The many and various ways I pass the time now has a new addition. Usually it involves drinking coffee whilst sitting at a computer keeping in touch with chums, or sipping wine sitting on our tiny terrace catching the sun, and wondering what else I can do to avoid any cleaning or tidying or putting away of stuff and things that aren't even MINE. And now I am going to type this blog. Provided that doesn't become a chore as well, in which case...

Friday, 22 March 2013

Empathy Exhaustion

A lot has been written since the dizzy days of Live Aid about compassion fatigue taking over and shutting down the social instinct to help suffering humanity, so that appeals on TV or hard-hitting documentaries get switched off and entertainment tuned in instead, the hand stays out of the pocket, the cheque book stays in the handbag or briefcase and the donating text is not typed and sent.

I have realised of late I have hit a wall of what I am now deciding to call empathy exhaustion.  As I remarked at length yesterday this has abruptly burst onto the scene in my life, or maybe more accurately has been discovered at the end of a track on my mental map.  I have grown tired of self-revelatory blogging, if not for good, then at the very least for now.  I have gone a long way down a no-through road, and have no choice but to do three-point turn in the dust (or more accurately, today, axle-deep mud) and re-trace my route back to civilisation.

I say civilisation because I do think it is uncivil to crave or expect an empathic audience to a self-revelatory blog and be unable, unwilling or too busy to reciprocate a bit, or at the very least THANK the readers who leave comments for their interest, support and time. 

What are genuine empathic skills, and does everyone have them or indeed even need them?  This is an article off one of my favourite websites, which is called LifeSquared, with a logo that is built around Life2 (ie Life to the power of two).  It has a list of pointers to practices, actions and activities which highly empathic people seem have in common.  I guess one central practice is some sort of self-protection.  Not allowing oneself to be drained. 

And that is the one I need to do first.  Then I will see how many others I can (re)adopt.


  1. I suspect that you are a very empathetic person who has been, as you said, drained. By circumstance or choice, sometimes we can be overwhelmed by emotional giving, especially if there is little or no reciprocity. I've experienced the same, attending the ones who pour out their problems, garnering sympathy and, I hope, at least finding some comfort just by talking/writing. You, the listener, must feel more like a therapist, whether you respond or not. Because, as the article you linked states, empathetic people are interested in others and, in most cases, would like to help. We may try to do just that, literally help or help by sharing what we've learned or other methods, like teaching. All can be exhausting under any circumstance, but especially if there is no like-feeling, sharing or return.

    A friend both listens and shares the ups and downs of life. I have stopped thinking of the ones who don't as friends. Basically, they are not. While my empathy is engaged, I no longer expect or suffer from their lack of response. They're just "here to talk" and I will listen (read) or not.

    I think you're wise to take the time to refresh. My other thoughts might be recommendations for fun, relaxation, happiness and love. (Hear my empathy there!) You know that we can be so overwhelmed with others' problems that we forget the goodness, warmth and caring that is available to us elsewhere. I know it would be unlikely for me (and you) to change our interest and empathy with others, but it is good that you are taking this time to recharge.

  2. Lesa, how very lovely of you to stop by and comment so thoughtfully.

    I had a good friend in my 30s who was the same age and trained as a psychotherapist. She told me a psychotherapist in the UK is not permitted to train or even practise unless they in turn have a more experienced therapist to unpack their load of accumulated stress and worries in front of, or they end up with the woes of the world on their shoulders, I expect, or at least the woes of their town!

    I feel immensely refreshed just by the simple act of the three FB unfriendings I clicked on Wednesday. It was maybe silly to think that people one never meets corporeally are in any way allied to us. It astonishes me that so many humans are prepared to up sticks and move to another country to get engaged to a person who they meet for the first time for real after they get off the plane.

    Modern Life? eh?

    Shall call by on you blog now, see you there!

  3. Empathy exhaustion is a potential hazard for all who interact at any depth with others, whether professionally or personally. You're right about counsellors needing proper supervision and the ability to protect themselves where necessary and this was drummed into me during my own training for the ministry.

    It sounds luke you really do need to step back and allow yourself to rest and recover. Some warmth and sunshine would help too. :-)