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The Mixed Blessing of Having a High Empathy Radar

In my late 20s, while in graduate school, I took a full-time job at a local university. I had two different responsibilities working in the Career Services Office, helping students with their careers, and living in and managing the upper-class apartment complex. The job was a mix of apartment manager, rule enforcer, and big sister. The career counseling job was fantastic! The apartment manager job? Well, it was the worst job I ever had, and I was terrible at it.

One of my superpowers has always been sensing what people need and giving it to them (sometimes even before they know it is a need). You may have heard this superpower as being an empath or a highly sensitive person. I call it having a High Empathy Radar. Frequently people with High Functioning Anxiety have a High Empathy Radar.

It took me a long time to realize that a High Empathy Radar:

  • Was a superpower.
  • Not everyone had it
  • If I didn’t control it–it could drain me.

The job was all-consuming. Living where I worked was exhausting and constantly being on alert for my students’ needs was too much.

Because I didn’t know how to control my High Empathy Radar, it ran amuck. From my career counseling students by day to the residents by night, I was on 24/7. My High Functioning Anxiety was in full swing. My Monger was always screaming at me that I was failing, and I was in full-on push, push, push mode. To survive, I shut down, I became angry. I lashed out at those I loved and/or gave them the silent treatment. My world became smaller and smaller.

If you had met me at that time, you would not have described me as an empathetic person.

Looking back at that time, I can see the job was a bad fit, and I was miserable. But it taught me a lot of lessons.

  • Empathy is a nuanced superpower. It is a gift, and it can be overwhelming.
  • Learning how to create boundaries with a High Empathy Radar is hard and necessary. I tended to be all or nothing with boundaries. So I appeared ‘hardened’ or ‘all business’ when in reality, I was super sensitive. That hard shell was protecting all those feelings of incompetence in not having the solutions to all the problems my High Empathy Radar was picking up.
  • If I am not careful, I can spend all my empathy reserves on my job, and so those I love are left with the hardened “all business” Nancy, which is not what anyone wants, especially me.

Frequently clients will share that their spouse has called them unempathetic, or they wish they had more energy to give at home. Their Monger steps in to beat them up for being so selfish and mean when in reality, it is the exact opposite. They are too empathetic, too sensitive, too kind to everyone around them, and they have no empathy left to give to those they love the most.

You might be waiting in anticipation for the “three ways you can change this pattern and use your High Empathy Radar for good”.

Unfortunately, it isn’t that easy; the process is nuanced.

However, I do have an exercise to help you get started.

Notice how often you are:

  • Only reacting to your Monger or the expectations of others.
  • Running on auto-pilot.
  • Pushing beyond your comfort zone
  • Lashing out at those you love.

When you see these patterns pull back, practice A.S.K. be kind to yourself, and remind yourself of your values.

And remember, this is a nuanced process. You aren’t a bad person. You just have a High Empathy Radar and have learned some survival skills that aren’t serving you anymore. Unlearning those survival skills and re-learning others ones is hard. Be patient. Be kind. It takes time.