Does Empathy Hurt?

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Feel Sad and Guilty

We are all emotional beings, some more than others. Because of this, some wonder if empathy can be harmful to you. The truth is that empathy can be dangerous and hurtful to you if it makes you to feel guilty. For example, a narcissist can use empathy to hurt their victims. This can cause damage to the relationship and make people bitter and hurt.

How Can Empathy Hurt You?

Here are some of the ways that empathy can hurt you:

Making You Feel Sad and Guilty

Some people donate things to people because they feel sorry for them. When people feel too much empathy, they will look at people that are upset and they will feel that they are responsible to make this go away. This is sometimes called empathy-based guilt.

This kind of guilt can come to people that believe that the happiness of someone else depends on what they do. This is also sometimes called survivor guilt.

While some believe that they can make others better, other people believe that they cause distress to others and they can take away the suffering that they have. A person that is depressed will have survivor guilt and will often be submissive but those that are only mildly depressed are the ones that show the most empathy.

People that are depressed are often the ones that feel responsible for people the most. They are the ones that want to fix others even though they need some kind of fixing themselves.

Cognitive Empathy

People that are psychopaths are often considered those with cognitive empathy. This is part of an antisocial disorder, and it leads to behavior where there is no remorse. This is a personality disorder. Sometimes psychopaths and narcissists are in the same category, and they all have cognitive empathy.

Psychopaths are great at making their victims blame themselves for the way that they are being treated by that person. Manipulation plays a big role in cognitive empathy and in the role of people with a psychotic disorder.

Relationship Empathy or Hyper-Empathy

Having too much empathy can cause your relationships to not work out. It can cause one partner to put a lot into the relationship while the other partner doesn’t. This can cause the one to become bitter. There should never be too much empathy when there is love and it should be a positive thing. Empathy is not always healing.

People that are hyper-empaths are people that are very sensitive to social stimuli and they have a hard time dealing with their feelings in a positive way. They also have a hard time making decisions that would help them the most. They will often become exhausted in order to make the relationship work.

Empathy Fatigue

When you get empathy fatigue it can cause you to be exhausted and to not be able to cope with things around you. It can happen when a person has a chronic illness or when they go through some kind of loss or trauma.

This is also sometimes called compassion fatigue because it says that tiredness comes because of the size of the emotions and this can cause a decrease in being able to empathize with others. When you work in a place where you have to have a lot of empathy, it can cause you to get burnt out.

Burnout can cause you to be tired and emotionally exhausted and you will not even want to go to work anymore. This is seen most in high touch jobs such as medicine, journalism, teaching, nursing and law. This is also seen in stressful job careers.

Empathetic Aggression

Most people believe that empathy is good and that empathy and aggression don’t work together. When your empathy reduces then it can increase your aggression and your irritability. More empathy makes people more peaceful and less aggressive.

Empathy can make you angry when you care about someone, and you know that they are doing things to threaten themselves. You know that they are going to go through something that will cause them pain and this can cause you to feel aggressive. This is normal.

You don’t get angry because you are around someone, you get angry because you know that there can be harm to this person. This can happen when there is hurt inside a place where you have a strong connection such as hurt to your friends or your family members.

Anger and aggression are different and here is what they mean:

  • Anger: A response to a threat or a situation that can be frustrating.
  • Aggression: When you will harm or hurt another person in anger.
  • Frustration: When you are expecting someone to give you a reward, but they don’t.

Understanding Empathy

Empathy is knowing how someone feels or being able to put yourself in the shoes of others. Empathy allows you to feel the emotions and the thoughts of other people and it is what gives you meaning in your relationships.

Here are some other definitions of empathy:

  • The ability to understand a situation that someone you love is going through.
  • The ability to share your ideas, emotions and thoughts with other people.
  • The ability to share the emotions of others from their perspective and not just your own.

Can Empathy Be Negative for You?

The main reason that empathy can be negative for you is because it can cause you to feel stressed. Those that are empathic have been found to have chronic low-grade inflammation in one study and in another study, these people have high stress hormones of cortisol which is the fight or flight hormone.

Having too much of anything can be negative and this includes empathy. Hyper-empathy is sometimes termed as being an empath, which is someone that has strong feelings and emotions. These people are often victims of manipulation, and they experience high levels of burnout and exhaustion.

Sympathy Versus Empathy

Sympathy is different from empathy because it is having compassion towards other people. This can mean that you get with a friend that has lost a loved one or you cry over a lost job. You might even talk about your boss that was mean to your friend.

Sympathy means that you are declaring how you feel and the sadness of someone that you care about. Sympathy is something that is not bad for you, even if you have a lot of sympathy, this will not cause you stress or anxiety.

Empathy can become too much for a person because some people are always trying to make things better instead of just having compassion.

Kinds of Empathy

There are three types of empathy including cognitive empathy, emotional empathy and compassionate empathy:

  • Cognitive empathy: When you can think and predict what someone is thinking or when you are able to look at things from your own perspective.
  • Emotional empathy: When you feel emotions that someone around you is having. This is kind of like sharing emotions with each other.
  • Compassionate empathy: When you are understanding what someone is going through and being responsible or acting to help them to feel better.

Final Thoughts

Empathy can be something that is hurtful or dangerous if it is used overboard. Most of the time people don’t consider empathy to be something negative but it can be. If you have went through some kind of trauma, empathy can be triggered and it might not be beneficial to the person being empathic or the one receiving it.