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The Downside of Empathy


Everybody knows about empathy and its role in a good and virtuous person’s character. All of us know that empathy makes us humane and altruistic, the two most important qualities we humans must have living and sharing one planet that has finite natural resources. And lastly, for sure many people today are aware about the benefits of being kind and helpful to each other; qualities that allowed the society to progress, grow, and thrive throughout history. And in this age, of course empathy is also the thing we all need to heal our current society and our compromised environment. Through listening, support, compassion, and service to others, empathy plays a very important role in the hearts of human and it is one of the main weapons we have against cruelty and suffering.


However, just like most things, there is also a limitation to this wonderful quality we most humans possess. Everyone must be aware of this limitation as it could be the reason why they will suffer instead of become free and productive. Recognizing the situation of others and sympathizing with them is a natural healthy thing to do, but one should also remember that he or she also has to leave something for himself or herself; meaning he must uphold his emotional stability and make himself strong mentally so that everything will always remain endurable within him. Too much empathy and other kinds of energy consuming emotions impair us psychologically and could bring us down emotionally. This is the negative side of empathy.  

One example is that when one see a beggar on the street, of course it is normal for a good person, with empathy, to stop and give money as a direct help to the person. Seeing a very hungry homeless person will make you sad, and for a sane society, this is a very human thing. However, when one see this kind of situation and get so upset and depressed and having a hard time moving on from the situation to the point that they break down emotionally or having difficulty in sleeping at night, or displaying serious psychological or emotional disturbances, then it is because empathy has impacted them negatively. Perceiving too much of the situation, we sometimes become too overwhelmed with our sensory impressions and this will impact the way we think, act, socially function or perform a task.

There are people who experienced situations that are similar to this and they got wounded by it so they took it very seriously and later, to protect themselves from another painful situation, they had to learn to defend themselves by not allowing their emotions to get attached to the situation. This is how they avoid the risk of so-called negative empathy. However, this kind of approach is not for everybody. Some people really need to face and confront their fears and personal challenges. This makes them stronger and more resilient as individuals. Preventing the negative situations to affect emotionally is a smart way to manage the well-being. However, facing it is also a good way to permanently remove it from your way; thus, allowing the emotions to heal itself through confrontation and contemplation.    

This can also be applied in one’s personal situation. For example, if you are having emotional or mental difficulties due to any problems you are experiencing, it is important to remain intact to your self and be stable. You can do this by recognizing and allowing the situations to naturally flow, therefore letting your emotions and thoughts heal through its own timing. Meaning you are feeling the pain without being totally disturbed by it or without having to get paralyzed by its effect. In this way, the amount of empathy within you cannot tear your heart down into immobility and helplessness but instead, still allows you to appropriately respond and do something or create a solution. In this way you can still make a difference to your life or someone else is life without being totally immersed on them.