How To Cope When You Feel Emotional Empathy Toward The Suffering Of Others.

“Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another, and feeling with the heart of another.” Alfred Adler

I would often ask myself ‘ Why do I feel like this?’, Why do I care so much?’ 'Why do I feel the pain and the suffering as if it were my own?'

Is it better to know or to not know? If knowing and being aware makes me feel so sad and helpless, and not knowing seems to shelter me from anger, hurt and allows me to be in a state of carefreeness… isn't it better to bury my head, be ignorant and therefore happier?

But each time I had those thoughts, I came to the same conclusion: I would prefer to know and be aware, feel those feelings and channel them in a way that prevents the overwhelm, rather than pretend the suffering isn't happening.

This is one of my favourite quotes - “Be the change you wish to be in the world” - Ghandi

If Martin Luther King stayed home every night getting angry telling himself  'Why isn't anyone standing up for the abolition of slavery? or Mother Teresa thought to herself 'I cant believe no-one is standing up to peace and compassion to make this world a better place'. How much change would have occurred? Instead they became themselves and stood up for what they wanted to see in the world.

A person who chooses to be unaware and uneducated (and I believe it is a choice), chooses the option of an easy life. However, I also have perspective and realise that the world isn't going to turn vegan and peace won't magically happen overnight and indeed not everyone is ready.

So I choose to focus my energy and attention to those people that are open to change.  I believe humanity is basically good and wants to do good things.

Another quote I love is - 'Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.' - Theodore Roosevelt

I would often think that I wasn't doing enough and that I could be doing more ... this type of negative thinking made me feel overwhelmed and it limited my focus to what I wasn't doing instead of the things that I could be doing with what was available to me at the time.

Back in the late 80's, early 90's (still now but not as frequently) I was active when speaking up for the voiceless, I would attend protests and marches, raise money and on the odd occasion go undercover, (remember back then there wasn't any social media resources to raise awareness) however, I started to feel overwhelmed with having all this insight about the suffering, along with the feelings that came with it, I felt angry that there was a lack of resources to stop it.

My approach always came from a place of peace and love, I did not not feel hatred, judgement or blame but I felt totally helpless for the beings that needed help.

It came to a point where I had to restore balance, restore my energy and my peace of mind because I began to experience emotional fatigue.

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When a person feels so much empathy toward suffering they need to find and restore balance. Empathy is, at its simplest, awareness of the feelings and emotions of other beings. 

So boundaries need to be put in place and self care is paramount, its not selfish it is wise and important.  In order to help others you need to ensure that you have the inner resources for yourself first.  You cant help others with an empty cup.

When you start to focus on yourself and start to fill your own cup first, it will help you move toward joy and an inner strength. This will have a ripple effect in your world.

If you spend time absorbing and watching all the pain, your body will stay ill which doesn't help you or those around you find peace.

Managing empathy is about understanding yourself.

Psychologists have identified three types of empathy:

Cognitive Empathy, Emotional Empathy and Compassionate Empathy.

  • Cognitive Empathy is understanding someone’s thoughts and emotions, in a very rational, rather than emotional sense. 
  • Emotional empathy is ‘catching’ someone else’s feelings, so that you literally feel them too. (Emotional Contagion)
  • Compassionate empathy is understanding someone’s feelings, and taking appropriate action to help.

In reality, we all have some level of each of the types of empathy. The key is to understand the ways that we are empathic with others, and to realize the strengths and limitations of each type of empathy.  Most people who are empathic to suffering, lean more toward Emotional Empathy and its the understanding of its strengths and limitations that will help when building boundaries. (Everyone is different).

We can find the right balance between logic and emotion by leaning more toward 'Compassionate Empathy'. 

Compassionate Empathy is where we can feel another beings pain, as if it were happening to us but at the same time, remain in control of our own emotions so we don't feel so overwhelmed with the emotional feelings of empathy.  Managing emotions does take practice and awareness.

Adopt a Self-Care Mindset. Self care is paramount its about giving ourselves relief when we feel overwhelmed, so ensure that you make time every day for yourself and this can include activities such as yoga, exercise, long walks, visiting family.  I tend to meditate in the morning for around 10 mins and I practice mindfulness by visiting nature and in yoga.

The key thing is not to suppress your emotions, knowing how to express your emotions will help you immensely, do not deny that your are feeling the emotions. Find a way that you can express yourself freely.

Alongside enjoying life as a mindset coach, I am an animal portrait artist. I aim to capture an animal's individual spirit in each piece.

I express my feelings of absolute love and joy for animals through art and sharing positive clips of them on my facebook page.  @Confidence2BU

The process of drawing each individual gives me so much joy and I can now share this with other animal lovers using social media platforms.

It is so important to stand up for what we believe in - with love, peace and calm in our heart.

Here are some of my pieces.

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Let me know your thoughts and feelings about the blog and any experiences you may have had and have worked through.  You could help another person, I'd love to hear from you.

Until next time - much love.