We’re told often that we should empathize with others.
As empathy puts yourself in the shoes of another person in an effort to not only understand, but to feel their experience, it’s invaluable in building good relationships and helping others.
While it’s an essential skill for therapists, healers, and other caregivers, there are times when empathy works against us — and can even hurt us.
Laura van Dernoot Lipsky outlines some of the dangers.
Too much empathy can lead to putting another’s needs in front of your own creating an imbalance in our lives. That imbalance can create secondary (or vicarious) trauma, compassion fatigue, and burnout.
Secondary trauma may present itself through — but is not limited to — these feelings, actions, or physical symptoms:
- Cynicism (sometimes cynical humor)
- Sleep disruptions
- Physical tension and illness
- Hopelessness, helplessness, excessive guilt
Feeding the Problem
When experiencing these traumas, some may numb themselves with drugs, alcohol, sugar, social media, or just plain shutting down. This numbness feeds the problem and we continue to lose our ability to gauge if we are doing harm to ourselves or achieving self care.
How to Heal
The first step towards good self care is being aware of the situation, then taking the responsibility for your self care. There are many ways to achieve it, but it should include connecting with others, addressing your physical health, and taking time for rest.
How to Avoid
A main reason could be a disruption in setting and maintaining boundaries. We’ll unpack that in part 2 in a continuing discussion about too much empathy and its affects on caregivers.