Thursday, December 24, 2015

Empathy Run Amok?

So I have some Twitter friends who I have followed since the beginning--although I did take a couple years off Twitter as well as blogging. Most of my timeline includes people interested in politics and social issues. Over time, we let some of our real self creep through and begin to see each other as real people. One friend who has battled some serious depression linked to an article on empathy.

When I was learning to be a counselor we were told over and over again that the single most important factor in a successful therapeutic relationship is empathy.

The article, by a clinical psychologist, suggested that we can have too much empathy and cited examples in which people actually did themself harm by relating too much. 

Um. No.

Empathy is simply the ability to understand where someone is coming from; that you walk a mile in their shoes to use an old expression. Pity, sympathy and the like are harmful because it is more of a one up one down relationship. I can empathize with someone, understand their point of view and still see distortions of thought and disagree with actions taken. The point is understanding where that person is right now and nonjudgmentally understand their point of view.

I have seen harm done by therapists feeling sympathy for their patients, which then leads to the therapist trying to "fix" them. Counselors don't fix people. We help people work through whatever is keeping them stuck and help them decide for themself how to move forward. 

In discussing with others, it was suggested that someone might feel so worthless that they put themselves in situations that are harmful because their empathy leads them to believe others are more worthwhile. That is not empathy. Someone deeply depressed, experiencing poor self esteem, or feeling worthless is not likely to be capable of much empathy at the time. That level of pain becomes so all-encompassing that the gaze is usually directed inward. The notion then that someone else is more worthwhile does not come from empathy, but rather from a belief that the self is worthless. This is not empathy run amok. It is clinical depression, derealization, depersonalization, loss of self.

Just some thoughts.

Thanks for stopping by. Come back soon,

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