"Empath" Is Not the Same as "Codependent"
Written by Ross Ross Rosenberg, M.Ed., LCPC, CADC
Self-Love Recovery Institute – President/CEO
Psychotherapist, Educator, Author, Expert Witness
I have to be honest, I do not like when the term “empath” is used interchangeably with “codependent.” “Empath,” which has its origins in the spiritual and metaphysical world, was never intended to be a replacement term for codependency. An empath is defined as a person with the paranormal ability to intuitively sense and understand the mental or emotional state of another individual. According to empaths I have spoken to and the information available on the Internet, they are highly sensitive to the emotional and metaphysical energy of others. If indeed, this extra-sensory phenomenon exists, it is definitely not the same thing as codependency.
Since “empath” has mostly positive connotations and “codependent” does not, it makes sense why it is a preferred moniker for the more serious psychological problem of codependency.
Misrepresenting codependency, or what I now refer to as Self-Love Deficit Disorder (SLDD), only adds layers of denial to a problem that is already shrouded in shame. In addition, it casts a serious problem in a positive light, while perpetuating the myth that SLDs or codependents are victims, instead of willing participants in their dysfunctional relationships with narcissists.
Who can argue that being empathetic is bad? Well, it isn’t. The idea that empaths are vulnerable people, just because of a certain personality type, is an excuse, which offers no solution to the problem. Being empathic is good! However, being empathic and allowing yourself to be hurt by people you choose to be with, or are unconsciously attracted to, is not.
But one could argue that being overly empathetic while choosing to be in harmful relationships with narcissists is dysfunctional and self-destructive. “Empath” should, therefore, not be a replacement term for “codependent,” When we admit we struggle with SLDD, we are honestly and courageously confessing our pain, while describing what we need to do in order to find loving, respecting, and mutually caring relationships.
I have worked with SLDs/codependents my whole career, and I, myself, am a recovering SLD. I have learned that we can only recover from our secret hell – our magnetic attraction to narcissists – when we understand that we are willing participants or dance partners in a very dysfunctional relationship dance. We choose narcissistic “dance partners” because we have a “broken (relationship) picker.” We fall prey to our own belief that the chemistry we experience with new narcissistic lovers is a manifestation of true love or a soulmate experience.
Adding insult to injury, when the cracks of the soulmate’s façade surface and we start to experience the isolating and humiliating pain of loneliness and shame, we are, once again, powerless to break free from another narcissist lover. Inevitably, our soulmate transforms into our “cell mate.” This is not the problem of an empath, but of someone with Self-Love Deficit Disorder.
The only way SLDs get better (recover) is to understand that they freely participate in their dysfunctional relationships with narcissists. As a reminder, SLDD is a symptom that manifests through the Human Magnet Syndrome. It is an addiction that results from one’s need/desire to self-medicate (detach, numb, or escape) the pain of pathological loneliness, which is fueled by the core shame resulting from childhood attachment trauma at the hands of a pathologically narcissistic parent.
Admitting we have a problem that we cannot, or never could, control, is the first and most important step in SLDD (codependency) recovery. Yes, we can stop the madness! We can take the big step toward sanity, peace, and fulfillment by admitting our powerlessness over our SLD and the need to recover from its inherent addiction – the compulsion to be everyone’s lover, friend, confidant, and caretaker, while ignoring our own needs for the same.
We can conquer pathological loneliness, soul-searing shame, and our repressed or suppressed childhood trauma if we choose the difficult but healing path of trauma resolution and the pursuit of self-love. Seeking this healing and self-loving path will ultimately compel us to cast away all relationships that are exploitative and narcissistic while moving towards those that enhance our pursuit of self-care, self-respect, and self-love. The courage to recover from Self-Love Deficit Disorder is within your reach. Stop being a delivery mechanism for everyone else’s need for love, respect, and care!
In conclusion, if you identify with Self-Love Deficit Disorder (codependency), rejoice in your emotional and, perhaps, spiritual empathetic gifts. But, at the same time, make the life-changing decision to take the challenging but healing path of SLDD recovery. The following excerpt from Robert Frost’s celebrated poem, “The Road Not Taken,” illuminates the importance of this resolution:
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Ross Rosenberg M.Ed., LCPC, CADC, is Self-Love Recovery Institute’s CEO and primary contributor. His internationally recognized expertise includes pathological narcissism, narcissistic abuse, and attachment trauma. Ross’s “Codependency Cure™ Treatment Program” provides innovative and results-oriented treatment.
Ross’s expert educational and inspirational seminars have earned him international acclaim, including his 23 million YouTube video views and 235K subscribers. In addition to being featured on national TV and radio, his “Human Magnet Syndrome” books sold over 150K copies and are published in 12 languages. Ross provides expert testimony/witness services.
More about Ross and his educational and inspirational work can be found at www.SelfLoveRecovery.com.
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