Did you ever find yourself wincing in pain just by seeing someone else get hurt? Have you ever held your breath as you watch someone cross a dangerous intersection? Have you ever tried running full speed across a room towards someone who is about to trip? That’s with fully knowing you won’t even reach them in time?
That is empathy at work. Empathy is our ability to place ourselves in other people’s shoes. It allows us to understand how another person is feeling. And sometimes, we even experience their pain, so much so that we want to do something about it.
Having empathy shows you care toward someone. For anyone who is in dire need, that level of concern is always reassuring. It is admirable because empathy breeds action. As an empathetic person, you would want to take steps to lessen the suffering of another human being. Or just generally improve the situation.
In its article, Forbes recognizes empathy as one of the essential qualities of a good leader. As someone at the forefront of any company, a leader must be able to connect with his subordinates first. After that, he can successfully lead them towards achieving their corporate goals. Leaders are able to do this if they show an understanding of how employees feel.
But like in any other case, too much of a good thing is bad for you.
Do you feel manipulated into doing things you don’t like after feeling sorry for someone? Have you ever felt emotionally drained after talking to someone about their problems? Do you find yourself having difficulties making decisions? Are you afraid to upset some members of your team?
If so, you might have hyper empathy. Extreme empathy makes it difficult for you to detach other people’s emotions from your own. If you relate so strongly, it becomes all the more impossible for you to separate. It’s hard now to assert your own identity.
It is a stressful situation to get into. Because emotions are involved, you might feel obliged. You feel the need to solve someone else’s problems. Quite quickly, this can escalate. And you might then find yourself overwhelmed.
You’re pressed to find a solution to your neighbourhood’s garbage concerns. You want to resolve conflicts in the workplace. You need to address world hunger and climate change.
So how do you protect yourself, but still remain attuned to the needs of others? Here are five ways to keep your empathy in check, and still keep the peace (yours included).
1. Take some time to reconnect with your own thoughts.
First, step away from the needs of everyone else, so you can listen to yourself. If you feel overpowered by strong emotions, pause for a while. Allow sadness, anger, anxiety or helplessness to pass. Our emotions are there because they signal something is wrong or right around us.
Psychology Today discusses the importance of non-judgemental awareness for our mental health. Depression and burnout are some of the risks that you might run into. It’s because you let your mind be hijacked so easily by others’ emotions.
Try to see the big picture, and where you fit in the big scheme of things. You may not even have the same opinions as the person you’re talking to. But in the middle of listening to her problem, you might have thought it’s your concern too.
2. Learn to say ‘no’.
If you can master the art of saying no, then you have developed what the experts call the ‘Emphatic Wall’. It is the ability to look past the sensors and focus on your thoughts and what needs to be done.
You will only tire yourself out if you say yes to everyone. Every day, there’s an endless supply of problems needing to be solved, and people calling out for help. There’s a limit to what you can do, so only say yes when you really mean it.
3. Accept the fact that you can’t please everyone.
Sometimes you will find yourself between a rock and a hard place. Keep in mind that people will find reasons to get offended whether you did something or the other. Or even when you did nothing at all. Being overly conscious will only place an unnecessary burden on yourself. Living your life always thinking of how others perceive you is not a way to live.
4. Set a deadline for your decisions.
To help you in decision-making, set a time to collect all information about that decision. And then act according to what data you have at a given time. This saves you endless hours of debate (whether actual or just in your head). It removes the tendency to go back and forth with pointless discussions.
5. Avoid being rigid.
To compensate for having too much empathy, you might think that you need to be more on the rigid and strict side. Find the balance between these two opposing sides.
As an empath, you already have that capacity to listen. Once you’ve gathered enough information from all sides, make a decision and stick to it.
As human beings, empathy is inherent to us. The neurons our brain enable us to perceive and experience the emotions of those around us. The degree to which we experience it might vary. And it’s important that we practice empathy not only to those around us but towards ourselves as well.
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