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​ Empathy - can it ever be a bad thing


The term “empathy” is used to describe a wide range of experiences. Emotion researchers generally define empathy as the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling.

Empathy is a fascinating concept, and like most things in life comes in a spectrum of flavours. We use phrases like 'i know how you feel', and 'i feel for you' and these seem to be appropriate for the occassions when needed, but are they really as harmless as they seem.

As a part of a therapists training we are constantly reminded to be aware of the presence of empathy in the therapy room and we need to protect ourselves from over feeling and taking on board someone elses emotions, otherwise we may render ourselves useless as an objective therapist. However, what happens to the sensitive or oversenstive person, and typically a carer type, who literally feels other peoples emotions and becomes unable to separate their own from someone elses.

i see many people who are very caring individuals but the cost of over empathising is that they don't have the awareness or the training to protect themselves, and suffer as a result. The work in the therapy room is therefore to separate out ownership of feelings and find a way to 'give back' the feelings that aren't theirs. The concept may seem a little esoteric but the pain that over empathisers suffer is very real.


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