Most people are aware of the story of “The Grinch who stole Christmas”. The lesson is pretty clear, Christmas isn’t all about the gifts or giant overly decorated trees. Conversely, it’s about something more important than that — the holiday spirit is about family and the people you love. The Grinch was reclusive and mean-tempered, with a heart “two sizes too small”, and he took from others without a care in the world as to how it would affect them. In essence, he was the “villain” of the story.
This villain turned hero when The Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes as he finally realized the true spirit of Christmas. It was a moving story that made you want to cheer for the Grinch because he finally had a heart and actually wanted to help others. For those of us who are already have a heart too big, if our heart grew three sizes, it might be the end of us. The type of people I am talking about our those of us that are highly empathic, always caring for others, while putting their own needs on the back burner.
This poses the questions: Can you have too much empathy?
Can your heart grow so big that it’s hard to live in this world? Ask yourself these questions to see if you may an empath, or take this test: https://drjudithorloff.com/quizzes/empath-self-assessment-test/
- Do you have trouble watching the news because you feel the sadness of stories in your body?
- Are you concerned with the “vibe” of your surroundings?
- Do you understand too much where people are coming from? For example, you see all the sides to the story.
- Are you overly concerned with keeping the peace in all situations?
- Do you scroll past something horrible on your Facebook and your whole day is ruined?
Being empathic by nature can feel like both a gift and a curse.
Watching the news can feel like the tragedy is happening to you because you can so easily put yourself in that situation. It may take developing some skills to discover ways to not let other people’s situations cause you stress or anxiety. As a result, the overly empathic can find themselves going from perfectly happy to a flurry of other emotions in a heartbeat.
You may ask yourself at times, “Why is my heart three sizes too big?” If we look at all the positives of what empathy brings to the table, then you would think of it as a superpower! In essence, empathy is a powerful communication tool which translates our thoughts in a way that makes sense to others. Even more powerful is the ability to communicate to others that we understand them. You know you are with a highly empathic person when you think to yourself “This person just gets me.” It is not only great for social interaction but empathy can counter the selfish tendencies of people. As illustrated by the Grinch, when your heart grows you start to give to others.
“Seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another, and feeling with the heart of another.” ― Alfred Adler.
This quote exemplifies so clearly what a highly empathic person is able to do. They connect, and connection is what makes the heart grow. Think of the Grinch, he was a cave dwelling loner who only had his dog Max as his companion. He was not seeking out connections to grow his heart because he kept himself isolated. It was only the Grinch’s interaction with a selfless little girl that caused him to begin understanding that others may be suffering also. With connection to others, you open yourself up to a broader range of emotions and experiences.
Simply, what empathic people do easily is the ability to take on another’s perspective. There are times when we feel that our perspective is the only reasonable viewpoint, but that is far from the truth. By listening and educating ourselves to other perspectives, we open our minds to new possibilities. This may or may not change our minds, but taking in new information can only expand our knowledge and grow us as a person.
On the flip side, empathy has some drawbacks. The side dish that comes along with empathy is pain. In fact, sometimes pain is the main course if you see someone close to you hurting. Empathy requires you to suffer more deeply, cry freely, and step into other people’s problems at times when it’s too difficult. Feeling too much can be hard at times if you don’t know how to shake it off.
The other cautionary tale of highly empathic people is they can quickly get overwhelmed by other people’s problems. They more easily feel “burnt out” because of their willingness to give too much of themselves. The problem can become so severe that it affects their functioning and personal lives. Therefore, they need to find ways to ground themselves.
Imagine grounding like the “grounding conductor” in an electrical circuit. In the world of electricity the grounding conductor is a wire that provides a safe route for electricity that could potentially cause an electrical shock. The electric shock in this example would be everyone else’s pain and energy. Empathy needs somewhere to go safely and not cause harm to you!
4 ways to ground yourself and shake off all the extra emotions empathy gives you
- Keep your identity strong – write down who you are, your values, how you help people, and what your likes/dislikes are. When you are highly empathic, you often get entangled into other people’s lives and feed off their energy. If their energy is negative, then it has the potential to bring you down. When you are feeling other people’s energy eating away at you, go do something you enjoy or talk to someone who you can be totally authentic with.
- Use music, dance, yoga, exercise or art to help you move through your feelings in a conscious way. Acknowledging your pain for others, feeling for them, and then moving back into your normal state of being is a powerful shift. This movement of energy and emotions can help you transition back into your normal state of energy.
- If you are uncomfortable with a person, place, or situation, put up your shield. In other words, listen to your gut if it’s telling you not to get overly involved in a situation. Some people need to be kept at arm’s length for you to be safe.
- At the end of the night do a clearing of other people’s energy. Imagine all the toxic energy leaving your body while allowing the positive energy to flow into you. Here is a great example of a guided meditation for clearing energy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GKwYsyPIGfw Or https://youtu.be/IBoYXfFdTi0
The Grinch is a great reminder that having a large heart can be a superpower but it also can be Kryptonite if we don’t take care of ourselves. It is important for your health that you find ways to constantly ground yourself and shake off the negative energy of others. Grounding yourself can make more room for the good stuff like laughing with utter joy and feeling hopeful.