When Empaths Shut Down

Greyscale image of a sad empath woman looking down

All of that caring for others takes it’s toll on an empath. Sooner or later, we become predisposed to another emotion.

Four pints of milk,

That was all it for took me to explode into a rage – 4 pints of semi-skimmed milk.

“That was the milk I asked you to put in the fridge,” he said softly.

You asked me to put it in the fridge? Why don’t you put your own damn milk in the fridge?!

On the surface, it all seems so trivial. I mean… it’s milk, and a fridge, right? It shouldn’t have made me so explosive, and yet it did.

Because that’s what happens when empaths are overwhelmed – we become explosive.

What triggered this recent change hasn’t really been one thing, but rather an accumulation of lots of little things. It’s been a neighbour who whines on and on and on about the recent ugly demise of a relationship, friends who have hurt me (and I’ve let get away with hurting me, so I’m angry at myself), a husband who, sorry to say, gets away with a lot more than he perhaps should around the home (I’m lenient because he works), the stress of getting the home up together, knowing that our landlord is visiting on Monday, being the master organiser of the family and buying Christmas presents for 5 people (4 of which are men with very different tastes!) and realising on top of that, I have some thoughts and fantasies that are possibly far, far too dark and dirty for Wolf, and feeling ashamed of myself for having them, too.

All of that still is layered on top of what is, at its core, already making me feel rather raw, sore and vulnerable – the fact that this is my first winter and Christmas without my Dad.

He was more than just an inspiration to me, He was my lifeline in my fight against Seasonal Affective Disorder, during the cold, dark days when my husband and mother were at work. Just hearing a familiar, friendly voice was enough to pull me out of my head and bring me back home, and now he’s gone, and I feel cold, frightened and alone until my husband gets home.

So it’s no wonder I feel a little frazzled.

As an empath, one of the biggest curses traits of my nature is that I seem to naturally draw the world’s wounded, vulnerable and sad. I first came to this realisation when I realised that the last person I’d met offline for a friendship was yet another person with autism, now at least the fourth. Although I have no problem with people with any form of autism, I realised in many cases that these people were looking for someone who was ‘normal’, who wouldn’t judge them. They didn’t want to be my friend because we had something in common, they wanted to be my friend because I seemed like an okay, non-judgemental person, and that kind of sucks when you realise that you have absolutely nothing in common.

Since then, I’ve found my neighbour has also bonded with me because I’m the kind of person who listens and cares without judgement. I also recalled the time I was invited to eat turkey dinosaurs and baked beans and play with Barbie dolls with a 34-year-old woman with severe learning difficulties because I was the only girl she knew who didn’t judge her.

In all of these cases it can be exceptionally hard to say no and close the door, but doing so can be an important act of self-preservation. but I digress.

All of that caring for others takes its toll on an empath, and sooner or later, we become predisposed to another emotion, or rather, a lack of emotion.

We develop apathy.

Empaths and apathy are not new to me. My mother particularly is an empath, but she is not weak and limitless in her empathy. She is strong, fierce, crazy, passionate and deeply caring, but if the extent of her empathy is exceeded, she’ll be the first to let you know the true extent of her feelings.

A bit like me, really.

“How Are You?”

Many moons ago, I had a friend called Mark. Now, things were a bit weird between Mark and I, because what I thought was just simply an open, honest and sincere friendship was really an emotional affair, I just didn’t know that they existed. As far as I knew at the time, unless part A magically ends up in part B (or one of its acquaintances), no crime had been committed. Neither party saw anything of each other’s anatomy (besides our faces), so I was innocent of any wrongdoing, I believed. Of course, now I know very differently, and Mark and I haven’t spoken since.

During this little spell, I remember one occasion where I felt overworked and underappreciated. I told Mark that I felt nobody cared about how I was feeling.

“Okay, so let me ask you something..”

“How are you, Helen?”

How are you?

Not how is your Mum, your brother, your husband… me.

That’s all an empath really wants, to be heard, to feel understood, to feel recognised.

Five minutes of your time, to do some offloading of their own.

Five minutes of your time, to do two or three tasks they know need doing, for them.

Five minutes of your time can go a long way to save an empath from apathy.

After my volatile explosion (yes, it happened) yesterday, I found a few things happened.

First of all, I closed down completely. I didn’t care about anyone, or anything, even the housework. I hit apathy, I’d frozen up, and I needed unfreezing.

Secondly, I leaned against the draining board, and I ugly cried. That was what life, stress and being overwhelmed had reduced an otherwise strong woman to full-on ugly tears. Strong women who usually have their shit together don’t ugly cry too easy. At least, not where they could be so easily seen.

That was when Wolfie found me.

At the moment, the only people I’m really letting close to me are Wolfie and my Mum. Wolfie, because bless him, having realised that I was overwhelmed, he did redo the laundry and organised under the stairs. Even if he did manage to pull the shoe rack off of the back of the door and create yet another job that needed resolving, he at least tried. I’ll never be mad at anyone who makes a genuine effort, with anything. My Mum on the other hand has been video calling me nearly daily, just to check-in. We chat on video and drink tea and there is something so wonderfully housewifey about our “tea & 10 minutes”, ten blissful minutes with my Mummy.

