This way of feeling, of thinking, has its advantages of course. I'm always there to listen, to support, to help. I can often understand those who feel like nobody understands them. The ability to help others gives me a purpose. If there was such thing as a professional helper, it would probably be my ideal career. I don't have a ton of "skills" to offer the world per se, but the ability to help people allows me to give of myself what I can.
The trouble with being an empathetic person is that eventually, one of two things happen.You may give so much that you draw out what should have been for yourself in order to keep giving, and you collapse into yourself and withdraw quietly from the world except for to help people. Or you break. The next person who tries to take advantage of your understanding nature is going to endure the most out of proportion anger that they have ever seen. They are going to say something hurtful or speak in a tone you don't like and all hell will break loose. Because you just cannot give one more ounce. Sometimes, these two happen in conjunction. You try to keep drawing from yourself, but eventually, you can't. The only option you have is to fight back, and fight back you will.
And because everyone is so used to you being understanding and caring and giving, they don't understand what's happening. Unless they, too, are a truly empathetic person at their core, they don't see that you have no other choice but to recede or break. They don't understand why you "can't handle it". They don't see that your tears and frustration and anger at this one situation are not about that situation at all, but built up from weeks, months, maybe even years. They don't see that you have finally had enough. Nor do they understand when you completely withdraw. It confuses them to see this warm, loving, giving person completely turn in on themselves. They can't comprehend why someone who usually is so open suddenly folds in, placing a wall around themselves. So I will tell you: It is self-preservation. It is trying to save ourselves so that one day again soon, we can continue helping you.
When this happens, please do not push us beyond our means. It's not that we don't want to help, truly. It's that we cannot. And we won't be able to until we replenish for a bit. We are not selfish or self-serving or thoughtless or heartless. We empathetic people are drawn dry. This is all we can do. We are finally giving ourselves what we've always given you. Because we, too, deserve it.