EMPATHS: Is It Empathy You’re Feeling – or Is It Enmeshment?

By Michele Nieves | Narcissist Traits

Oct 23

I remember the first time I stumbled across the definition of an empath. My eyes were wide open, mouth hanging slightly open in awe – I couldn’t believe that there was a name that described how I felt. So many things were finally making sense.

But as I learned exactly what empathy is, how being an empath is different than displaying ‘normal’ empathy and what enmeshment is – I can see how easy it is to go from being an empath, diving headfirst into enmeshment.

But what exactly is empathy?

Emotion researchers generally define empathy as the ability to sense other peoples emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling… put simply it’s the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, to understand what their feeling even if you’ve never had the same experiences in life. It’s the ability to understand a persons feelings – to tune into to another person – but when you have empathy you are very well aware of the fact that those feelings are in the other persons body – they aren’t your feelings and its super clear.

Empaths take empathy to the next level. They too, obviously can put themselves in someone else’s shoes, they can understand what a person is feeling, tune into another person but ….an empath feels the other persons feelings…in their own body!! Therefore, empaths can pick up on what so many other people are trying to stifle. So, if someone is acting happy on a surface level, many might think they are super happy…. But an empath can feel what that individual is really feeling no matter how hard they try to hide it. So again…an empath has empathy but also feels the emotions of others in their own body.

Feeling someone else’s feeling in your own body is still, while strange to many, a healthy behavior. Unfortunately, an untrained empath can take it to the next level where it then becomes enmeshment.

Enmeshment is when they understand what others feel, they’re tuned in right, they feel the other persons feelings in their own body….but… the difference is – they lose sight of which feelings are theirs and which feelings belong to the other person.

Here are some examples to help you to visualize it:

  1. Someone says,”I can feel my partners emotions even when they are trying to hide their true feelings.” An empath would say that. Crossing the line into enmeshment would sound like this: “I can feel my partners emotions and they become my emotions. ” or “When my partner is angry, it’s impossible for me to remain my calm and happy self.” For example, if your partner comes home in a bad mood…. sullen, irritable, and within minutes, seconds sometimes – an enmeshed partner would be unable to maintain a positive happy mood; any inner happiness they may have been experiencing prior to their partner coming home, vanishes and is nothing more than a rumor. .
  2. Another example: “I can sense my partners needs without them expressing anything.” Another talent of an empath. Taking it to the next level would sound like this: “I sense my partners needs and I go above and beyond to satisfy those needs even at the expense of my own needs.”

CAN YOU SEE THE DIFFERENCE? One is healthy behavior but the other creates imbalance in the relationship.


The way toxic people fabricate enmeshment in empaths is that they dismiss the individuality of their partners in a very subtle, almost emotionally veiled way. On top of that they make their partners feel as if any disagreement, difference in perspective or any boundary is evidence of being unempathic. In fact they make their partners feel as if any of these things are evidence of their partner abandoning the relationship instead of supporting it.

This really hooks a genuinely empathic person. If someone is accusing you of not being empathic, and you know very well that you are a very empathic person… you might feel this need to prove you are empathic and your partners sense of proof comes from you seeing things exactly how they see it, feeling what they feel, agreeing with everything without having a viewpoint…it’s like a landslide and little by little you are taking on the other persons emotions, needs, viewpoints and eliminating your own.

The danger is a complete loss of self., an annihilation of soul.

So the key to being able to have this beautiful ability to be empathic while not crossing into an unhealthy realm is:

  1. Having strong emotional boundaries – you need to know yourself so that when someone else accuses you of something, you don’t doubt yourself. Don’t need to prove it to someone who would refuse to see truth even if all the evidence in the world was staring them in the face.
  2. You must hold onto your individuality ….even during times of conflict. Obviously in every healthy relationship there’s compromise right – but it doesn’t come at the expense of annihilation of soul. You do not have to give up your individuality because it is a threat to someone else’s false image.
  3. You need to know what a healthy relationship looks like so that you don’t get confused. Especially if you were raised in an enmeshed narcissistic household.
  4. Strong self-awareness so that even when you feel other’s emotions in  your body, you are still aware that those emotions aren’t yours, and you need to be aware of what emotions are yours so that you don’t lose yourself when feeling ask whose feelings are these? What am I feeling? To strengthen self awareness practice checking in with yourself through out the day on a daily basis
  5. Strengthen the reality that – people are allowed to see things differently. Others are allowed to be in a bad mood if they choose, it’s not your fault and it’s not your responsibity to make them feel something else. Remind yourself you are allowed to feel happy, or content inside even if someone else is in a bad mood – they are them and you are you.



About the Author

Nobody understands what you're going through more than someone who has been there. I grew up with narcissistic family member and had intimate relationships with malignant narcissists. For the majority of my healing journey, I felt as if I was all alone. I now dedicate my life to being the person for others, that I needed on my own healing journey, so that YOU never feel alone.