Empathy and Depression

Is it possible to have “too much” compassion? You may not be aware that taking on the pain of others in order to ease someone else’s distress may overburden your own emotional health. But, what does that mean? If you have a great capacity for empathy, it means that you may absorb other people’s pain, stress, anxiety, and anger. When you say, “I feel your pain”, you really mean it.

If you are already dealing with depression, adding the burden of other people’s angst can be overwhelming. Empathizing too much can lead to feelings of helplessness and anxiety. With today’s constant barrage of information and social media culture, you can even end up taking on the emotional energy of people you don’t know.

You don’t need to carry any more emotional baggage than you already have! Sometimes, clients can be confused when they are completely overwhelmed with negative feelings, not realizing that some of the pain they are feeling is not even “their own”. During our discussions, we can help tease apart this complex web of emotions.

If you are feeling depressed, it is important to take an inventory of your life to see what may be making you feel sad. Often we are unaware of the triggers and it is important to understand that some of the sadness is coming from outside sources. When we recognize that depression may develop as a result of overexposure to the sadness of others we can turn that empathy toward ourselves so that we can heal while we try to heal someone else.

  • Turn your increased sensitivity inward. Extend the feelings of compassion and kindness, that you normally reserve for others, to yourself. Be kind to yourself. Have empathy for your own situation.
  • Use positive self-talk. If you empathize with a friend going through a rough time, you offer words of encouragement, sympathy, and care. Use those same words in your own inner monologue. Simply put – don’t be harder on yourself than you would be on your friend.
  • Turn empathy into action. Use your compassionate energy to help someone in need. For example, if you have a friend who is feeling unwell – actively help them by making soup and delivering it, offer to walk their dog, fetch them groceries, or put together a simple care package of a fluffy blanket and a fun magazine. Turning your feelings into action will not only help your friend feel better, it will improve your mood and outlook as well.

Empathy can certainly be a double-edged sword. While it allows you to understand and have compassion for those around you, it can also be overwhelming. Living in a big, bustling city like NYC exposes you to untold amounts of emotional input from all of the people with whom you come in contact. Learning how to manage empathy and not let it increase or cause feelings of depression is an essential skill. Working together, we can explore your complex feelings and work out a plan that allows your natural empathy to be a positive force in your life.

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