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Empathic Distress: How to build emotional resilience while maintaining compassion

Empathic distress can make you feel helpless.

In the face of distressing headlines and global conflicts, many of us experience a profound sense of helplessness, leading to what psychologists term “empathic distress.” This state, where we lose our sense of self and become consumed by the emotions of others, can lead to burnout and withdrawal.

Dr. Tom Golightly shares how to cope and build emotional resilience.


How to Move Past Empathic Distress

Empathic distress occurs when our emotions merge entirely with the experiences of others, making it difficult to differentiate between their feelings and our own. It’s essential to recognize that while empathy is a fundamental aspect of human connection, losing our individuality in the process can have significant consequences for our well-being.

Maintain a Sense of Self

Tom emphasizes the importance of maintaining a sense of self even while empathizing with others. By consciously reminding ourselves of our own values, worth, and identity, we can empathize without completely internalizing the pain of others. This separation allows us to support others effectively without depleting our own emotional resources.

Strive for “Compassion Satisfaction”

Additionally, Tom introduces the concept of “compassion satisfaction,” which involves understanding others’ experiences intellectually while maintaining an emotional distance. Unlike empathy, which depletes dopamine and leads to heartache, compassion increases satisfaction and enhances our neurological well-being. By fostering a compassionate perspective, we can engage empathetically without succumbing to emotional exhaustion.

Promote Emotional Self-Awareness

Emotional self-awareness plays a crucial role in managing empathic distress. By acknowledging our emotions without judgment, asking questions, and labeling our feelings, we can maintain a healthy distance from the emotions of others. This self-awareness empowers us to stand with others, offering support without feeling overwhelmed by their experiences.

While it’s natural to empathize with the suffering of others, it’s essential to establish boundaries to protect our emotional well-being. By cultivating self-awareness, practicing compassion, and affirming our own identity, we can navigate empathic distress and offer genuine support to those in need.

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