The people closest to my heart know how I’m really feeling. In some ways, we’re all feeling the same with our loss, but we’re also all feeling stress in different ways. The people closest to me are enabling me to thaw out my apathy and warm up again, they are allowing me to feel and care again. That probably explains why I also told the Jehovah’s Witnesses that they overstepped the mark when they gave me a “death & afterlife” booklet and humiliated me on my doorstep by asking me to read aloud a passage after I told them that I was agnostic following the loss of my Dad. I also told them that they were a bunch of brainwashed, self-regulated fools and that I was no longer interested in anything they had to say, owing to their lack of genuine empathy.

A classic case of why not to come back to me if you cross me, I think!

5 Tips For Caring For Empaths

Look, empaths aren’t hard people to know, but we are hard to deal with sometimes. We care about the things that other people might overlook and our feelings do get hurt seemingly easily. With that in mind, here are five tips for coping when empaths develop apathy.

1. Listen With Interest

If you’re not paying attention, an empath will notice and they will think you don’t care, or that they are boring you. If an empath needs to talk, be sure that you have time to listen, even if only for five or ten minutes. An empath does not want to depress you, they just need to feel heard and noticed, too. Ask questions and pay attention to what they are saying. If they are asking for your thoughts, be ready to give them. If an empath is asking you for advice, it’s because they trust you more than themselves at this moment, so make sure you’re up to the mark. Closing down their request could seriously impact your relationship with them.

2. Be ready to chip in

Empaths are notorious for trying to save the world, all by themselves and within 24 hours. Someone’s in need, there’s a parcel to drop off and dinner to cook, plus vacuuming to do and dishes in the sink? No problem! An empath can do everything (or at least, so they think!). The reality is that empaths, like anyone else, have time and energy limits. If you can drop off the parcel or order food in, let the empath know, then do it. They will be extremely grateful for your help and will be far more willing to be there for you next time you need them.

3. Don’t Abuse An Empath

Unfortunately, some people on this planet wouldn’t think anything of asking an empath to do something for them because it suits them and they know that the empath, with their kind, helpful nature, is likely to stress out and try to fulfill their request, anyway. Don’t be that person. If you can make your own coffee or get your own information from the internet, do it. If you can see something that needs tidying or fixing that the empath may have seen but hasn’t resolved yet, do that, too. Empaths need to learn to prioritise tasks. Using my own recent example here, for me, walking the dog is far more important than letting my father-in-law know how long he should microwave his Cornish pasty, but as an empath, I stressed about both and I inevitably ruined one while worrying about the other. Don’t put an empath in my shoes, unless you really have to.

4. Always Be Grateful

“You’re amazing!”, “you’re so smart!”, these really matter to an empath because you are validating them for their contribution. In return for their work, you give them a little temporary ego boost. Empaths often don’t do something for anything in return, so something they didn’t ask for and weren’t expecting (like a compliment) can leave them feeling good. Even a sincere and heartfelt “thank you” will do. Say it, and really mean it.

5. Allow The Empath Time

Empaths can get overwhelmed with emotion, and so sometimes, we need some time to ourselves to unwind. Empaths usually aren’t shutting you out to punish you, they just need some time to process their thoughts and feelings for themselves. If an empath asks for some time, allow it, it usually won’t be long. After the bins didn’t get emptied yesterday (another, different argument), I realised that I could just book in a bulky waste collection, pay my £25, wrap up my old-but-still-useable ironing board and place it, along with the extra rubbish from this fortnight, outside for collection. Et voila! Problem solved. It took me all of five minutes to think of that, once I had some time to myself. Sometimes Wolfie needs time, too. It isn’t about punishing each other. Empaths can and do get deeply hurt during an argument.

A side note here, because I really believe that communication in a relationship is key. It’s hard to say exactly how much time an empath needs, because they may only need five minutes, or twenty, or longer. They may want to write, sing or listen to music to express their feelings, so they need to be allowed time for that. They may also feel exhausted after the argument and want to cry or sleep for a while, so it is important to allow them time to do that, too.

Personally, I don’t advise taking time outside of the home, unless you really have to. The exception to the rule is if you want to run an errand, like taking the dog for a walk. In all cases, it’s important to communicate politely and respectfully with an empath, tell them where you are going or how long you might be. Try and avoid overwhelming them, and understand that their request is about them, not you. For empaths, be polite, open, and try not to throw things or slam doors. I know it’s difficult because I have been guilty of doing so myself, but it’s imperative that we try to keep a lid on things out of respect for others as well.

A Final Tip On Self-care For Empaths

As empaths, one of our biggest flaws is that we put everybody and everything else first, and ourselves last. To each of you, YOU are the most important person.

When I was fifteen, I had an on-off relationship with a young man. During a chat with him in the smoker’s room (he smoked, I didn’t), he told me that I was the most important person in my life.

I argued with him – No, he was, the silly goose!

But he was right.

I really am.

As empaths, as people who care for people, self-care is so, so SO important. Make sure you eat regularly and sensibly, drink plenty of water and get enough sleep. Make sure you make time for yourself and for the things that you enjoy doing. Above all else, pay attention to who adds to your life, who gives and takes and who only takes, and don’t be afraid to drop those pesky people who only take, if that’s what it takes to avoid that oh so nasty sense of apathy.

Over and out, until next time.

Stay safe & have fun,

Helen xx

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