior.
Empaths In Love

From low self esteem we have come back to the main point of this discussion, Empaths in love. So let's look at the different types of love.
Six Types of Love
In a classic book titled Colors of Love (1973), J. A. Lee defined six varieties of relationship that might be labeled love.
  • Eros is romantic, passionate, love. In this type of relationship, love is life's most important thing. Lee said a search for physical beauty or an ideal type also typifies this type of love.
  • Ludus is a game-playing or uncommitted love. Lying is part of the game. A person who pursues ludic love may have many conquests but remains uncommitted.
  • Storge (STORE-gay) is a slow developing, friendship-based loved. People with this type of relationship like to participate in activities together. Often storge results in a long-term relationship in which sex might not be very intense or passionate.
  • Pragma is a pragmatic, practical, mutually beneficial relationship. It may be somewhat unromantic. A person who leans toward this type of relationship may look for a partner at work or where the person is spending time. Sex is likely to be seen as a technical matter needed for producing children, if they are desired.
  • Mania is an obsessive or possessive love, jealous and extreme. A person in love this way is likely to do something crazy or silly, such as stalking. The movie Fatal Attraction was about this type.
  • Agape (a-GOP-aye) is a gentle, caring, giving type of love, brotherly love, not concerned with the self. It is relatively rare. Mother Theresa showed this kind of love for impoverished people.

Now you might be wondering why we had to go through low self esteem, codependence, love addiction, and the different types of love to reach this point, but to understand Empaths in love, one must understand the way Empaths see the world first. Their experiences, which condition how they interact with others and how they perceive themselves, plays a direct, not to mention important, role in whether they are able to have healthy relationships with others, intimate or otherwise.

Being hypersensitive, being an Empath beyond the psychic arena, often rises out of severe trauma and affects the psyche in a linear pattern. What this means is that one event that conditions a person to behave a certain way, can beget further interactions later on in life of the same sort. It can also translate into other types of interactions with people, like intimate relationships.

An example of this would be when a person has been sexually abused as a child. Later on in life they may find it hard to sustain healthy intimate and romantic relationships, and instead choose those that are with an aggressive and/or dominant partner.

This is not a conscious choice, because almost no one would consciously choose to be in a relationship where they are subjugated. But this is the natural instinctive pattern they fall into because this is what they were raised with and consider 'normal' on some level. (Note: this is an example and does not speak to how everyone will react to this set of conditions)

Love for an Empath is hard. It's hard because of the kinds of people we become and the kinds of people we tend to be drawn to and associate with. And there is no kind or nice way to put it, other than to say it honestly.

But in saying that, it doesn't mean Empaths can't have healthy relationships. It doesn't mean Empaths, who might shy away from intimacy, don't want to be intimate. It doesn't mean there is no balance between the extremes of being alone and being in a potentially destructive relationship.

The first step toward developing healthy relationships is understanding yourself, your nature which was born out of your experiences, and how that affects your interactions with others and the people you choose to interact with. So think about it.


  1. This describes a lot of what I've been going through to a T. Thank you so much for posting these. Namaste.

  2. I agree as well. Being able to examine these things has brought a certain clarity and understanding to my life. Whether it is understanding of myself, or understanding of the people around me and the way I interact with them. Things to meditate on, Thank you.