Is there such a thing as too much empathy? It’s true that too much of anything can be a bad thing, even something that seems like such a good thing. Below are five examples of people that suffer from the negative effects of too much empathy:
- Codependent Personality
A Codependent Personality tends to be very concerned with solving the problems of other people. Alternatively, they may also control others or on the other end of the scale try to cater to every desire of another person.
If you know someone with a codependent personality, you know that they often feel lonely, angry, and resentment over things they can’t control.
It’s likely that a codependent person has problems leaving a bad situation, which could be a sign of more issues like addiction to relationships, sex, and love.
“Enabling. People sometimes mistake enabling for empathy. Out of care and concern for a loved one, people may enable destructive behaviors like substance abuse. They loan money, provide food and shelter, and make excuses for an addict. While these behaviors may look and feel like empathy, they prevent the addict from experiencing the natural consequences of their behaviors, thereby perpetuating the addiction”
– David Sack, M.D.
At one time or another most of us have wanted to help someone out at what could possibly be our own expense. Maybe it’s a friend of yours who forgot to study for a test, so you offer to help them cheat. Maybe you thought about vouching for someone who you know deep down is a risk at your own reputation.
However, an Enabler makes more of a habit out of helping, making excuses for, and basically making it easier for an Abuser of any kind to continue to abuse.
Under the guise of empathy, the enabler actually in the long run does not do any favors for the person with the problem, or for themselves. In fact much of the time it is just the opposite.
- Helicopter Parents
The overly attentive parent is also known as the helicopter parent, for their tendency to “hover” over their child.
Most of the time it is with love in their hearts that the helicopter parent may do such things as try to intervene in disagreements between the child and others.
Though they wish to protect and care for them, this can interfere with the child’s ability to build confidence. The helicopter parent, while seeking to give the child only the best preparation for the future, unwittingly does quite the opposite as the child is often ill-equipped to make confident decisions. Many helicopter children find it hard to release themselves from their dependency on others.
- Professional Burnout
“In certain professions, having too much empathy can lead to burnout. Physicians, nurses and police officers, to name a few, have to balance healthy empathy with their ability to do their job…”
– David Sack, M.D.
In addition to the other highly empathic end of the spectrum personalities mentioned above, Dr. Sack goes on to say that there are consequences to having an overly empathic personality, specific to certain high-stress professions.
Most of us, if faced with the kinds of traumatic, mentally, and emotionally draining scenarios the people in the medical and emergency staff handle every day, would not be able to handle it. It’s possible that we would break down, faint, freeze, or go into some sort of shock.
However, our medical professionals must cope with these emotions and overcome them in order to think clearly in an emergency.
What if emergency responders could not withstand the harshest of scenarios when we need them the most?
They must limit their empathic accessibility for their own good and those whom they would wish to serve, or else end up victims of professional burnout.
- People Pleasers
“The desire to make others happy may appear to be driven by empathy, but often motivations behind people-pleasing are based on a selfish desire to be accepted. People pleasers often end up feeling angry or resentful because they’ve given too much of themselves to others. They may base their self-worth on how well they are liked or how much they do for others, and in the process become someone else’s ‘doormat’.”
– David Sack, M.D.
A well known and familiar scene in most North American homes is the grand spectacle that is the gross “one-upmanship” that occurs during the holidays.
Heartfelt gift-giving and the idea that it is not the gift but the thought that counts seem old school. Did we hear this fable from our grandparents?
Nowadays, if one gives an inexpensive gift they may fear a less favorable rating than other friends, family, co-workers, etc. Gift after gift is given to increasingly bored and jaded recipients, who probably would have preferred something else.
Within our own family, in an effort to increase the appreciation of even the smallest gift, over the past few years, we’ve asked for only handmade or inexpensive items. We feel this has helped return the focus on the thought of the gift rather than the cost of the item.
Still, it is true we feel good when we give someone a fantastic gift. One reason why we feel that way may be our need to feel loved, accepted, and seen as an important part of the group.
If you’re a people pleaser, and it’s becoming an unhealthy burden for you, the method I took within my own family unit may be an effective way to get back to the basics of sharing what really counts and should be valued, the person’s genuine attention.
“So ask yourself: Are you really ‘too nice,’ or is the real issue a deeper struggle with boundary-setting or low self-esteem.”
– David Sack, M.D.
So now that we’re aware of how too much empathy can manifest itself in our daily lives, what are the consequences for someone who has too much empathy?
Well, if you have allowed it to continue for too long, some of the following effects may have crept into your life.
You may be putting yourself at risk for:
- Mental Health Problems
- Depression and Anxiety
- Physical Complications
- Heart Disease
- High Blood Pressure
- Addiction in various forms such as food or alcohol, gambling or other types of compulsive and potentially self-damaging habits
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