Empathy: A Fine Curse

Sometimes, I wonder why we need to feel the pain of others when our hands aren’t even enough to bear ours.

Why do we submerge ourselves in the pain of others until we get swept away by the tides of their pain? Why are we afflicted with the curse of empathy?

You may have felt this curse before:

You’re sitting in a dimly lit room, and a friend enters. His feet are stumbling ever so slightly. He tries to hide it, but you see it like you see the worry hidden behind his smile. When you ask, he says, “he is fine.” But you know under the facade, his pain. It is like a sledgehammer banging against your chest. and there’s nothing you can do.

Empathy, a fine curse.

The Curse

Empathy is one of the rawest forms of human emotions; it’s essential in forming bonds. I have some theories about empathy. One is empathy developed from mothers with toddlers who can’t be vocal about their pain. Mothers had to feel their pain, to bear it as their own.

Secondly, empathy remains because not all toddlers who grow into adults gain the ability to be vocal. And nature decided to make “mothers” out of some select few. They learned to hear the silence. But at what cost? Is it worth it? Carrying the pain of others? 

Empathy is the ability to understand and share another person’s feelings, thoughts, and experiences. It involves putting oneself in someone’s shoes, seeing things from their perspective, and feeling what they are feeling.

You’re probably thinking, “Well, isn’t that a good thing?” Sure, empathy has its perks. It allows people to trust you; you’re that shoulder or crutch people use for support. You build deeper connections with people by understanding what others feel and think. It may even give you an edge in climbing up the corporate ladder.

However, within its gift lies its curse. You feel all that’s around you, but what happens when there’s just too much to feel? When your fragile hands can’t take all that’s being shoved in your face?

Empathy is Draining

Empathy, as most empaths can attest to, is like being a magnet of the world’s emotions: joy and anguish. There’s no off switch. Like a sponge, you soak up the tears until you’re saturated, and the tears become your own.

I’ll tell you this: being the strength of others is like putting brick after brick on a glass scale. You take in as much as you can, and then you start to crack. Finally, you break. 

As an empath, you’re usually always the pillar for others. You’re always looking for those to give your “strength.”At first, being the “go-to guy” is refreshing, giving you whatever amount of endorphins you need. However, being the shoulder to lean on means bearing more weight than you were designed to bear.

Gravity and the weight of others press you down. Your legs give out, and you’re all on the floor seeking help. 

It’s easy to think you’re an infinite hole that can swallow all the world’s burden without getting full, but you’re a white picket fence trying to hold back a flood. You realize you are not immune to the waves of emotions crashing against your wooden defenses. You’ll break and get carried to yonder.

You’ll take in too much until you explode, and empathy fatigue takes over. You are tired. Mentally, you’re exhausted, and soon, your soul starts to feel numb.

There’s so much one person can bear.

You can’t save the whole world.

As an empath, It’s easy to think that because you feel and understand another person even without words, detect the slight changes in moods, the little nuances hidden behind the facial expressions, you’ve been granted superpowers to save the whole world.

“With great power comes great responsibility.”

And yet, despite your best intentions, some situations are beyond you. You can’t save a friend who has sunk into depression. You don’t have the resources to help that coursemate. Some outright refuse your help. You’re powerless to save everyone. You can only watch helplessly as they drown, with your hands outstretched and your heart clenched, unable to pull them out from the abyss. 

That’s not the worst part. It comes after the realization that you can’t save the whole world. When confronted with that fact, you don’t accept it like every normal person will because you aren’t normal, “you’re special,” and what do special people do? They implode.

When you look in a mirror, you don’t see the hero you thought you were; you see a villain who is to blame for everything.

For the friend who had to drop out. “I should have reached out earlier.” “If only I saw the signs earlier.” “I should have been better.”

It’s how you can’t sleep when you know that somewhere across the Dead Sea, in the Middle East, there are starving kids (victims of war.) who you can’t help.  You lose sleep, and the kids remain starving.

You hate yourself for being powerless, and the frustration that you failed eats you up.

There’s only so much one person can do

You’re blind to yourself

It’s a bitter irony. For someone who can “see” others a lot, you’re almost always oblivious to yourself. The thing about understanding people’s feelings is that their feelings are shoved into you so much that you can’t see your nose.

You heal others but fail to see your wound festering until it’s too late. There’s no emotional space for yourself. With empaths, there’s no mirror to check your emotional self.  Soon, you become a drop in the ocean of others. Lost. 

There’s only so much one person can feel


No doubt, Empathy plays a crucial role in human relationships. It holds the power to forge deep connections, form trust, and gain understanding of each other. The world will be a horrible place without the ability to understand each other.

However, to those who stretch this gift to its limit, it snaps and presents itself as a curse. One that, if not checked, could swallow you whole. The weight of empathizing is overwhelming.

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