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How Empathy Can Hurt

How Empathy Can Hurt

Empathy is a fantastic quality for developing relationships, but it can become dangerous if used too aggressively.

I believe that the power of empathy lies in the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. This is necessary in order to see and feel the situation of the other side. This is the basic component of emotional intelligence (EQ), what creates contact between you and other people.

Empathy can significantly improve relationships, and it can also be dangerous if it is used excessively.

For example, this is possible if you demonstrate your empathy at extreme angles of attack, even when it harms you and others. In the scientific literature, this phenomenon is called “borderline empathy” or “hyper empathy”, and this is associated with borderline personality disorder (hereinafter BPL).

If we summarise the results of a study conducted in 2014:

“Some individuals with BPL seem to have an uncanny sensitivity to the subconscious mental state of other people. The inability to coherently integrate such information into stable concepts of self has a fundamental impact on the health of the individual.

In simple words, those people who demonstrate an exorbitant level of empathy cannot manage it, which leads to unhealthy habits and relationships.

Of course, you don’t need to suffer from a personality disorder that can be caused by empathy. Many become victims of the “empathy trap” – when the ability to perceive the feelings of others leads to physical exhaustion.

For example, one study shows that nurses looking after terminally ill patients are at risk of developing compassion fatigue, which is expressed in a combination of physical, emotional and spiritual exhaustion associated with caring for patients. Caregivers pay more attention to patients’ needs than their own, which often puts them on a burnout path.

There are much easier ways to fall into the trap of empathy.
The Pew Research Center analysed a series of scientific papers and found out that in some cases, the use of social networks led to increased stress levels. Why? In fact, people become more aware of the problems of others.
The problem is not only that we learn about negative events from other people’s lives. Rather, the development of digital technologies allows people to learn about the problems of others faster and more consistently.узнавать о проблемах других быстрее и последовательнее.

In other words, if you do not filter the incoming information, then constant involvement in other people’s problems can lead to emotional exhaustion, and as a result, the development of other health problems.м.

Emotionally intelligent empathy

How to use your empathy for the benefit of yourself and others?
Here are some practical tips that can help:

1. At work

If the job requires you to be constantly involved for long periods of time, then there is a high risk of emotional burnout. To avoid such consequences, it is recommended to take shorter, but more frequent breaks to give yourself a reboot.

Or you can discuss with your employer measures that will allow you to maintain a work-life balance. For example, redistribute responsibilities to reduce the level of empathy and stress.

2. At home

Let’s imagine that your better half returns home after a bad day at work. But you’ve had a terrible day, too. You feel that you are not ready to show empathy at the moment, moreover, you really need it for yourself.

In this situation, you can say something like, “I’m so sorry that you didn’t have the best day either. Let’s rest (or work out or have dinner together)? Well, we may come back to our problems later, for example, during a walk.” By the way, a walk is a great way to communicate in difficult situations.

On the one hand, this approach in communication takes into account your own need for empathy, on the other hand, shows your empathy for your partner. It will only take you a few seconds to say it, but it can significantly affect how you spend the next few hours or even days after stress.

3. Online

Start tracking how much time you spend on social networks. The new version of iOS even has a special add-on to help get rid of phone addiction. Also, conduct a self-assessment of your psychological state after “surfing” the Internet. Do you feel that social media is exhausting?

If so, think about how you can reduce the use of your devices. Set a timer or an alarm clock, and come up with some motivating activity that will allow you to log out of the network.

Remember, empathy is a powerful tool for building relationships, but only if it does not lead to your burnout. It’s like in an airplane with depressurisation: “first put an oxygen mask on yourself, then on the child.” Otherwise, you will not be able to help others for a long time. In other words, first sort out your feelings using emotional intelligence. And then, with joy, help others.


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