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Highly Sensitive People Can Absorb Other People’s Emotions

Why Do Highly Sensitive People Absorb Other People’s Emotions?

Highly sensitive people (HSPs) have an immense capacity for empathy. Due to this trait, we tend to be drawn to helping professions, and we often become caregivers for our friends and families. Our empathy often surpasses that of the regular definition of the word. Rather than simply sensing what someone else is feeling, many of us actually start feeling it ourselves.

As exhausting as it can be to absorb the emotions of others, it can be an asset in jobs that require a little mind reading. However, when this trait starts functioning at high speed, it becomes emotionally exhausting, leaving us feeling like our tank is on empty.

As a therapist candidate, it’s my job to hold the stories of others. And not just their stories, but the emotions and implications those stories have had on their lives. It’s an immense honor to be included in the life stories of others — and to witness their journeys.

But some days, this is a lot to hold, and my HSP tendency to not just hear emotions but make them my own kicks in. This is one of the contributing factors to the problem of burnout in therapists and other helping professionals, especially when proper self-care is not in place.

Let’s take a closer look at why many HSPs absorb the feelings of others, and how they can stop being so exhausted by it.

(Not familiar with highly sensitive people? Check out this complete guide.)

All HSPs tend to be highly affected by the emotions of others. Many of us can walk into a room and immediately sense tension, joy, discomfort, sadness, etc. without any verbal communication. In a way, we are master non-verbal communicators.

But it’s more than that — it’s like we can just “sense” emotion. Most HSPs have experienced something along the lines of being with a friend, knowing the emotion they are experiencing, and waiting for them to come out and tell us. This is one of the reasons we hate conflict so much: We can sense it coming and experience the feelings of the other person as well as our own.

These emotions do not stay separate from us. Many HSPs would struggle to enter even a slightly tense atmosphere and not feel tense themselves. While most people can pick up on the emotions of others to some extent — thanks to mirror neurons — for HSPs, the experience is much more intense.

As a result, we may find ourselves feeling sad, irritable, or lethargic. When this starts, it’s often due to one of two things: Either we are picking up on the emotion of the other person and making it our own, or we have already taken on this burden of emotion and our brain is telling us it’s tired of carrying someone else’s weight.