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Empathy burnout: what it is and how to deal with it

Empathy encompasses a set of processes that allow us to understand other people’s perspective, get closer to how they think and how they may feel. A way to connect on an emotional, cognitive, affective and experiential level with other people. It is a feeling that, without a doubt, benefits our personal relationships, due to that ability to put ourselves in the shoes of another person, but it can also lead us to the so-called empathy burnout syndrome.

The reason? Experiencing the feelings and understanding the situation of other people, especially those who are excessively empathetic, can end up becoming a double-edged swordespecially if you do not know how to manage that empathy appropriately.

Although it is a syndrome that normally affects those people and professionals such as psychologists, social workers or doctors, who in their profession are forced to care for patients and people who suffer discomfort or pain, the reality is that it can also apply to anyone who tends to worry excessively about the emotional pain of others.

What is empathy burnout and where does the term come from?

Empathy burnout (EDS), also known as compassion fatigue syndrome, is a term that It was proposed by Figley in 1971 when he was studying the effects of the Vietnam War on doctors and nurses in the US Navy. A syndrome that encompasses feelings of guilt and sadness associated with the inability of not having been able to save or help their patients more. A trauma that subsequently led to these professionals with strong psychological problems.

Therefore, with this syndrome we talk about the natural, predictable, treatable and preventable consequence of working with people who suffer from. A type of emotional residue resulting from exposure to working with those suffering the consequences of traumatic events. Professionals who work with people who suffer must combat not only normal stress or dissatisfaction with work, but also the personal feelings and emotions that their work with suffering produces.

Are women more exposed to suffering from it?

As we have mentioned, empathy burnout syndrome is common in professionals who are in direct contact with people who need help, such as psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and medical or rescue personnel. However, Anyone can become a victim of compassion burnout.especially when we refer to the ability to pay attention to the emotions and moods of others.

A syndrome that can affect in the same way both women and men, but in which the female gender tends to suffer from it to a greater extent. The reason? In women, empathy levels tend to score higher than in men, this is one of the reasons why there are currently more cases of empathy burnout within the female gender.

The three types of symptoms that characterize empathy burnout

Empathy burnout is generally characterized by three groups of symptoms:

  • Re-experimentation: It is remembered repeatedly and with a high degree of emotionality.

  • Avoidance and psychic dulling: There is a tendency towards physical and emotional distancing from the people who have suffered these traumatic events, but also from the places or situations that may lead to remembering them.

  • Hyperarousal or hyperarousal: state of alert and permanent tension through fatigue, anxiety, feelings of guilt and shame, insomnia, difficulty concentrating…

Recommendations to know how to manage empathy burnout

Although emotional burnout syndrome is a natural consequence of those professionals who deal with patients who suffer to a greater or lesser degree, it is important to highlight that it is a treatable syndrome and that it is possible to prevent it with certain recommendations that we highlight below. continuation:

  • Importance of continuous training: Of special importance is any training that can be received in assertive communication, resilience to solve problems and to generate alternatives to difficult solutions, techniques to reduce anxiety, culture of teamwork…

  • Carry out rewarding activities outside the work environment: Don’t forget to enjoy those rewarding activities and hobbies that you can enjoy in your free time and disconnect. Carry out activities related to a sport or hobby, such as taking care of an organic garden, mindfulnessmeditation, specialized retreats, etc., helps us take care of ourselves and give us time for ourselves.

  • Don’t hesitate to ask for professional support and admit your own limits: Asking for support and psychological help is essential, not only to know the type of tools you need, but also to perform exercises in the consultation that can help you deal with empathy burnout syndrome and to know your own limits.

  • Share information and difficulties that you can meet with your work team to agree on decisions.

  • Avoid work overload or cases that you cannot handle emotionally.

  • Promotes self-care at work and in personal life.

  • Interact with friends: This can be a relief from the emotional burden, in addition to an exchange of opinions that can be a great support for complex situations or cases.

  • Family support: The family is an important element that allows us to dialogue, vent and abstract ourselves from the problems we can, whether at work or on a personal level.

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