How To Tell If You Are Empathic Or An Unhealthy Caretaker

Understanding how you relate to others in your life is a critical aspect of maintaining personal boundaries and avoiding issues such as caretaker burnout. Too often, people in caretaker roles assume that their deep emotional connection to the person they are caring for is natural and healthy, but it can also be destructive and dangerous if it is out of proportion.

Learning to differentiate between the ability to feel how the other person feels and taking on the responsibility for the other person’s happiness and emotional well-being is the first step in the process. To help you to determine if you are sensitive to emotions, and have a natural empathy or if you are unhealthy in your focus on the other person’s emotional well-being, consider the following issues.

A Healthy Empathetic Relationship

Empathy is the ability to experience a situation as another person experiences it. It is different from sympathy, which is the ability to understand the possible emotions the other person feels on an academic level without actually experiencing the emotion as if it were your own.

The signs of a healthy empath or someone who is sensitive to others include:

  • The ability to put the emotions and feelings of others above or over your own. This does not mean submitting their own thoughts and feelings, but rather a deep understanding of how the individual is experiencing the event.
  • People seek out your company – people respond emotionally to some who deeply understands their spoken and unspoken responses. People who are empathetic find that others naturally come to them in times of stress, sadness, or when decisions need to be made.
  • Listening is easy – rather than needing to provide your insight, ideas, or experiences, you are comfortable in being the listener and paying focused attention to the speaker.
  • You have good relationships – empaths can sometimes become overwhelmed with the emotions of others, but they typically have a strong social network of friends and family that they can turn to for regeneration and support.
  • Animals are your friends – empaths are typically animal people, and they can sense when anyone, including four-legged family members, are experiencing discomfort, sadness, or joy, and happiness.
  • You can sense dishonesty – empaths are very good at sensing when deception is part of the conversation. Empaths with strong boundaries choose to avoid interactions with those who are dishonest in their representations.

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An Unhealthy Caretaker

The signs of an unhealthy caretaker that is giving everything to another person, even if it is unwanted or unappreciated, are typically very different from the healthy empath. The signs of this type of person can include:

  • Need to control – the individual attempts to read the other person and control the situation to create a specific outcome. This could be to satisfy the other person’s every need on an emotional, relationship, and physical level.
  • Lacking a sense of self-worth and self-esteem. 
  • Difficulty with boundaries – the unhealthy caregiver does not say no or recognize the need to create healthy boundaries to prevent burnout and emotional drain.
  • Seeking out the approval of their partner – unhealthy caretakers typically only look to the relationship for approval. They often do not accept praise from others, and they may isolate themselves from interaction with anyone but the partner.

Unlike empaths, people with unhealthy levels of dependence on a partner or spouse in a caretaking situation tend to have few friends and no regular interactions outside of the relationship. They often avoid friends and family, retreating into a single relationship for their sense of connection and belonging.

Do you see yourself as more of a healthy empath or an unhealthy caretaker? What skills would you like to improve for healthier relationships? How can you find more interactions with  people other than your main relationship? What is one boundary you can set? Be sure to share your thoughts and questions using the comment section below so we can all learn from and help each other…

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