Updated: Aug 29
By Dr Sarah Alsawy-Davies
Empathy is a beautiful and powerful trait that can allow you to connect deeply with the emotions and experiences of other people in your circle. However, if you're a highly empathic person, you may risk going beyond merely understanding and supporting others. Enters the concept of "the empathic healer". In this blog post, I go into the psychology behind why you as an empath might find yourself driven to heal other people, and discuss ways of maintaining a healthy balance within your interactions.
Understanding Empathy: Before we explore why you as an empath may be inclined to heal or 'fix' other people, let's touch upon the nature of empathy itself. Empathy involves the capacity to perceive and share the feelings of others, which can range from basic empathy, where one understands the emotions of others, to the more intense experience of being an empath, where individuals absorb and mirror the emotions of those around them.
The Roots of Empathetic Fixing:
Emotional Sensitivity: Empaths possess heightened emotional sensitivity, making them more acutely aware of the suffering and struggles of others. They are attuned to subtle cues and can quickly detect when someone is in pain or distress. This heightened awareness often triggers a deep desire to alleviate that pain and restore harmony.
Personal Traumas: Many empaths have faced big T and little t traumas and emotional turmoil. Their own experiences with pain and suffering can serve as a catalyst for wanting to prevent others from enduring similar hardships. This stems from the subconscious operations of their inner child: that child yearned for someone to rescue them during each struggle and trauma - but there was no-one to be found. Growing up to become highly empathic also means that you may seek to heal in others, what your inner child wanted to have healed for yourself.
Beliefs of Self and Others: Due to historical traumas, subconscious beliefs around how you view yourself and other people may become impacted. You may believe that you need to "behave appropriately" by catering for other people, ensuring they are happy with you, and ensuring they are happy in general. You may believe other people will only "like" or "accept" you under the conditions you behave and support them in certain ways - and if you are not there to serve them, you risk rejection. Alternatively, you may have witnessed tragedies and traumas when other people were in anger or described themselves as "broken". Therefore, the innocent and vulnerable side of you may have learnt the only way you would be safe from traumas is by ensuring other people are 'happy' and 'fixed'.
The Downside of the "Fixer Mentality": While supporting others to heal may be noble, it is essential to recognize the potential downsides associated with the fixer mentality:
Boundary Erosion: You may have difficulty establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries. Your strong desire to help can lead to overextending yourself emotionally and physically. This constant emotional investment without appropriate self-care can leave you drained, depleted, and vulnerable to emotional exhaustion.
Enabling Dependency: When you consistently step in to "fix" others, it can inadvertently foster a sense of dependency in those you are trying to help. This dependency may hinder personal growth and development, preventing other people in your life from taking responsibility for their own healing processes.
Finding a Balanced Approach: You can adopt strategies to navigate your desire to 'heal' or 'fix' others, while maintaining your own wellbeing:
Boundary Protection: This is a non-negotiable priority. You MUST prioritize self-care and establish boundaries to avoid burnout. Engaging in activities that recharge your own emotional batteries is crucial. Setting limits on the time and energy invested in helping others can allow you to maintain your own sense of self, and actually harness better relationships with others. As you place boundaries, people in your social circle begin responding to your new and healthy boundaries. Their responses is evidence for who they are as individuals - and you can then begin to see their values, characteristics, and traits. You can then make more informed decisions as to "how close or distant" you would like to be with certain individuals and how "much you invest" in certain relationships. This can become a healthier and wiser investment within your relationships , as opposed to maintaining a 'carer - victim' dynamic (which FYI is never a healthy balanced relationship).
Set Limits to Your Caring of Others: Instead of solely focusing on "fixing," you can listen and validate; but ensure that there is a limit to this. First, consider what your 'capacity' is - i.e. how much you can actually offer to others without it impeding or negatively impacting your wellbeing. Then, consider if you feel 'safe' to provide a platform of comfort and support to others - if you don't feel safe (because the situation is triggering or you are dealing with a lot and have limited capacity), do not feel forced to continue providing care. Communicate what you are able to offer and set a boundary to this. The more you can communicate your capacity and the limits to your care, the more people will (1) respect these limits, (2) know where they stand and how to ask for help, (3) help others learn that you are not an 'endless source' and you need support too, and (4) they can be encouraged to find their own solutions.
Encouraging Empowerment: Rather than assuming the role of the sole healer, you can can empower others to take charge of their own healing journeys. Encourage and signpost your friends / family to seek professional help or explore self-help resources that can foster their own personal growth and their own self-reliance.
While it might appear admirable to be focused in on supporting others, it can become self-destructive if unboundaried and limitless. This can occur in so many relationships - if you are a first born, chances are it happens with your parents. It might happen with your partner, with friends, siblings, family members, co-workers, or even strangers.
Please remember to listen to what your inner child needs and says (P.S. we all have an inner child). The more you pay attention to that inner voice, the more attuned you become with your position in the world, with who you are, your values, and how you would want to be treated. From here you recognize your self-worth and can begin to actualize your growth.
If you found this useful, please do me 2 favours. Please have a look at my free e-book here which can help you improve your relationship and heal trauma bonding. Second, please share with other people who you feel would benefit from this - because the more people supported, the better our community can survive and heal.
As always, if you ever want to connect and gain support - I'm here.
All my love, Dr Sarah
improving your relationships