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Wheel to Get Real

Does Empathy Leave You Drained?

By September 2, 2020April 17th, 2023No Comments

A 22 yr old man named Kristian was murdered in my neighborhood last week. 

He got into an argument with an acquaintance and it turned out to be fatal.

I’ve felt the impact of his tragedy ever since, and touched by the outpouring of love and support by his family and friends. 

At the scene of the crime, an altar emerged, composed of pictures and candles, including a big “Kiki We Love You” poster.

A few days ago, a friend of mine joined Kiki’s mom at the altar for an unexpected long, intense, and heartfelt conversation. 

They talked, and shared tears for almost 2 hours – the depth of their conversation left my friend feeling drained for the following few days. 

Her willingness to sit with Kiki’s mom in those moments of despair was truly an act of kindness. 

The sadness she felt after their conversation was palpable.

And the feeling of helplessness that she carried with her was also quite profound. 

In response to what transpired, my friend and I spoke about the importance of having empathy for those who are suffering.  

Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. 

We also spoke about how tricky it can be to NOT take on and carry the other person’s emotions in the hours, days, and weeks that follow. 

Because when you do take on the emotions of others, in essence, you’re carrying around emotional stuff that isn’t yours.

The trickle down effect of this can have a major impact on your personal well-being and the people around you. 

The question then becomes, “how do you support someone going through a tragic event, and walk away feeling relatively unscathed?” 

The answer….emotional boundaries.

An emotional boundary involves separating your feelings from another’s feelings. 

Violations of an emotional boundary include: 

  • Taking responsibility for another’s feelings 
  • Letting another’s feelings dictate your own 
  • Sacrificing your own needs to please another 
  • Blaming others for your problems  
  • Accepting responsibility for their problems

The example I provide is an extreme one for “taking responsibility for another’s feelings”. 

So, if you’re my friend, in this situation, how do you preserve your well-being and separate your feelings from Kiki’s mom, yet remain empathetic? 

It certainly isn’t easy; however, imperative to step into this type of situation with clear intentions. 

If you’re able and willing to take on something of this magnitude, the boundary you declare within yourself can look something like the following…

“I feel grounded and able to provide emotional support, via compassion and empathy, for this person and am aware that their emotions aren’t mine. I’m creating a protective layer around myself, as a means to preserve my well-being” 

You can then step into the situation and literally imagine a forcefield of protection that surrounds your body. 

In doing this, you’re letting it be known that it’s just as important to care for yourself as it is for the other person(s) involved.

Once the conversation concludes, you have a few options to remove any excess emotional energy that you may have taken on in the process…

Meditation is a powerful resource that’s available to you. 

Crying is a wonderful way to remove and release this type of energy. 

Or, perhaps you can use free-form writing, as a more tangible exercise for releasing stuck energy. 

The way it works is as follows: 

  1. Find a quiet place
  2. Take out a pen and paper
  3. Start writing anything that comes to mind – stream of consciousness; it doesn’t have to make sense
  4. Continuing writing until you have nothing left 
  5. When you’re done, don’t read what you’ve written 
  6. Rip it up and throw it away, or burn it

In challenging times, it becomes important to find effective ways to support yourself and others.

Boundaries is a huge piece of the process. 

I’m soon to be launching a program on creating boundaries and will be sure to share more of the details as they unfold.