Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Nature allots all of us varying degrees of empathy. Those in the helping professions (psychologists, social workers, counselors, etc.) tend to have a higher level of empathy than those in other positions. To that effect, they often find themselves spending an above average amount of time thinking about other people’s issues. So much so that they feel guilty when they can’t come up with a resolution for that person’s problems.
While it’s great to be a supportive therapist, life coach, friend or family member, being consumed with another person’s issues can become exhausting and at a certain point the person may feel like it’s time to change this behavior.
Here are some helpful tips on how to change this behavior.
Before you begin listening to a person’s problem, set your mind to remember that you are meant to serve as supportive listener. By focusing on what the person is saying, rather than thinking about how you are going to fix or solve their problem, you are creating a boundary whereby once the conversation has ended you will not focus on how you are going to fix their problem.
Second, as you are listening to the person, empathize with them, but realize they are the one who has to get through the problem. Once the person is out of your presence they will be the one who will have to go through it alone, and you must remember to remain hopeful that things will work out well for them. Therefore, your responsibility is to try your best to give them the tools they need to make it through the issue successfully.
After the conversation ends, if you may find yourself burdened with curiosity, consider checking in with the person for an update. During that conversation, it’s best to continue the mindset that you’re only there to offer additional support to the person, but continue to remember that you are not going to take on their issue as if it’s your own.
Many people identify as having some form of faith. Furthermore, people will make statements like “pray for me”, but forget that prayer is not just a statement, it requires an action. Offering a prayer for the person about their situation is an additional way of relieving yourself from the burden of feeling like their issue is solely your responsibility because you are passing it on to your higher power. Include a prayer for inner peace for yourself to your higher power is also very helpful.
Survey your feelings
If you have an obsessive personality then the root of the reason for your behavior may be an underlying anxiety disorder and you should consider getting yourself evaluated by a professional. Worrying about an issue is normal, however, worrying excessively about issues that are not in your control can be a strong indicator that you may have an anxiety disorder.
Get some rest
Finally get some rest and remind yourself the scenarios we create in our minds are usually worse than reality.
Release negative feelings
After you have taken all of these step willfully release yourself from any residual feelings of guilt or grief. This is probably the most difficult thing to do, because you’ll find yourself questioning whether or not it’s “ok” to let your residual feelings go.
Ultimately, separating a person’s feelings from your own will allow you to feel less burdened and help you maintain your ability to be a good support system for others.