Empathy - Defined by Oxford Dictionary - the ability to understand and share the feelings of another
So much is written about the value of people increasing their empathy. But what about those who need to decrease their empathy? What if you have excessive empathy? How do you deal with all that understanding and sharing of others' feelings? What about when those feelings are really strong? Or you understand and share the feelings felt by multiple people? When I meet someone with excessive empathy this is what I see:
- Indecision – "How can I make a decision that might impact on another person, or lots of other people? How is it possible to balance the importance of these feelings, of different feelings, or different people with different coping resources?"
- Reticence in putting own needs first – “Why would my feelings be more important than others'? Why should my feelings or thoughts be of higher value than other peoples' feelings/thoughts? Or perhaps my feelings will just bring up more feelings for others and therefore I should leave them left unspoken.”
- Over screening of own words/actions - Preoccupation with lots of distracting thoughts as the value of their words is assessed. Like a chess player several moves ahead, excessive empathy leads to complicated assessments of the impact of words/actions.
Excessive empathy comes at a cost but one that can be managed.
Keep an eye out for the difference between empathy and excessive empathy. And assess, would you be able to serve yourself and others better if you reduced your excessive empathy?
Feels strange to talk about de-empathising but it is one of the most essential skills you could learn if this post is speaking to you.
Excessive Empathy - Defined by Dr Amy Silver - debilitating emotional connection sometimes to the point of paralysis, always to the detriment of the inflicted, usually to the detriment to those they try to serve