Being Empathetic is Good, but it can Hurt Your Health


From The Washington Post: Research shows that while empathy is an essential ingredient for building relationships, feeling overwhelmed by others’ emotions can lead to health problems such as anxiety and low-level depression. Sometimes, it may be healthier to approach others’ distress with compassion, or concern about another’s suffering from a distance and with a desire to help them, rather than empathy.

“‘People assume that any kind of empathy is associated with positive health benefits and behaviors, but for the first time we have physical evidence that not all empathy is alike, that its positive or negative effects depend on the perspective you take,’ Buffone says.

‘Neuroscientific research on empathy shows that if you’re empathizing with a person who is in pain, anxious or depressed, your brain will show activation of very similar circuits as the brain of the person with whom you’re empathizing,’ notes Richard Davidson, a professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Compassion, on the other hand, activates a different part of the brain, areas associated with motivation and reward. So, where emotional empathy can cause pain and burnout, compassion drives you to want to help.”

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