Empathy and Me: Part 3 – Self-Destructive Empathy

Or… A Borderline in Love.

There is nothing more beautiful (or scary) than a Borderline in love. When I’m in love the rest of the world stops. There is you. I live and breathe to make you happy. To hold onto your love.
Even at the expense of losing myself. But this comes later.
When I’m wrapped up in you, I feel everything for you. Your smile is my smile. Your pain is my pain. Your sadness is my misery. Your happiness is my euphoria. My empathy for you has surpassed any normal level of empathy. It’s heightened beyond reason.  How you feel is more important to me than how I feel.
My own happiness is dependent on yours. Therefore I will do anything I can to ensure you are happy.
If I perceive that I have done any small thing to upset you, or mildly inconvenience you; I panic. This may be something you barely think twice about, but it will create an anxiety that grips my stomach and shoves it up into my throat. I may even feel the need to punish myself emotionally, even physically, until I can rectify it. If I do something that makes you smile, any small thing, the sun becomes a thousand times brighter. Everything seems amplified. I will go out of my way, exhaust my time and resources to provide, do, show, create the key to making you smile. The key to bind you to me. To secure your love for me. I’ll put my needs aside, for yours. I will feel so intensely about those things that you feel for that I begin to confuse how you feel about something, for how I do. Things I never had much of an interest in, or just a normal level of interest, are now points of focus and excitement. It happens so gradually I don’t even notice it happens.
How I feel is entirely dependent on how you feel.  
My empathy for you has become destructive to me. Cognitively I think my perception of how I feel is skewed, I’m being much too hypersensitive, but in the moment I can’t help but experience it.
That I can become this way actually fills me with a huge sense of shame. I pride myself on my independence, so to be so thoroughly consumed by someone with so little regard for myself wounds me. There should be a balance. It should not be all or nothing. Black and white.
Slowly I begin to realize I’m at risk of losing my own identity. I can become so wrapped up in another person that I begin to lose hold of who I am. At first it just seems like we’re sharing interests and experiences, then slowly things become more and more about you. Less about me. Until everything is about you and I fear that asking anything for me will be the inconvenience that pushes you away. I won’t even voice my concerns to potentially alleviate the dread I’m beginning to feel. I have become so in tune with what you like, my identity has slowly slipped into who you are.
*** We really need to learn to work on communication skills!***
Not for nothing, but I like who I am. My crazy mood swings aside, I have a lot going for me that I don’t want to lose. I don’t want to forget who I am.  But you’re letting me.  In fact, by continue to take, and take, and take all that I am willing to give, without reciprocating in a way that is nearly even, you’re encouraging this change. Forget the fact that you never asked for all the things I do for you. Forget that no normal person would consume themselves this way. Forget that you may have no clue that this is even going on. It feels like you’ve been taking advantage of what I offer so willingly, at the expense of my own identity, and I will begin to resent you for it.
This is too much. For as much as I crave having someone else so close to me, I’m also afraid of relying on someone so much. The closer you allow someone to get to you, the more you love someone, the greater the risk that they will eventually hurt you. I’ve been hurt enough. It’s like my Fight and Flight response has been triggered at the same time. My desire to protect myself suddenly overwhelms my need to take care of you.
I’ll flip from idealization to devaluation.
I don’t feel emotions simultaneously. I don’t feel worry and love and sadness all at once. I feel suffocation. I feel fear. Then panic. Then isolation. I miss you. I hurt you. I’m sorry. In the midst of each separate emotion, that’s the thing I feel the need to fix. This causes an impulsive reaction to each mood.
The Push-Pull cycle plays out. Until I’m right back head over heels. Rinse and repeat.
Fortunately this can be tempered. It takes time and some definite effort, but just over the past year I’ve noticed a big improvement in my own emotional impulsivity.  Now I know how this all sounds. I don’t actually run around with big moon eyes like a simpering submissive love struck teenager. I look just like anyone else in love. It’s more in the form of excited experimentation for me. Of course we can do that! Yes! Let’s try that. More often then not I take the lead and have the more dominant personality given the energy I exude. I don’t know if that makes sense.  I maintain a façade keeping the wildness in check, keeping my fears and worries inside… until I can’t. So when I do flip to a new mood it probably seems like you’ve been blind-sided.
I can only imagine what this must seem like from the other persons perspective. It must be baffling. And ultimately destructive and hurtful. I never do this on purpose. I don’t want to hurt someone I care about. I’ll end relationships just to avoid hurting someone before they even know what happened. It’s lonely. Very, very lonely.  There has to be a better way.
I’m not trying to justify this behavior, just provide a look at what it feels like.
As for everyone else around me, they usually get a reflection of the mood I’m in as well. The more in love, the more empathic I am towards everyone. Everything moves me just a little bit more. No one else will matter quite so much as my significant other. Everyone else won’t rank quite so high on the empathic totem pole, but everything is still at its empathic height. Opening up that much, however, has its drawbacks. You can become vulnerable to all the destructive and overwhelming emotions of those around you. It’s hard to feel so much on top of everything else you’re already trying to juggle.  When I am open, people are very receptive to this. I am the one that everyone seems to turn to to confide in. For advice. For a shoulder to cry on. And I let them. Until I either let it consume me, or it shuts me down. With my dissociative disorder I almost always shut down now, but this wasn’t always the case. The panic attacks, the feeling of helplessness, the sense that I couldn’t do enough for anyone else, it was all too much. I’m only one person.
Emotional extremes impair my empathy. Unsurprisingly it’s a very split all or nothing. I am extremely emotionally turbulent and have no empathy for you. Or I am completely in love, bordering on obsession, and I feel everything for you, at the expense of my own self.  Then for me I also have periods of dissociation where I simply don’t feel at all.
But wait! That’s not all! Really? Of course not. There are times when the empathic line is a little blurry, and happily, times when empathy is quite normal….

