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You may or may not be familiar with the term empath. The word empath is frequently used to describe someone highly sensitive and aware of the emotions of those around them. 

Many people consider themselves empaths despite not fully understanding the term. To better understand what an empath is, one must also understand empathy, sympathy, and apathy. 

Knowing each of these concepts can help an individual transform how they engage with others, especially when it comes to supporting loved ones that struggle with their mental health. 

What Is Apathy?

The easiest way to explain these three terms is by starting with apathy. Apathy describes lacking emotion, motivation, concern, or interest in something. An apathetic person does not care about what is happening around them, whether they choose not to care or do not have the mental capacity to do so. 

Apathy can be the effect of mental health distress or several other physical or medical conditions. Apathy is different from depression, although it can be difficult to tell the two apart. 

Everyone experiences a lack of interest and motivation from time to time. When these feelings persist, they can affect an individual’s ability to experience wellbeing. 

Symptoms of apathy might include:

  • Lack of motivation (to complete a task or to do anything)
  • Lack of purpose (such as worthlessness or hopelessness)
  • Low energy levels
  • Passiveness
  • Detachment from life
  • Absence of emotion
  • Suppression of emotion

What Is Sympathy?

Sympathy is a state of feeling bad for someone else because of their life experiences or current situation. To be sympathetic towards what someone else is going through, it is important to limit distractions and pay close attention to how another person is feeling. 

Sympathy is typically felt for someone else when they have experienced a negative life event. It is a feeling that expresses care and concern for someone else and their situation while also expressing sorrow for their trouble or grief. 

With sympathy, a person understands what someone else is going through in their own way. 

What Is Empathy?

Empathy is considered the most effective form of showing compassion for someone else going through significant emotional pain. Unlike sympathy, empathy is when a person understands and shares the negative experiences and emotions of someone else. 

While sympathy typically generates feelings of pity, empathy provides a deep and intimate connection between a person suffering and a person trying to provide support. Empathy creates a vulnerable space for two people to heal together. 

Another way to understand empathy is that it is the ability to place oneself in another person’s shoes, specifically showing a person that they are being heard and genuinely understood. 

Empathy suspends any form of judgment or opinion. It does not foster feelings of anger or resentment like sympathy might. It is more challenging to be empathetic, as it is likely to come naturally based on the person or the situation and not generated from speculation. 

What Is an Empath?

A person can identify whether they feel apathetic, sympathetic, or empathetic towards someone based on how they connect with the person or the situation. 

As mentioned earlier, an empath is someone that seems to absorb the energies and emotions that are present in an environment. There are significant benefits to being an empath, such as being naturally caring, compassionate, and understanding. 

People do not choose to be an empath; instead, they are born with such qualities. While empathy is deemed the most effective way to connect with others, there are still downsides to being an empath. 

Empaths feel the weight of the world around them much stronger than others and are often burdened as such. They are highly sensitive and are unable to avoid the feelings of others. Empaths can not turn off their care for others, and in turn, are constantly overwhelmed with emotion. 

Luckily, there are ways that empaths can protect their energy to utilize their gift to the best of their ability. 

How to Manage Empathic Traits in Recovery

If you are an empath in recovery, you must learn how to prioritize your feelings and emotions above others. This particular truth is fundamental during your healing journey. 

Learning to protect your energy is the key to staying balanced and experiencing mental peace. Here are some tips on how to save your energy:

  • Set boundaries. You must learn how to set boundaries to keep a healthy relationship with yourself and others. Define your limits to the best of your ability. 
  • Work on being more mindful. Meditate, take a walk in nature, journal your emotions, and practice gratitude as often as you can. It would be best if you learned how to be mindful in all that you do so that the energy and emotions of others do not weigh you down. 
  • Learn how to balance self-care and social connection. You may need to place limits on how much time you spend with others to avoid feeling emotionally or mentally burnt out. Find a balance that works for you. 

Being an empath can be overwhelming, as empaths do not choose to take on the weight of those around them. Being an empath in recovery can create even more intense challenges because you feel like you are responsible for supporting and guiding the healing of others. In understanding empathy, sympathy, and apathy, a person is better able to provide authentic support to their loved ones struggling with mental distress. West Coast Recovery Centers understands that being an empath can be draining, especially in recovery. Our compassionate staff believes in the power of providing empathetic care to all of our clients. Treatment for mental health and substance use is not meant to be experienced alone. You deserve to be empowered and motivated as you heal. Let our staff help guide you through your personal treatment experience. For more information about the resources we offer, please call us today at (760) 492-6509

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