Empathy Vs Compassion: The Dangers of Empathy And Why You Must Develop Compassion To Truly Help People7 min read

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Have you ever seen someone’s head chopped off in a movie? Or witnessed someone slipping and falling to the floor? How did you feel and react?

It’s our primal instinct to feel the pain or suffering of others. We are designed to react to stimuli, especially, when they are painful, even when they did not happen to us. This ability to put ourselves in the shoes of another person is known as empathy. 

What’s empathy and why do we experience it?

Having empathy means trying to personify a person’s perspective, emotions, and feelings.

It’s not just a feeling. It’s an ingrained feature of our species. It is as powerful as the sense of hunger or fear. Mirror neurons in the brain help you react by mimicking the activity of the brain of the sufferer. 

Against Empathy: Why too much empathy is bad

Our capacity to empathize is critical in fostering healthy relationships and profitable careers. If we understand the other person’s hopes, dreams, fears, pain, and doubts then we can connect with them at a deeper level. 

However, empathy is not always the right response. Sharing the pain of others can overwhelm you. It can make you incapable of rendering help. Adopting the emotional state of another person can be tasking and heavy. You might lose yourself in the other person’s reality. All these without alleviating their pain as you’ve intended.  

Too much empathy can also have a negative impact on your behavior. For instance; You could be having a lovely day, and ready to hit the ground running when someone who is having a worse day or going through excruciating pain walks by. If you let empathy get the best of you, you could end up feeling their anger or pain. In an instant, your nice day turns bad. 

In extreme cases, feeling other people’s emotions might trigger anxiety and depression. Which in turn forces you to despair and distress, then to anger and resentment. 

The good news is, recent studies by neuroscientists show we can resolve the burnout we experience through excessive empathy through compassion.

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What Is Compassion?

Compassion is empathy plus the consciousness to know better ways to help others. In compassion, you’re able to differentiate between your emotions and that of other people, which gives you a better chance of being helpful. 

This makes compassion superior to empathy in so many ways. 

Let’s explore a few…

Empathy Vs Compassion (Why and How Compassion is Better Than Empathy)

Empathy is rash while Compassion is intentional.

Since empathy is instinct and emotionally driven the majority of your thoughts, and actions will be generated subconsciously.  As a result, you are less aware of the situation’s dynamics. 

On the other hand, compassion involves thoughtful and intentional processes. It springs from reason. Your thoughts and actions are screened before getting out. This means you can reflect on and improve your decisions.

Empathy is biased while compassion is reason driven. 

We are also more likely to empathize with people we are familiar with, than with”outsiders”.This is known as the identifiable victim effect

Whereas, the objective of compassion isn’t to join in the suffering of those you know. But to show loving-kindness, and alleviate pain wherever it is necessary. 

Empathy can be depleting while compassion is revitalizing. 

Empathy entangles you in other people’s drama, and their suffering can even traumatize you. This may disrupt your emotional balance and life in general. It feels exhausting and makes most people shy away from hearing other people’s pain. 

But compassion is intentional and empowered by fair motive. And, since compassion is undertaken as a mission to solve a problem, resolving the pain often feels rewarding, hence revitalizing.  People with compassion hence seek out more people in real pain to help.

Empathy puts you and others at risk. While Compassion protects you and others. 

Empathy puts you at risk of being manipulated by dark empaths who are masters of using the right words and expressing the exact emotions that make others bend to their will. It also makes it difficult to allow people who are going through necessary suffering. 

But compassion protects you from these sorts of people since you are still able to think with your head and investigate the true nature of things. Besides, it also ensures you do not help people who really need to go through a certain pain to learn

Before providing the help, you must investigate the genuineness of the said “victim”. That is the basis for real compassion.

3 Steps to becoming compassionate to others

  1. Practice Mindfulness. Mindfulness is the ability to be present. Being conscious about where you are and what you’re doing. To not be overwhelmed by what’s going on around you.  Being mindful brings about self-compassion and a less self-blaming attitude. When you practice mindfulness, you strengthen your skills of compassion for others. This is the first step to developing compassion. Because you can only give what you have. 
  1. Engage people in more authentic and honest conversations. Do not assume you understand their situation at a first glance. Most times, it’s more effective to listen to people. To dialogue with them. Rather than rushing to save the day. 
  1. Ask genuine questions for ways to be of help. Sometimes, what you might consider  “help” is the projection of your “self-referential” ideology. 

For instance; It is awful and futile to offer a starving child a toy. Even though many children like toys. You must ask to know the “why” and “how.” When you communicate with most children, they will tell you the best way to help. Some people might not feel the need to converse. At this point, there is nothing you can do. You showed concern. But you weren’t allowed to go beyond that. So, dust your feet and move on. 

My final thought on “why compassion is important”.

Really good people don’t just act based on how they feel, but on what they think would bring the best result. Hence, they often think of the best way to prevent suffering from repeating itself. 

You don’t necessarily have to be the savior of the world. Rather your speech and little gestures should show that you care for the next person. You can save them from suffering without sacrificing what you can’t bear. This adds more meaning to your life and theirs.

Practice compassion, not empathy.

A mindful self-help writer and photographer

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