My Empathy is Exhausting

I work in customer service. I spend 5 hours a day, four days a week, on the phone helping out with customer enquiries, sales, building rapport, fielding complaints, et cetera.

I am very good at my job.

I have the ability to really connect with customers, understand their needs and provide them with the product and service they require. I can talk to almost anyone from any background, with any personality, and make them feel like I’ve been waiting all day just to speak to them personally. I am always patient, understanding, courteous and professional. I have never once been rude to a customer or co-worker in any job I’ve worked at. I am generally the most amiable and easy going person in any workplace.

The thing I find the most amusing about this is that I actually don’t particularly like people. I mean I like people, but I just don’t like to be around them. The reason for this is probably going to make me sound a little kooky – and trust me I’m a very sceptical person. I don’t believe in the supernatural, or mystical things. I don’t go for psychics, or ghosts, or even any religious beliefs. (Though each to their own, as long as they don’t harm anyone else)

However I am what I suppose could be labelled an empath. I easily absorb the energy of other people’s mood. Being around people (especially groups of people) can be very confusing for me mentally and emotionally. The energy that people give off creates a lot of noise an interference for my mind. It’s very hard in a situation like my workplace – open plan, 40 odd people working in reasonably close proximity to each other (in my department alone), and having to deal with a wide range of emotions from clients.

Let me try to explain it like this – imagine all of those people talking to me at once. If they did that I wouldn’t be able to understand what anyone was saying, let alone even hear myself think. The same goes for the energy they give off – I absorb all those moods and it confuses me because I can’t determine which ones are mine and which ones belong to the people I interact with.

In some ways being very finely tuned to how others are feeling is actually a benefit for my success in my job. When people call me up looking for insurance because they are travelling, or buying their first home, or getting a new car – I feel and return their excitement. I become genuinely excited for them, and can build a rapport with them and personalise the call in a way that I couldn’t otherwise do. Nothing I say to them is facetious, or put on – I speak from a place of genuine happiness and excitement (even if technically it’s not really my personal mood, just an absorbed one). On a side note: I also absorb all the negative energy of people who aren’t happy. And even though I always maintain calm and polite and patient front – their energy also accumulates within me.

There is a huge downside of strong tendencies toward empathy. The accumulation of so many moods (both positive and negative) is very draining (emotionally, mentally and physically). I need to spend long periods of time alone, away from people. At the end of the work day I am so drained from the interference caused by absorbing all the energy of co-workers, customers, and others. It’s can be hard to unwind, unless I can spend time alone processing the moods, releasing them, and finding my real self again. And of course that relates back to my last post where I worry that I am not a good mother.

The amount of time I need to recuperate from such taxing situations cuts into the time I have available to spend with my children when I get home from work before they go to bed. I can’t address their needs properly until I have purged the energy that I have absorbed from all those others that day. And sometimes I feel like they might think I am rejecting them – because when I first get home I am not open to cuddles, and long conversations. I need an hour or so by myself before I feel ready to be smothered in kisses and cuddles, and talk about the things that went on in their day. And on particularly draining days it can be all evening, which makes me feel a little sad for missing out on time connecting with my own children.

But I try to make it up to them. I try to spend quality time with them on weekends. When I returned to work (1/2 way through my eldest child’s first year in prep) I started working full time. Early on I reduced the number of days I work. A little later I reduced the number of hours each day that I work. I start later in the morning so I can take them to school. I finish early enough to try to spend time with them in the evenings (when I am not too drained).

I know it’s about quality and not quantity. But I worry about how it affects them when I can’t reciprocate their unwavering desire for physical and emotional affection. I worry about their feeling rejected if I sometimes have to keep them at arm’s length so I don’t fall apart.

Sometimes I wish I could ice my heart over so I don’t have to feel everyone else’s emotions so strongly. But at the same time, I guess it’s better than not feeling anything at all. I’ve been there before, and it’s very scary.

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