Introduction-empathic pain

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New Member

Date Joined Jul 2009
Total Posts : 6
   Posted 7/30/2009 1:50 PM (GMT -7)   
Hello, I'm new here and grateful to find this forum.  I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia / Chronic Fatigue Disorder about 6 years ago.  I have other health issues, but no need to dump out the whole basket.  Until recently, I have been fortunate to be able to manage pain very well using Zanaflex for sleep, Tramadol as needed, gentle yoga and meditation.  My worst episodes were usually caused by becoming ill, especially if there was an infection.
The reason I joined this is to find out if anyone else has experienced "empathic pain."  I made up this term because I don't know what else to call it.  For many years, I have experienced pain, usually in the lower part my body (1st and 2nd chakra areas) when observing someone experiencing pain, seeing an injury, or hearing someone, usually someone I care about, explain pain they have had or are having.  In the last year or so, it has become more and more intense, and more and more frequent.  Now, almost anyone telling me about their pain or injury, or observing someone in pain or who has been injured, causes pain to sear up and down in the mddle of my body, and sometimes down my legs.  It isn't like my normal Fibro pain, which usually starts in my hands and spreads from there.  However, this empathic pain causes the Fibro pain to start or intensify if it is already occuring.
I explained this to my rheumatologist the other day and she said there are recent neurological studies that indicate that Fibro sufferers are sensitive to "noxious stimulae" that others are not affected by, and do not even though they exist.  I did some research online and found several studies about "mirror neurons" that I am still trying to understand.  However, what I am getting from them is that the brain is pretty amazing, and we react to others pain in a mirror area of where our brain processes our own pain experience.  I'm thinking that since I have Fibro, which is definitely some kind of screwed-up central nervous system problem, perhaps this mirror pain becomes real pain for me.  I know one other Fibro sufferer who experiences pain when someone she cares about has pain, but she feels it in relatively the same area of the body as the sufferer.  But she is much younger and hasn't had Fibro as long.  I used to have similar pain, but now it's just in the middle and down the legs.
Coincidentally, for the last two years, I have been studying and practicing Mahayana Buddhism, meditating frequently, and attended teachings for 6 days by the Dalai Lama.  One of the results is that, because the focus is on loving kindness and compassion for all sentient beings, I am in a nearly constant state of attunement with everyone.  So now, it isn't just people I love, it's everyone who is suffering or who has suffered that can cause me to react with empathic pain.  Not only is this causing me more and more pain, but it interferes with what I love to do the most - be a companion volunteer for Hospice.  I usually can sort of "put up a shield," basically remind myself that a patient is in pain and I have to block those thoughts while I am there.  But it doesn't always work.  And I am dating a man who is in a wheelchair due to injury, and often just looking at him sometimes can start the pain, which really dampens any romantic feelings!
Ok - long, I know.  But thoughts, anyone?

Forum Moderator

Date Joined Apr 2005
Total Posts : 17528
   Posted 7/30/2009 2:11 PM (GMT -7)   
Hi, PBZ, and welcome!  I've never had pain in a specific area when I've seen others in pain.  But, my pain does increase.  For me I think it's the stress of the situation.  I have lived with pain for so many years and I hate to see someone else in pain.  I think that stresses me and then my muscles tighten and my regular fibro pain is worse or, worse yet, I end up in a flare.
I'm so glad that you found us and joined in.  Be sure to check out the Fibro 101 thread...the first thread on the forum.  There are links to good information about fibromyalgia there and you will learn even more about this illness. 
I'm happy that you are here.  Don't hesitate to ask question because we are here to help one another.  I hope to hear more from  you soon.
Forum Moderator/ Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia, Crohn's Disease, Ostomy, Diabetes, Autoimmune Inner Ear Disease, Osteoporosis
God does not give us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.    2 Timothy 1:7

Regular Member

Date Joined Jul 2009
Total Posts : 223
   Posted 7/30/2009 2:17 PM (GMT -7)   
Welcome PBZ. Yes I think a number of us can relate to "empathic pain". I can't even watch television because of it. I cant hear that someone hurts anywhere because I feel the stress of their pain as well.

My sister-in-law has MS and she says she has the same problem.

lost in philly
Regular Member

Date Joined Jan 2009
Total Posts : 243
   Posted 7/31/2009 5:50 AM (GMT -7)   
Welcome PB! What you are describing is very familiar. I feel like I spend half my life cringing and having to block things. We are sensitive people.
My sister is a Hospice nurse/ SW. That is big work. I have alot of respect for people who work with Hospice. It has changed her life, the things she has seen. Good for you.
When it feels like you are picking up too much of other people's pain, I would take a few days off of volunteering. Find a schedule that works for you but has more breaks in it. Also Epsom salt baths with lavender is supposed to be calming and help clear away others energy. Native Americans use sage and cedar to "smudge" (burn) and clear away blocked energy. Others use crystals. Seems like you are open to such things. I would start with coming home and having a good Epsom salt bath.

Good luck & glad you found us!
lost in philly

Fibromyalgia, Endometriosis, Migraines, Asthma, Chronic Fatigue

Savella, Topamax, Morphine, Percocet, Wellbutrin, Abilify, Crestor, Resoril, Loestrin, Imitrex

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"Knowing without doing is like plowing without sowing."

