Empaths are natural caregivers. They are in tune with others and can often anticipate needs. Empaths go beyond understanding what someone is feeling to feeling the other person’s feelings with them.
These intensely compassionate and gifted people often find themselves in supporting roles regardless of their profession; although, a significant number of those in caregiving professions are empaths. They provide emotional support and meet physical needs without reservation.
Redescent to ask for help, the needs of caregivers often go unaddressed and unmet. They give so freely and generously to others that, often, the recipients of their empathy do not understand what it costs the empath.
In addition to their own stress and trauma, empathic caregivers also suffer vicarious traumas as they empathize with others (Lawson & Vernart, 2005), creating an “accumulation of pain” (Hunter, 2016). When they neglect self-care, they can also develop secondhand depression (Hunter, 2016).
The cost of caring is high. How can the empath continue to love and support others without becoming a casualty in another’s trauma? Educate yourself on compassion fatigue - what to look out for and practice self-awareness, self-care, and shore-up your support systems.
o “Compassion fatigue is a broadly defined concept that can include emotional,
physical, and spiritual distress in those providing care to another. It is associated
with caregiving where people or animals are experiencing significant emotional or
physical pain and suffering” (https://compassionfatigue.org/index.html).
Self-Awareness (Watch for Red Flags)
o Are you beginning to feel things more intensely? Conversely, are you feeling numb?
o Do you find yourself coming to resent your role as a caregiver?
o Is your ability to remain present being compromised?
o Are your cognitive abilities slipping?
Self-Care (Ensure resiliency)
o Physically – eat well, sleep well, and exercise regularly
o Mentally – spend time in nature, practice mindfulness
o Emotionally – spend time with pets, listening to music, or reading
o Spiritually – dedicate time and space for worship, Bible reading/study, and
o Attend counseling or support groups for caregivers
o Spend time with trusted people who pour into you, i.e., are willing to set aside their
needs to meet yours for a time
“The cobbler’s kids have no shoes” is often the way it is for empaths. Most people reach out when they are in need; rarely do they reach out to see if the empath in their life is in need. While we may not have the gift of the empath, we can all practice kindness. We can listen attentively, set aside our agenda, and engage in a caring manner. Offer these gifts to the empath(s) in your life and watch them blossom!
Angela W. Startz, MAHSC, CCLC
Hunter, S. T. (2016). Beyond the breaking point: Examining the pieces of counselor burnout, compassion fatigue, and secondhand depression. VISTAS. https://www.counseling.org/knowledge-center/vistas.
Lawson, G. & Venart, B. (2005). Preventing counselor impairment: Vulnerability, wellness, and resilience. VISTAS. https://www.counseling.org/knowledge-center/vistas.
Recommended Reading https://www.stress.org/military/for-practitionersleaders/compassion-fatigue