The Bitter Empath


You walk into a room. A party. A restaurant.

And you read it. You see the writing on the wall. The forest from the trees.

You can sense if the mood is good. If it’s sour. If someone is holding back tears.

And then you calibrate.

Like a machine going into overdrive, your empathic brain ramps up for compassionate comprehension. And then it sets you off on an action plan.

You put everyone at ease. Or you make sure everyone’s comfortable. You check in on the person welling with sadness in their eyes.

And we deem this as the epitome of success.

Using your empathy. Your emotional intelligence. You’re helping make the world a better place. Leveraging your soft skills to help others.

All is good in the world…right??

Until someone destroys the emotional utopia we’ve created.

Maybe they say “eh, this still sucks.”

Or maybe they leave the party.

Or maybe they refuse to be a part of the team brainstorm.

Even worse…maybe they are even put in the same situation, on a day where you feel “off” or hungover or like you shouldn’t have to shoulder everyone’s happiness.


They don’t read the room.

They don’t seem to care about anyone else.

They are selfishly in their own bubble.

The nerve.

If you’re an empath. And someone who just genuinely “cares,” you know that these type of people irk us to no end.

But why????

Let’s use an example.

You’ve just attended someone’s holiday party. They did an amazing job as host – and you want them to feel good. So to ensure that they do, you:

  • Bring a host/hostess gift – you never show up empty handed
  • Compliment every aspect of the party, thanking them for hosting
  • Take pictures and post on social so they’ll feel special
  • Make a *toast* to the host
  • And maybe even help out with the dishes/clean up

And all of that is amazing…if, and this is a big if, you did it for the right reasons.

Did you truly do it for them? OR…did you do it because that’s what you would want?

Both are okay.

But it’s that last one that gets us in trouble.

We spend so much of our energy putting ourselves in other people’s shoes…trying to see life from their perspective, and then making sure they feel good – monitoring their emotions.


Empathy is a beautiful thing, but no one asked you to track their feelings. You’re not their therapist. You’re not the “mall cop” of their brain and happiness. Ha.

And the real danger in this is that most of our good intentions come from following the golden rule of sorts – do unto others what you would want done-to you 😉

Doesn’t sound like a bad thing…but it is when we take it too far.

When we try to give someone what we would want, and too much of it, we tend become bitter and resentful when it is not reciprocated.

That same party host shows up at our place months later, and brings nothing, says nothing, posts nothing, and just has an *okay* time.

How pissed would you be?

But consider this…it might have been a really bad day for them. They may have a different love language than you, and don’t realize it – they might think simply “showing up” is their gift to you. They might have been scared to get out of bed today and this is as good as they can do. Them getting out of the house is them fighting off their demons.

And the thing is…They’re not hurting anyone. They’re not crashing your party. They’re not saying rude things. They’re not gossiping about you. They are just “being.”

Those with a high amount of empathy and emotional intelligence tend to have a hard time just “being.

It’s hard for us to be present and be ourselves and be human.

And we take it out on other people.

Because we all deserve to be human. Your friend deserves it. Your parents deserve it. The rude man who cut in front of you in line for coffee this morning deserves it.

Everyone deserves to just “be.”

And so, if we hold people to the unattainable standard that they too should be constantly looking out for our feelings, and our happiness, and making us feel comfortable…



True empathy is giving without expectation of reciprocation.

And true happiness only comes from within, so do not let empathy make you bitter.

If you give and give and give, you’ll naturally want to get. So give less…OR…give without expectation of reciprocity.

Think of someone you admire for being generous. Someone you would want to be.

I’m not talking Mother Theresa, giving her life up to help others – but also giving up herself in the process to become a literal saint.

No, I’m talking Ellen DeGeneres. Someone who gives, but has boundaries. Protects her own success, but helps those in need. Makes sure she’s taken care of, her family is taken care, AND still loves those less fortunate.

Because selflessness is hard to sustain.

Unless your intentions are of the utmost moral standing, it leaves you feeling lonely and jaded and worthless in the process.

Feeling empathy deeply can be done well, but it requires giving up the “rules” you’ve assigned society.

Empathy suffocates amidst perfectionism.

If we hold other people to a set list of rules they must abide by when it comes to giving their time, love, and energy, empathy has no room to breathe.

True empathy accepts everyone.

And while I would argue it requires some boundaries around the idea of “everyone,” the principle is that the definition of empathy is to see something from others’ perspective.

If we enforce other people’s emotions, assuming their needs and wants are the same as ours, and expecting their compassion in return…we get nowhere.

And so is the story of the typical empath. Constantly let down by those we care about. Let down by society. Overwhelmed by other people’s live and feelings.

Because we forget to allow ourselves to just be.

Well, this is me giving you the permission.

See, I believe in the concept of “pay it forward.”

And my hope is that if you know it’s okay to just be. To live “in the gray” (and less black and white) To drop the perfectionist bullshit.

That you’ll pass that onto someone else. Affording them the same humane luxury.

Present compassion.

Healthy empathy.

Freedom to be.

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