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Empathy, Burnout, and Compassion

Burnout is something that the majority of us experience at one point or another. I know in my role as a therapist it is something that I am constantly putting self-care strategies in place to limit the possibility of burnout in particular empathy burnout. Empathy is a really important tool. It enables us to become better people by understanding and relating to other people’s emotions, and sympathise with what they are going through.

Being in tune with too many people’s emotions too much of the time, you can experience “empathy burnout,” being completely overwhelmed and exhausted by always taking on everyone else’s baggage. This empathy burnout is when we take on others feelings and emotions to the point where we can no longer hold our own emotional self this is a high risk for people and professionals in helping roles whether in a family capacity or professional.

Having too much empathy can also mean you don’t grow your boundaries effectively. You let other people drain you because you haven’t drawn a line in the sand which people can’t cross. So it’s important to combat burnout through setting clear boundaries for what you are willing to accept from others and what you are not.

One very important tool that has helped me in my professional experience of burnout as a therapist is practising the art of compassion.

The difference between empathy and compassion is with empathy we actually feel the pain of others, and with compassion we simply understand how they might feel.

It’s hard not to think, for example, of your own childhood when you hear about children suffering in other parts of the world. And that’s a good thing—relating to others is what prompts us to act in socially responsible ways and generally be good people. But carrying someone else’s suffering can go too far.

“On some level you are that person (who is suffering), and on another level you aren’t,” says Halifax. “Vicariously experiencing the suffering of another can truly disable us, whereas what compassion does is provide the medium for us to allow concern to be there but it engages other features, like attentional balance and emotional balance that make it possible for us to find the middle path between objectification and over-identification or too much empathy.”

“Vicariously experiencing the suffering of another can truly disable us, whereas what compassion does is provide the medium for us to allow concern to be there." - Roshi Joan Halifax -

Compassion meditation has been a life saver for me something that I try to practice daily, since I have been using compassion as a tool to understand and relate to clients I have found the risk of burnout lessening and I actually feel empowered and energised.

There are lots of compassion meditation videos on YouTube, make sure if you are interested in trying these you choose one that is not too confronting and feels right for you, things like tone of voice, length, the way they guide you through compassion can be confronting so take it slow and find one that works for you.

Here is a link for the one I found worked for me.

I hope this has in some way been helpful. May you have joy and happiness, may you be free from suffering.


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