The Curse Of Being The Family Empath

by Meredith Ethington
Originally Published: 
Ruslan Guzov/Shutterstock

As a kid, I was labeled as being too sensitive. I was also pegged as the peacemaker in the family. I realize now that I was trying to keep the peace to survive.

As an adult, I’ve realized I’m an empath. I feel both the good and the bad in extremes, and as a kid, I was often overwhelmed with the emotions I absorbed from my own family, which wasn’t always a place of peace and harmony.

A few traits of empaths include being highly sensitive, needing alone time to recharge, being highly intuitive which sometimes results in giving too much of yourself, and most importantly, empaths absorb the emotions of other people.

It’s a curse to be the family empath. It was a curse as a kid, and it is a curse as the mother of the family too. But I’m trying to find ways to turn it around to my advantage, or at the very minimum, survive all these big emotions motherhood makes me feel.

As a child, I remember internalizing a lot of the negative emotions that existed between my parents. When they were stressed about financial obligations and marital problems, I was stressed too. When they fought, I was an emotional mess. Since I was just a kid at the time, I didn’t know what the heck an empath was. Instead, I was pegged as a crybaby.

Now that I’m an adult, I realize that it’s important as the family empath to practice self-care and find ways to cope when there are negative emotions around you.

And of course, being an empath isn’t all bad. I am a good friend because I empathize with others’ problems easily. When you’ve got good news, I’m over the moon happy for you. When things are moving along smoothly, I’m the most pleasant person to be around because I tend to absorb the positive energy and reflect that in my mood as well.

But when things go south, it sends me into a spiral of anxiety, and sometimes I can’t put my finger on why I’m in such a foul mood. I’ve finally learned to step back and analyze my emotions, find the source of the negativity, and do my best not to internalize the feelings and actions of others in an unhealthy way.

Being a mom and an empath is a serious balancing act. I have three growing kids who are full of lots of emotions. On any given day, I’ve got a tween who is moody, the middle child who is either full of anxiety or happy as a lark, and a preschooler who is making me smile and laugh one minute and wanting to scream “Why me?!” while shaking my fists in the air the next. He’s a stubborn one, that youngest child of mine.

As a result, the roller coaster of emotions that I’m absorbing on any given day is a lot to handle. Sometimes, I just need a freaking hour (or 12) when I don’t have to feel all the things. I need time each day to recharge.

But the mom of the family doesn’t often get to escape, does she? Instead, she is the pivot point for all that happens in the family. The responsibility of trying to balance the emotions of five different family members is overwhelming at best.

So I have to be mindful to not get sucked in by the wild emotions of the little people I live with. I want to take away their pain when they are sick, and I feel terrible for days after they have told me of a struggle with their friend. Of course, we always feel sad and angry when our kids are struggling, but this goes beyond that. It weighs me down for far longer than it should.

If one of my kids is slamming doors, screaming, or crying all day, it’s hard for me to hold it together, because suddenly, my mood is switched by their energy.

I’ve learned to try to detach from what they are feeling, so that I don’t feel it so intensely right along with them. The problem is, the emotions I’m constantly regulating require fighting a battle with intense feelings not just daily, but sometimes, hourly. And that is the reason why being the family empath can feel like a curse. I have to constantly check myself, regroup, deep breathe, and remind myself that my family’s emotions don’t have to control mine.

If you’re not an empath, you probably have no idea what I’m talking about. You think I’m just a hot mess. You go about your day unaffected by those around you. But the empath is fighting daily to regulate their emotions in an appropriate, healthy manner.

A phone call from a family member giving me some bad news can bring me down for the week, even if the news doesn’t affect me. And at 40 years old, I still find myself fighting the urge to get wrapped up in my parents’ issues. I still feel the same way I did as a child, living under their roof, and trying to keep the peace for everyone.

But I’m finding that the key to living your best life as an empath is to find balance, find time for self-care, and find time to retreat. Tell yourself it’s not only okay to detach from your kids’ intense emotions from time to time, but it’s for the good of the entire family because you’ll be your best, most reasonable self if you’re calm, relaxed, and able to face a problem head on without getting too wrapped up in it.

On one hand, I love being able to feel so deeply, relate so intensely, and make others feel loved and cared for. That is a gift. But on the other hand, sometimes I want to just take a freaking break and not feel like my world is going to crumble just because the toddler is upset because I cut his sandwich in triangles instead of squares. And for that reason, sometimes it feels like the ultimate curse.

This article was originally published on