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The Burden of Being "The Feeling Bearer”

11 June 2016

Key themes: Emotions; Boundaries; Addictions; High Sensitivity; Empathy; Intuition; Trauma; Family Dynamics; Emotional Intelligence.

During my Eponaquest training I was introduced to the idea of there being a “feeling bearer” in every family by Kathleen Barry Ingram. This person is usually more sensitive than their other family members, more empathetic and more intuitive.

It seems that this individual can sense the truth of everyone’s feelings, regardless of whether they are acknowledged and spoken about. If they are not aired and made congruent, then this person still feels the entirety of these feelings regardless.

Therefore, they often carry an immense burden, often alone and in silence. Frequently suffering from the enormity of the pain, depression, traumas and family secrets that remain buried.

To the sensitive child, this is utterly bewildering: not only do they have to deal with their own individual feelings, thoughts and experiences, but they also have to carry everyone else’s. Further, the remaining family members feel, unconsciously and non-verbally, that they are being relieved of their burden and so happily continue with their patterns of burial and denial of feelings and pain. And so the cycle goes on.

If for example, a parent or both parents suffer from depression, but never seek help or even acknowledge they are depressed, the "feeling bearer" can end up carrying their parent's depression on top of their own, which usually appears in response to carrying such a burden. The depression is thus felt doubly and further bewilders the individual as they try to make sense of where it originates from. It can take years to realize that some of this may actually belong to their parent.

Even further still, each family also carries the burden of pain and trauma of their ancestors, and so these unconscious feelings are also felt by the more sensitive “feeling bearer”, as again, most of the family members wish to remain unconscious of these, due to their fear of feelings and pain.

The “feeling bearer” then plays a significant role in enabling their family to continue to function, no matter how dysfunctional it may be. But they pay an enormous price for doing so. Whilst in childhood they do whatever they can to survive, it is not long before extreme coping mechanisms take over as the burden becomes increasingly intolerable while the years tick away.

Symptoms and behaviors start to dominate their life, these can include the following:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Social anxiety/phobias
  • PTSD symptoms
  • Co-dependency in relationships
  • Low self-esteem and confidence
  • Severe loss of sense of Self
  • Borderline personality disorders
  • Psychotic disorders or breakdowns
  • Difficulty to continue with studies or jobs
  • Alcohol or drug dependency, or other addictions (sex, work, eating disorders, etc.)
  • Difficult behaviors, such as anti-social, rebellious at school, etc.
  • Inability to cope with “normal” everyday life
  • Severe introversion
  • Physical conditions such as recurring migraines, ME/Chronic Fatigue, Fibromyalgia, stomach and digestive disorders, to name a few.

To recognize yourself as having played this role in your family can bring a huge sense of relief and is the start of unburdening yourself.

By bringing your conscious awareness to where your boundaries ought to be and working on re-establishing these, plus getting professional support which is often vital, you can begin to reclaim yourself and let go of what does not belong to you.

Returning these feelings to others, whether literally or symbolically, can bring much needed healing over time.

Learning strong, clear boundaries and emotional agility skills is vital to regaining a clearer sense of who you are and preventing yourself from continuing to undertake this role, perhaps now in your own family or even in the work place. In my experience of being a high sensitive, empath and intuitive, wherever I am, there is the risk of me playing this role, and of others happily expecting me to. I have worked in organizations where emotions and congruency are absent and it becomes unbearable for me after a while, as I often end up in conflict with others when I try to establish boundaries and authenticity. This dynamic can of course also be created in our intimate relationships and so we are likely to choose a partner who has difficulty feeling and so we again undertake that function for them.

If after reading this you think you may have played this role, and perhaps still are doing so, then please get in touch or contact a professional who can give you support. I also recommend reading up on the trait of being highly sensitivity (HSP) and being an empath.

© Angela Dunning, 11 June 2016

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