Empathy, Support for Chronic Pain

Empathy and Chronic Pain: The Correlation

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“Highly sensitive people are too often perceived a weaklings or damaged gods. To feel intensely I not a symptom of weakness, it is the trademark of the truly alive and compassionate. It is not the empathy that is broken, it is society that has become dysfunctional in expressing your authentic feelings.  Those who are at times described as being a “hot mess” or have “too many issues are the very fabric of what keeps the dream alive for a more caring, humane world.  Never be ashamed to let your tears shine a light in this world.”

–Anthon St. Maarten

I was with a woman whom I wish I could call mom this past week: the person I look up to and who probably knows me more than anyone in the world.   Days before seeing her I could not get her out of my mind. I had this odd feeling something was wrong: she answered my texts as she always does and I talked to her on the phone but my heart kept going back to her: I just felt that something was not ok.  I saw her this week and I noticed something was off: and usually it is the other way around as she is the most intuitive person I have ever met.  Later that day she texted me and asked: “What did you notice today when you were with me?”  I responded with a question because we had talked so much I had no clue what she was referring to. She answered: “When we were together, what did you feel?”  All I wrote back was: “Pain, I felt like you have been going thought something but I have no idea what or why, I’m probably just crazy.” Well, that is true but in the good way……most of the time.  She responded that I was correct and I will not share what she wrote about her life but it was definitely life changing and the pain and thoughts I had been having for her were true.  I was mildly shocked and asked: “What the hell is wrong with me?  How would I know that when no one else does and you did not tell me?”  She just wrote: “Jessica, you are an empath.”  I responded: “Great as if chronic pain is not enough, now I am feeling the pain of the people I love and care for too.”  My mind got curious as this is not the first time someone has told me I was empathic.  The definition of an empath is, but not limited to this :” empathy is a feeling of another’s true emotions to a point where Empath can relate to  that person by true feelings that run deeper than what is perceived on the surface.  The power of understanding and imaginatively entering into another person’s feelings. Being able to actually feel another person’s feelings and motives.  An Empath can feel the emotions and feelings of another from a distance.”  My curiosity got stronger as I started reading about Empaths and quickly realized I have ninety plus percent of the traits one with extreme empathy has: whether or not this is a good thing or not is irrelevant but very fascinating.  The most fascinating part of an Empath is the trait of having some form of chronic pain or muscle pain: HI! I will just share with you the top three characteristics that I have which is the tell-tale sign of and Empath.  I have the tenancy to take on the pain and worries of others and want to solve them as if they were my own.  Everywhere I go people open up to me even when Ms. talkative, energetic Jessica is quiet. Some family members don’t love going places with me because I always end up talking to someone who is sad or down or just simply looking for someone to talk to.  For instance, this past week my three-year old and I went to our local produce store where I am like Norm from the show Cheers and everyone knows my name.  As I was checking out one of my favorite people who works there began talking to me.  This young lady is amazing.  She is putting herself through college, working at a restaurant and to my knowledge know works at the produce store to give her dad (the assistant manager) a break and help him out as he has heart/health issues.  Being me, my eyes filled up with both sadness and happiness that this young girl who always has a smile on her face is making a difference in our world.   I honestly wanted to write Ellen and share her story.   I did not even realize Kayci was listening or could understand what we were talking about but as we were laving the store she held the door (she is not yet three and a half) for an older woman who was carrying many flowers. I had never seen her do something like that without me asking her to help a person. Another characteristic I share with Empaths is being able to feel the energy of others: both good and bad. There is someone in my life whom I have always said after spending time with her: “She just drains the life out of me. My pain is higher and I am exhausted.” And of course, the part that stunned me the most was the amount of articles I read that said many Empaths have some kind of chronic pain. I do not truly know my life without chronic pain: my bike accident happened in my young teens and I am now gulp, thirty-three. That is close to twenty years of pain. Was I empathetic prior to brain surgery or is it a trait I gained as a result from chronic pain. What came first the chicken or the egg? I believe I was always empathic looking back but my accident/brain surgery and chronic pain caused me to be much more in tune with the Empath inside myself.

I am very sensitive: very. I have been called damaged goods, too sensitive, and my favorite a “hot mess.”  I am not damaged goods by any means but I am overly sensitive and at times allow the emotions and pain in others affect me too much as it causes me higher pain/sadness/and anxiety. Two nights ago I was watching a show on CNBC on young people living in prison and my heart hurt for them. It was sad to watch as I felt for the prisoners and actually got angry that they were not being treated for mental health issues but condemned to live behind bars where they have to way to heal their past and change their life. One woman was twenty years old and had been raped, beat, and abused since she was a young girl: I wonder why she is using drugs and selling her body for money. She did not need to be in jail as much as she needed help and healing. I could not fall asleep after watching the show because I was very affected and of course was brainstorming ways to help women like herself and our prison system change. I am not Jim Carey from “Bruce Almighty.” I cannot change everything I do not like or agree with in our world and I have to focus on my health/happiness and management of chronic pain first and foremost in order to help others with their pain.

After spending a lot of time reading about Empaths and empathy I no longer feel bad for being highly sensitive and I do not want to change the traits I have that some do call overly sensitive and too caring. There are things in my life I want to work on and I am always going to be a work in progress, we all are but I truly wish there were more people like the young woman at our produce store or people like myself who do not judge others and believe anyone can change. I believe the world would be a much happier, healthier, more peaceful place to live if we could look behind the faces and actions of others and know they are fighting battles you and I know nothing about. You are not your illness and never allow anyone to say you are damaged goods. People who live with chronic pain are truly the strongest, bravest, most empathetic people I have ever met. Stop beating yourself up: tune out the opinions of others and find support for what you are living with whether it be through my writing, emailing me, or finding a support group.

“Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

The Buddha

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14 thoughts on “Empathy and Chronic Pain: The Correlation

  1. Barbara binford says:

    Thank you, Jess. Today wa a day that I really needed to read a post of yours. As usual, it helped immensely.

  2. Have I mentioned I love your posts? haha I’ve noticed that people naturally tend to open up about their struggles to those of us in chronic pain. I’m more of a quiet and reserved person but I’ve had friends and strangers open up to me with their personal struggles, and of course I too take on their pain as if it were my own. So much so that I can sometimes feel the physical pain they describe (sounds crazy, I know). I feel like being an Empath is almost like a superpower being able to feel the emotions of others without them saying a word, plus relationships with others become so much deeper and meaningful 🙂

  3. Pingback: things i love thursday: number 7

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