The PDA empath

Imagine walking into a crowded room and instantly being able to feel every emotion each person was feeling as if the emotions were your own. You would feel depressed, happy, sad, anxious, excited, jealous, angry etc all at once. It would be overwhelming. No doubt you would turn around and leave, unable to control all those emotions.

Now imagine walking into another room and seeing the person you loved most standing with a smile of their face, but you can feel sadness crawling over your body. You weren’t sad a moment ago. The emotion hits so quickly and unexpectedly. You start to cry because you feel sad.

Now imagine you don’t know where these emotions are coming from. You are confused and upset because you can’t control them. Maybe you start to recognise that every time you’re around a certain person you feel a certain emotion. You might start to feel scared of large groups, unable to tell how you’ll feel next. Maybe you start to feel angry at feeling such powerful, negative emotions every time you’re near one person. Maybe any demand to be placed into those circumstances causes such anxiety and fear that you cry, shutdown or lash out. Maybe you start to hate that certain person.

Empaths have the ability to feel another person’s emotions. It’s not a concious or deliberate thing, it’s instinctual. It may even be classed as a sense, just like touch or taste. Some people just experience this sense more than others. It’s not like seeing someone’s face and guessing they feel a set way, it’s not reading someone’s body language or reading between the lines of what they are saying, it’s feeling the emotions their body is experiencing. Like seeing someone’s aura.

Many Autistics are empaths. The Autistic’s heightened emotions may play a part, they may not, but one thing is for sure, an empath can feel what other people feel, sometimes as if they themselves were feeling that emotion.

This can be very confusing, especially for children and even more so for Autistic children who may not even be able to understand and recognise their own emotions. They will feel happy or sad or frightened and not know why.

As for the PDA empath… they will already have heightened emotions, be very responsive to negative emotions and be constantly on edge… add in empathy on this level and they may become embroiled in an emotional nightmare. Is it any wonder then, that may of them lash out.

I’ve heard many parents of PDAers complaining that their kid’s react badly when they (the parents) are hurt. Some will attack, verbally or physically, when their parents are in pain or feeling negative emotions. This I suspect is the PDA empath at work. When you’re already scared and hurt and then someone in your life who you care about is making you feel even worse but you don’t know how or why because they haven’t said or done anything to cause it, you may react by trying to shield yourself from it, often by fighting back against it. Fight, flight or freeze.

I’m sure there are many PDA empaths who will lock themselves in their bedroom whenever they sense their family/friends feeling bad. Some may freeze, shutting down and becoming unresponsive. If you’ve been in pain and seen your PDAer simply ignore you, chances are they are in freeze mode. Their body has reached it’s limit of what it can handle and so has shutdown the emotional part of it’s self to protect it. It’s not that they don’t care, it’s that they care too much, so much it hurts. Fight though, that’s where the body tries to remove whatever’s causing it pain. Of course the PDAer won’t want to remove their loved one, but the body isn’t really listening, it just wants the pain to stop and has chosen to get rid of it by fighting it off, as if it’s being faced with a savage dog.

So what can you do to help. Firstly, if you think your PDAer is an empath, it might help explaining that to them. If they know why they feel the way they do they may have a better chance of dealing with their responses themselves. They may be able to choose flight or freeze rather than fight.

Understanding yourself will help you realise that your PDAer does care but they are simply trying to protect themselves. You may be able to remove yourself from the area when you are feeling bad, so as to minimise the impact on the PDAer. It might help to talk through how you are feeling and why, so they can understand and not guess at the reasons. It probably won’t help to try to hide how you are feeling, empaths feel your emotion from your core, they see past the fake smile, hiding your emotions may only serve to further confuse them.

Find what works best for you are the PDAer. We are all different and what might help one may hurt another. Some may find pretending nothing’s wrong does help, especially if they tend to freeze and calling attention to their lack of obvious sympathy may hurt them. They are already overwhelmed at this point, forcing them to face their own emotions and yours may break them or force out a fight response. Some do find it easier to talk through the emotions as it helps them move on from the feelings. They may prefer to know why you are feeling as you are and they may want to help. It may take some time to figure out what does and doesn’t work but it’s worth it if it helps you all know what to do in the future.

And remember, being empathic isn’t a choice. Most cannot choose how they react neither. But you may be able to find ways to help.


(nb. I am not personally an empath, most of what I know about empaths has been learnt from people who are, as such the above information may not be fully accurate. It may be wise, if you are unsure, to consult an adult empath yourself for further, more accurate information)

8 thoughts on “The PDA empath”

  1. This is honestly so nice to read, even if you don’t personally struggle with the empath side yourself, it feels like you understand it and never has my emotions been wrote down this well. Thank you, I really needed this x

  2. We are still learning about ASD and our son. He does not have a PDA diagnosis but the team involved noted his demand avoidance during his assessment. He certainly seems to feel things very deeply. Even saying “be careful” to him can cause him to become very stressed, and often tearful, even though nobody was actually hurt.

    1. I remember reading a blog post ages ago where a mum realised when she said things like ‘be careful’ that her child would become upset, when the child eventually told her why they got upset it turned out because by saying ‘be careful’ the child automatically presumed something bad was about to happen. Autism logic I believe. That post made sense as my eldest would always trip up whenever I told him to watch where he was walking or to ‘watch out’, once I stopped saying that he managed to walk better without tripping up. I think autistic kids tend to associate certain words with events without realising that the event won’t occur every time the words are said. Food for thought. I do believe that autistic people feel things much more deeply than non-autistic’s. I know PDAers experience way more anxiety than any other neurotype. I think with heightened empathy added on it must make their lives much harder. I find it hard enough dealing with my own emotions, I couldn’t imagine having to feel everyone else’s emotions too.

      1. That is interesting to read. I shall keep your son’s words in mind as my son does seem to feel things very deeply.

  3. So spot on it’s frightening. My eldest PDA kiddo is an empath. She also (call me mad if you want) has an ability to read my thoughts and sense things about to happen. When I ask her twice to do something and she accuses me of nagging… I know how many times I have wanted to ask before doing it and if she can read that.. Yes ok I am nagging! Love your blog

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