Can Too Much Empathy Harm Us?

mpathy is being able to understand situations from the perspectives of others, but not all empathy is the same. Have you ever expressed your feelings to someone who logically understood your issue, but you felt no compassion from them? Or, have you had someone cry with you as you express your feelings?

Compassion Fatigue

Having too much empathy can be reflective of boundary issues. The quality of empathy exists on a continuum, much like any other characteristic- too little or too much can have negative impacts, whereas striking a proper balance is key to emotional health. Too much empathy usually is the result of taking on too much of someone else's pain, emotional state, or problem. While we may feel this is a good thing, it actually limits the other person's ability to learn to manage their own emotions, and puts too much of that responsibility onto you. One valuable lesson I have learned is that it is not our job to save others from managing their emotions- we can support them, guide them, and care for them- but owning others' emotions for them is never good for you, or for them. When we take on too much of others' emotions or concerns, this leads to compassion fatigue.

Some signs you may be dealing with compassion fatigue:

  • Diminished self-care (ignoring your own needs)
  • Being constantly fearful or negative
  • Having poor boundaries or not being able to enforce boundaries effectively
  • Being hyper-vigilant
  • Declining physical health (tiredness, etc.)
  • Resentment
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Depression
  • Numbing of emotions
Operating from this space not only prevents you from taking care of yourself properly, but also actually impairs your ability to help others.

How to Deal with Compassion Fatigue
  • Watch your social media time: Does scrolling through Instagram of Facebook leave you feeling drained? If so, learn to be mindful of your time spent on these platforms.

  • Take care of yourself: drink plenty of water and honor your own needs. You cannot be of help to others if you yourself are not in a good place.

  • Don’t be afraid to state your needs: It’s hard for us to admit our own needs in situations where others may be feeling worse than us. However, it actually is more helpful to others if you are respectfully honest about your needs

  • Know your strengths and weaknesses- self-awareness is important. The more you know about your triggers, the more you can anticipate when you may feel burned out

  • Boundaries: knowing where others end and you begin is critical in maintaining your energy. Don't be afraid to say "no" when you need to. This does not mean you are rude; you are simply managing your emotions and energy
Being empathetic to someone else’s pain is not the same as having to feel the same pain. In effect you would just be taking on someone else’s pain, as opposed to being understanding and supporting in helping them through it themselves (true empathy). The key is to not own those emotions as your own- but allow yourself to feel them in a way that increases your understanding of what someone else is feeling, while maintaining our emotional stability. The Psychology Today article “Negative Empathy- Is It Possible to Feel Too Much?” offers great advice: "to feel with others doesn’t necessarily mean we suffer with others- and the less we suffer ourselves, the better we can respond to other’s suffering."


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