The other side of empathy

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I have a confession to make. I feel and I see more than others usually do. And it’s not easy staying grounded and open to others. I learned that key is to be discerning, so that my empathy does not attract people who drain my energy.

Empathy, etymologically, comes from the Greek word pathos, “passion” or “suffering”.  I learned from Wikipedia that the term was adapted by Hermann Lotze and Robert Vischer to create the German word Einfühlung (“feeling into”), which was translated by Edward B. Titchener into the English term empathy. 

Everytime I feel into someone’s feelings, I pay an emotional price. Empathy can cause emotional overwhelm, research shows. I also learned that the empathy-receiver might not be on the net benefits side either. Here is a story:

Some time ago, a colleague struggling at work, rebuffed with “you have to be more empathetic towards me!”. What she did not realise was the energy I was already giving her and that she was responsible for the situation she was in. By being empathetic towards her situation, i was doing her a huge disfavour. She would continue to be in a victim’s role she assumed herself. The moment I stopped acting like a “golden fish” of understanding and giving and she stopped asking for more, she learned to take things into her hands and move on, as a responsible adult.

So I learned to give empathy with moderation, set and be clear about boundaries and  encourage others to take responsibility for their own situation. So that we all benefit from a healthy and meaningful dose of empathy for harmonious relations. 

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