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11 comments on “Empathy and Me: Part 3 – Self-Destructive Empathy

  1. Very insightful, very. I'm not convinced mine loved me, but I definately saw these cycles, the periods of idealization/devaluation, and how they definately swung his display of empathy and apparent capacity for empathy. And it they became much more distinctive and dramatic towards the end of things. I used to refer to the "devaluation" periods as him punishing me. After it had cycled and we were back to "normal", I would refer to it as that and he always laughed and agreed with me. The most hurtful part of our cycles was that I was so replaceable. There was always somethere there to fill my space, with not so much as a glance my way. I think that's what hurts a girl's heart so much. "If I perceive that I have done any small thing to upset you, or mildly inconvenience you; I panic. This may be something you barely think twice about, but it will create an anxiety that grips my stomach and shoves it up into my throat until I can rectify it". This is really interesting you say this! I could usually always figure out exactly what had upset him and that triggered a period of devaluation, where he would suddenly ignore me and dissapear. His first correspondence to be after an ignore cycle would be compensating for it, and it would be pretty clear. For example, we were doing so good. Friends, hanging out, talking casually, sharing. He was sweet – the sweetness that I loved. I was talking about my holiday dinner I was having and I was nervous and excited. I was really nervous – doing a big ass meal all by myself! I felt at the time he didn't know how to respond, like he paused. I knew he felt awkward. Then he made an ass-hole remark. About how I'd probably burn the turkey or something, or I'd cook something but who knows what. It was an anxious response I knew and I didn't think anything of it really. He left my house, and dissapeared for over a f-in week. No correspondence, nothing. But the first time he got a hold of me after that , it was non-stop encouragement on the dinner. How great it will be. Then another time I wanted a peice of his birthday cake and he said no. Again, I truly didn't give a shit. If you understood the context and mood of the conversation, it's not even really that mean of a response. But after a week-long episode of total isolation, he frantically texts me and wants me there immediately to have cake with him. It couldn't be tomorrow, an hour from then, it had to be right then. After those two deals – I realized how those periods of "punishment" weren't always for me, they were often for him. To me, that is empathy. Em

  2. Everything you say about him making dumb remarks, dropping off the earth, freezing, and then frantically trying to compensate for it… I do this to. That waiting cycle happens with friends, people I care about… but this is slightly different than for someone whom I'm in love with. If I'm in love I have to FIX IT RIGHT NOW, or the anxiety will drive me to devastation. If it's someone I'm friends with, care about, but not in love with… it's a little different, and I'll talk about taht tomorrow or the next day. If it's someone I love, it's all about them, almost to the exclusion of everyone else at times. If it's someone I'm not in love with, there's a little more selfishness and inner-directedness in those instances. This is kind of what it sounds like with your friend…

  3. "He felt bad that he couldn't make me feel good, or felt bad that he may have hurt me, so the punishment was for him, not me. I think that's empathy."This is definitely something I do if it's someone I love. I'm very severe with myself if I feel like I've failed someone.

  4. It's okay to feel that way, it's what love is. It's the most self-less feeling most people ever know. I certainly have felt it multiple times.Btw, -B-ook of The End is finished!

  5. Yeah and with my friend, even after the devaluation phase ends, there's no formal apology for anything. It's just a gradual easing back in. A sorry would go a long ways, but there was never one. There were those little things that he would try to make up for, but never a formal sorry for some of the really drastic things he did. The first sorry I ever got from him was in a letter he left in my mailbox, after I'd blocked him from everything. Again though, his awareness is negative. em

  6. I have been reading your blog all evening. It is exceptionally informative and brilliantly written. I am training to be a counsellor and am also writing a book for young readers which includes a character who has Body Dysmorphia. I am trying to get the message across to young people that they should never judge someone on appearances and that we all have our private battles that we face on a daily basis. I hope you would not be offended at any point if I ask you some questions? Thank you for your amazing blog.

  7. Wow… thank you for sharing this. It gives me an idea of what this is like for someone I know, and perhaps even myself. But how do you reach out to a person who doesn’t want to talk to you, and is too anxious to talk to you anyway? :(.

  8. hi haven, wonderful description of our kind of love. i experience the same. i have also started blogging, for my personal relief and without your talent. if you feel like it, check it out. take care

  9. I can’t thank you enough for writing this article, it has thrown some light on something both myself and my ex were struggling to understand. Everything suddenly makes sense. Thank you.

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