7 Ways to Prevent Apathy from Overtaking Empathy
In these highly charged times, many are asking, “Whatever happened to empathy?” From shunned victims of violence to those who ridicule another’s beliefs, people seem to have lost the capacity to compassionately experience the feelings of others—particularly others’ suffering. What was once considered human nature to feel for another person’s hardships is disappearing before our eyes.
Why is this lack of empathy occurring? Many ordinarily caring people are experiencing compassion fatigue and have shut down emotionally. Many of us are on sensory overload. We feel exhausted, overwhelmed, burned out and powerless to deal with the ongoing crises in the world. This is especially true for empaths—those individuals who are high on the empathic spectrum.
Yet empathy is the key human quality that will heal both personal relationships and the world. Empathy lets us see commonalities in all people, not just their differences. Even if we disagree with others, we can get a clear sense of their point of view. Empathy doesn’t mean we’re naïve or lack the ability to make discerning choices. Empathy gives us the edge in successful communication by letting us overcome differences and come from a place of understanding rather than a polarizing us versus them attitude.
What can we do as individuals to prevent apathy from overtaking our capacity to empathize? Use these seven strategies from The Empath’s Survival Guide to heighten your sense of empathy and prevent burnout:
1. Take a media break. For at least a few hours, turn off the TV, radio or Internet and give yourself a break from news. This will lower the stress hormones surging through your body and lower your stimulation level. Take time out to meditate, be in nature, take baths, practice deep breathing and relax your body and mind so you’ll feel replenished and will have more to give to yourself and others.
2. Listen empathically to others. Listening with the heart is not the same as listening with the head. It’s the difference between taking in what someone is saying before asserting your own point of view, and listening to understand the intent behind the words. We need to withhold judgment to better understand others’ views.
3. Let go of resentments. The intense polarization in our world has led us to develop resentments against those perceived as “other.” It’s moved us away from trying to find common ground with someone, or even agreeing to disagree. Grudges against others destroy empathy, and research shows they impair health and longevity. Instead, examine your grudges and work to make peace with those you believe have wronged you or those you believe to be wrong.
4. Protect yourself from narcissists. People who are narcissists have an empathy deficient disorder, meaning their brains aren’t wired to feel empathy like a normal person. They may also be pathological liars, rewriting the past or dismissing facts. Don’t let yourself be manipulated by a narcissist.
5. Realize that empathy is stronger than apathy. Instead of discrediting empathic actions, we need them as models for how to bridge, not aggravate, differences. Coming from a place of empathy doesn’t make you naïve or ignorant. It allows you to weigh values with both your head and heart to make smart decisions for your own life and the greater good.
6. Guard yourself from toxic people. Practice a shielding visualization when you’re around people displaying malicious or cruel behavior. Picture a comforting shield of white light surrounding your body from head to toe, protecting you and not allowing negativity or toxicity in.
7. Foster empathy within yourself. Empathy is one of the most valuable emotional resources we have. It allows our hearts to go out to other people when they experience pain and difficulty, and lets us experience their happiness in times of joy. As we empathize with others, we actually become better at fostering empathy within ourselves. Feeling positive about ourselves boosts endorphins, the body’s feel-good hormones that promote health and a sense of well-being.
Judith Orloff, M.D., is the New York Times bestselling author of the new book, The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People. She is on the UCLA Psychiatric Clinical Faculty and synthesizes the pearls of traditional medicine with cutting-edge knowledge of intuition and energy medicine and spirituality. Learn more at DrJudithOrloff.com.