Veteran Member

Date Joined Aug 2007
Total Posts : 6067
   Posted 7/31/2009 6:44 AM (GMT -7)   
Hi PBZ and welcome. I think the only time I have felt this is when my granddaughter was in labor and I could almost feel her pain but that may have been memories from having my children. I know I empathize with people in pain more since having fibro and all the other things I have that cause pain. You have to walk in someone else's shoes to be able to understand them and with fibro and other pain we know only too well what pain is. I've always been sensitive and can't stand to see anything suffer human or animal, there have been several times in my life that it has been easier to watch someone die than to watch them suffer when all hope is gone.
I'm glad you joined us and you will love this forum.
luv and hugs
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American Woman
Regular Member

Date Joined Jul 2009
Total Posts : 96
   Posted 7/31/2009 7:03 AM (GMT -7)   
Hi PBZ and welcome!
I'm new to the forum but find that it is the best. I also understand what you are talking about. My brother died from cancer in the middle of March this year and I wasn't diagnosed with fibro until the end of March and for the last two weeks of his life it seemed like I hurt in every part of my body. I thought it was probably because I was grieving, but what you are saying makes alot of sense. I also am very sensitive to anyone suffering and can't watch any of that stuff on tv, even commercials about dogs in the pound make me cry.
Thanks for the info on this, this forum teaches me something everyday.
Have a great day!
American Woman

Veteran Member

Date Joined Mar 2009
Total Posts : 900
   Posted 7/31/2009 8:36 PM (GMT -7)   
I can so relate to the empathic pain thing. I go over to a friend's house and she has arthritis. Eventhough she doesn't complain about it I can feel it for hours after I leave her place and even a little the next day.

Regular Member

Date Joined Mar 2008
Total Posts : 316
   Posted 8/1/2009 5:39 AM (GMT -7)   

Hello PBZ,

Welcome to the forum! 

First, let me say that, from your post, it is clear that you are an amazing person!  You are obviously extremely caring and giving and I applaud you for your volunteer work.

My "empathic" pain is usually emotional, but sometimes physical.  I have always been able to absorb the emotions of others around me.  I do feel the physical pain of some, but like your friend, it's usually in the same place as the other person is feeling it. 

I've found that certain personality types tend to "absorb" the physical and emotional pain of others.  I'm not sure if your friend has a similar personality as you, but it would be interesting to know.

It sounds like you are doing all that you can to remain at peace, focusing on kindness and compassion.  I hope you can find a way to separate yourself from it sometimes.  I know that may be impossible, but perhaps through your meditation you can find a way.

Take care,



Fibromyalgia since 2007

"No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars or sailed an uncharted land, or opened a new doorway for the human spirit."
Helen Keller

Veteran Member

Date Joined Mar 2009
Total Posts : 1158
   Posted 8/1/2009 8:00 AM (GMT -7)   
Wow I thought it was just a joke around the house. My husband always hurts in his kidney area when I hurt. He will call me and ask if I'm ok. The other night he stood in the kitchen and said something was wrong with him. He explained to the EXACT of what I was feeling at that moment. He laughed and said he must be having sympathtic pain. He did when I had all our children. If I was sick he got sick, if I had a contraction so did he it was so weird.

So strange to see this post after our laughing about it all the time.


By the way welcome to our family!!!
Kidney Diseases and Disorders
39 yr young female with,
Chronic Kidney Stones, PKD (Polycystic Kidney Disease), Chronic Kidney Failure, Severe Hypertension, Urological RSD

Also CHF (Congestive Heart Failure) and Sleep Apnea

Hopefully NO MORE........ I think I have it all

New Member

Date Joined Jul 2009
Total Posts : 6
   Posted 8/1/2009 2:34 PM (GMT -7)   
Thanks to all of you who responded so warmly, supportively, and empathetically! It is so great to know that you understand and experience the same or similar experiences of empathetic pain, in addition to our shared Fibro pain. Your loving understanding means a lot! I am sorry for the losses some of you have suffered recently. I understand that the emotional stress of losing someone you love can bring on the Fibro pain, so it's a double-whammy.

Several of you related that watching tv/movies with violence or injury, or watching tv at all, is impossible because of your painful reaction. I never watch the news, unless it's a little local news. The media generally spews nothing but negativity and fear-producing "entertainment" disguised as news. No thanks! I am pretty picky about movies, usually staying with comedy or light drama, nothing too intense. I remember the first time I watched The Color Purple, and cried through the whole thing. My brother says I am too good at the "suspension of disbelief," which may be true. But it is that I feel the emotions of the characters as if I am living in the character. I have to keep reminding myself, "it's just a movie, it's just a movie!" I want to stop all suffering, but taking it on doesn't help.

A couple of you mentioned the Hospice experience and I have to say that, as much as the patient and their family get from having a volunteer in their lives, it is a very great honor to be allowed share in that very personal experience in their lives, and I benefit so much and in so many ways from it. There is no greater gift than what you receive from giving of yourself with pure altruistic intention.

Again, thanks for the warm welcome! Blessings to all of you!

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