Quote from Menna:
If I can't help them right now or they arent asking what "work" strategies can I use to stop myself from thinking about it feeling and knowing their pain so I can enjoy my everyday life and not be emotionally sad or slowed down thinking about it? What have others done to avoid this affecting them? I know its empathy but I can feel it sucking energy from me and would like to protect myself from it.
and I think its great to care and have compassion for others but for me when I do this it intrudes on my life and its harder for me to get things accomplished because my mental and emotional energy are being using on their life situations I would like to protect myself from crossing over like this.
Menna, I've been basically doing what you describe for my whole life and I am much, much older than you. It was only very recently that I found out the term for this behavior which is co-dependency. I'll provide a profile and you can decide if it fits you.
Co-dependent people take care of others at the expense of taking care of themselves. They feel that they can't move on with their lives unless the other person is okay. As they take more and more care of and assume more responsibility for others, they take less care of themselves leading to feelings of frustration, bitterness, helplessness, rage, sadness, etc.
The fact that you've recognized the pattern and that you don't want to participate in it is very healthy. I've benefited from your responses to some of my posts and actually implemented the suggestions you gave me. The empathy that you showed for my situation really helped. But as you realize, empathy can be a trap.
Recently someone observing my interactions with my daughter came up to me and explained the concept of co-dependency. As she was speaking, everything came into focus for me, and I immediately started to make changes that organically have begun to evolve from the new understanding with which I had been gifted.
One of the main problems that co-dependents have is a lack of clear boundaries. When I looked at my life, I realized that a lot of the anger, resentment, and unhappiness in my life came from not knowing where I ended and the other person began. I felt that I couldn't go on with my life unless whatever person was close to me at the time was all right. I wasted a lot of my life like this. I thought I was being a good person. I really didn't have a clue that what I was really doing
I have started a journal and joined a co-dependency help group. It is helpful because even though our stories are very different, the feelings and underlying issues are the same. None of us are giving advice or socializing or anything like that. We're just listening to each other and that's enough.
It took me a very, very long time to actually be presented with this information, but when I was, I was ready to embrace it. I'm using the word, "no" a lot, and I'm not offering to help so much. I'm less angry and though not exactly happy, I'm not as resentful anymore. I also take the time now to check in with myself to ask how I feel. Instead of asking other people if they're all right, I'm asking myself that question several times a day. If the answer is "No, I'm not all right", than I write in my journal to try to find the reason why I'm not okay.
I hope this helps.