Compassion Fatigue and Empaths
Those who know you well would describe you as extraordinarily wise, empathetic and sensitive. Good or bad, you will feel your feelings intensely and find your mood is strongly impacted by those you are surrounded by. Quite often it feels like the emotions of others are contagious as if you can literally feel other people’s feelings so acutely (as if they are your own). While you value being able to deeply connect on an emotional level, this type of gift is also exhausting and painful. Do you feel depleted from feeling too much of other people’s emotions and/or traumatic experiences? If yes, you might be an empath who is suffering from compassion fatigue.
Dr. Judith Orloff is New York Times bestselling author of The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People is a psychiatrist who specializes in treating empaths and sensitive people in her Los Angeles based private practice. Dr. Orloff describes an empath as ‘highly sensitive, finely tuned instruments when it comes to emotions. They feel everything, sometimes to an extreme, and are less apt to intellectualize feelings. Intuition is the filter through which they experience the world. Empaths are naturally giving, spiritually attuned, and good listeners.’ While empaths are not the only ones who take on other people’s emotions, empaths sensitivity is magnified and much more acute. When empaths are overly connected to others (without downtime) they become vulnerable to becoming physically ill and suffering from anxiety, depression, chronic stress, burnout, and pain syndromes more often than their less empathic counterparts.
Those who are empathetic are also much more vulnerable to experiencing compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue, which is also known as “secondary traumatization,” is caused by the emotional residue from working with people or animals who have suffered from traumatic events. This can occur after exposure to one trauma case, or it can be cumulative.
Compassion fatigue is different from burnout as compassion fatigue can have a very rapid onset while burnout can emerge over time. It is also common to experience both at the same time. Mother Teresa understood how compassion fatigue can affect highly empathetic people. Therefore, Mother Teresa wrote in her plan to her superiors that it was MANDATORY for her nuns to take an entire year off from their duties every 4-5 years to allow them to heal from the effects of their caregiving work.
While being highly sensitive and empathetic can often feel challenging, those who are empaths are so valuable, gifted and have special souls! I believe that some of the best healers are those who are empaths as they can innately use their hands, voices and energy to bring such relief and comfort to others. While empaths feel everything so strongly and are prone to feeling more intense lows, correspondingly they are also are prone to feeling greater highs, enthusiasm and love of people and life than those who are not as sensitive. Empaths also are often described as independent as they feel comfortable being alone. Empaths actually crave a lot of alone time and require it to balance and unwind.
Do you identify with being an empath and struggle with compassion fatigue? If yes, please find my 5 tips below to support you in practicing self-care and honoring your special gifts.
The bottom line is this: compassion fatigue and feeling depleted are very real experiences for empaths. To my fellow empaths, you really need mandatory self-care. Taking care of yourself is NOT a form of self-indulgence or a luxury but a mandatory need.
5 Self- Care Tips for Empaths:
1. Don’t overshedule yourself .
Empaths are strongly influenced by the people and environments they spend time in. Therefore, they will often need lots of down time after social engagements, recovery periods at the end of a workday, or extended intervals of being alone. Make sure you schedule enough alone time as you need time away from others to regroup.
2. Set boundaries.
Empaths have a natural gift in solving problems and bringing healing to those in pain. Quite often empaths will find themselves really drawn to people in crisis who need help. The hardest lesson for empaths often involves learning how to create boundaries. Boundary setting doesn’t just involve setting limits with other people,it is also an internal job focusing on prioritizing physical and emotional self-care.
3. Stay connected to your body
Empaths feel everything, not only emotionally but also physically. Sensitive people have a tendency to become overstimulated and as a protective measure will disassociate from their body. Disconnecting from the body, makes you more vulnerable to illness and absorbing unwanted physical and emotional energy. Great techniques that can help you stay connected to your body involve breathe work, physical activity, meditation and being in nature.
4. Let go of what isn’t yours
Through feeling grounded and more connected to your body, you can decipher what is yours and what emotions you may have inadvertently picked up from others. Once you’ve discovered that you have picked up emotions from other people, it is time to let them go. Affirmations can help and you can say outloud, ‘I release this anxiety that isn’t mine.’ I also recommend visualizing a release whether it involves seeing smoke, water, fire or air physically push away and release the feeling you empathed that isn't yours.
5. Be aware and honor your vulnerabilities
Where are you physically vulnerable? Whether you are prone to headaches, stomach aches or sore throats, we all physically have a body part that is more vulnerable to absorbing others’ stress. Scan your body and look at your patterns to determine yours. When you are feeling the onset of symptoms in these areas, place your palm there, apply essential oils and keep sending loving-kindness to that area to soothe discomfort.
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Sending you peaceful thoughts and wishes for brighter days.