Who does not want to be compassionate, considerate, caring, and selfless? From the Bible to Buddha to Kindergarten, there’s not one place or religion or philosophy system that shies away from the concept of empathy. Those without empathy are seen as outsiders and potential sociopaths. These are individuals who abuse others, who have no ability to love, who we should stay away from. Yes, it is quite clear that to fit into society we must have a certain type of empathetic nature that enables us to work well with others and put loved ones first.
But what happens when empathy begins to work against us? What if we are so empathetic that we have nothing left to give ourselves? Rather than feeling good about our virtuous deeds, we feel resentment. We are drained by our overly empathetic nature. Yet we don’t know how to stop giving, even when we have nothing left to give ourselves. Or perhaps we avoid situations where we have to help others just because we don’t have the energy to give anymore. How can we make empathy work for us rather than against us? How can we remain kind and considerate while still protecting ourselves from being taken advantage of?
1. Be Discerning and Mindful of Your Empathy
According to one study, people are more likely to avoid situations where they need to show empathy when given the opportunity. This is particularly true if empathy is demanded of these individuals over an extended period of time. In other words, our energy resources start tapping out when others expect too much from us. We have nothing left to give, and we do not want to give it. This doesn’t make us bad people; it simply means we haven’t taken care of ourselves. Why would we have any desire to give to others?
Be mindful of who and where you bestow your empathy upon. You don’t need to always be the first to give in every single situation. Before you do something for someone else, ask yourself whether you have the energy and time to do it. Consider the person you are helping. Do you even want to help them? Are they taking advantage of you? We give our best when we have enough love within us to give. Being more selective about who you are empathetic towards will ensure you have enough to give to those you want to give to.
2. Frame Empathy Properly
Our mindset impacts how we feel. We can choose to view empathy in a unique way if we tweak our thinking. If we always see empathy as draining and time consuming, we should consider how a simple act of kindness can impact another person’s life. Over time, we might view empathy as a positive attribute. To do this, we have to think about a time that we really needed a favor and someone helped us. How did it make us feel? We were relieved, grateful, and less stressed.
We can project our own memories of past experiences onto others when we want to feel empathetic, but are struggling to do so. With practice, we will begin seeing people through a new perspective. If we follow tip #1 coupled with this new mindset, we will have a fuller cup to dole out our empathy from.
3. Declutter and Destress
How can we feel empathetic towards others if we are living a chaotic, stress-filled life? We are too focused worrying about finishing our own tasks that we have no time to worry about others. If someone else needs a helping hand or listening ear, we are probably irritable and resentful. Then, we feel guilty because we are not being empathetic enough.
Clearly are just exhausted and disorganized. Declutter your life and take away that which doesn’t serve you. This is a good life hack regardless of whether you are trying to build empathy or not. Organizing our lives and learning to relax will give us more space to do what we love, including being more empathetic towards those we care about. If you need to, speak with a therapist who can help you find creative ways to release stress and release that which does not serve you.
Do you struggle to be empathetic towards others, or do you allow your empathy for others to control you? If so, please contact Straight Talk Counseling at 714-828-2000 or visit our website at straighttalkcounseling.org. One of our professional counselors would be happy to speak with you.