Empathic illnesses are those in which you manifest symptoms that are not your own. Take a quiz to discover if you're a physical empath and learn tips on how to protect yourself. Read More
I wonder if this has anything to do with the odd phenomenon of how a bunch of fertile women living together in a dorm -- besides being the set-up for over 9,000 chauvinistic jokes over time -- tend to end up synchronizing their menstrual cycles to almost hours within each other. Or so-called sympathy pains that occur when one member of a couple is pregnant. (I also wonder if, with the rise in same-sex marriages and couplings, if the pregnancy sympathy pains occur in lesbian partners when one has become pregnant through surrogacy, as sometimes happens with male husbands in heterosexual marriages/relationships.) The other thing I'm curious about is if this has any association with "broken-heart syndrome," where the death of a close family member, friend, or spouse/partner brings about the death of another soon after.
Also, what about family caregivers? My grandmother has been in and out of hospital over the past year with various non-contagious infections and ailments, most commonly UTIs. Not long after she goes in for treatment, my mother gets one and so do I. Obviously you can't "catch" a UTI like you can MRSA or something "in the air"; is this considered an empathy illness? Obviously too, it would have to be among "caregivers" of the same species; a dog getting sick from Parvo wouldn't cause the human companions to catch a canine-specific illness. Nevertheless, how do you explain the above scenario, and what is the association with empathy ailments in the cases of the other above scenarios, including caregiving in general?
I fully agree with everything stated in this post and previous comment. I find it odd that this concept has never crossed my mind until tonight as I've been very aware of my high emotional empathy and anxiety empathy. I guess I was considering the anxiety more of an emotion (stress) rather than physical pain or symptom.
About 6 years ago I read the book "The Secret Life of Bees" by Sue Monk Kidd. It was a very quick read, but good and memorable. I empathized with the character, May, who, "...takes in things differently than the rest of us...when you and I hear about some misery out there, it might make us feel bad for a while, but it doesn't wreck our world. It's like we have a built in protection around our hearts that keeps the pain from overwhelming us. But, May-she doesn't have that. Everything just comes into her-all the suffering out there-and she feels as though it's happening to her. She can't tell the difference."
A couple years later, my boyfriend was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. Naturally, we did extensive research. While doing this we took an empathy assessment test that not surprisingly, my boyfriend was on the very low end of empathy and I was pretty much on the opposite high extreme. However, I believe and have tried to explain to him, that I feel he can empathize but not sympathize.
I have experienced unexplainable recurring and then vanishing symptoms throughout my life-usually involving stomach pains and anxiety.
My, now fiancé, had a colonoscopy yesterday and of course had to "cleanse" for preparation. I realized tonight that I feel like I've been experiencing physical empathy as I have also but unintentionally and for unknown reasons for the last 2-3 days apparently "naturally cleansing".
This is when I started researching this topic and found this article. It really is comforting to know that it can be manageable especially with my career as an apartment community manager who provides customer service to (many times) highly stressed people.
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Judith Orloff, M.D., is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA and the author of Emotional Freedom.
When and how should we open up to loved ones?