Why having ‘too’ much empathy is not a bad thing
“The problem is I have too much empathy…”
This is something I hear all the time from clients.
But is this a bad thing?
What if ‘empathy’ was one of your greatest strengths?
In this article we will explore what is empathy and why you should stop telling yourself (and others) that you have too much of it. And we explore ways to play to your strength of empathy bringing even more of yourself to the world.
What is empathy?
When my clients tell me, they have “too much empathy” what they really mean is they are picking up everyone else’s emotions and they are exhausted. They say things like ‘I just can’t help it I get so involved emotionally and I know I shouldn’t’.
I get it… Based on this definition from my clients… Yes… empathy sucks!
But I prefer the definition from Gallup.
“People exceptionally talented in Empathy can sense other people’s feelings by imagining themselves in others’ lives or situations”.
Now this sounds like a superpower.
What if you have lots of empathy?
When I start working with a new client, they usually take the Clifton Strengths Assessment. This helps them to quickly identify their top 5 natural strengths.
It’s no surprise that those who believe they have ‘too much empathy’ also discover they have ‘Empathy’ in their top 5 strengths report.
If empathy is one of your greatest strengths it should be celebrated. But instead, it’s possible that you’ve spent your entire life beating yourself up about it.
And worse… others may have been telling you that you are too empathetic, and you shouldn’t be.
In other words, what you’re hearing is “Being yourself and using your natural strength of empathy is not ok. Instead, you should try and be someone you are not”.
What happens when we suppress empathy?
After years of being told and thinking that their empathy is not a good thing. It’s no wonder that many people try to suppress their empathy.
Pushing down or hiding a part of your personality, or a strength, is exhausting. It takes a lot of energy to be someone that you’re not.
You are no longer YOU!
If you’re not you… who are you?
Our greatest strengths make up our identify and how we show up in the world. If we are not proud of our strengths or identity this can cause real stress.
Do you ever feel like you’re not comfortable in your own skin? Could this be why?
What’s the solution
Here are a few suggestions that can help you to flip the switch on empathy to reduce stress and have it work for you.
Change the language…
If we assume empathy is one of your strengths, or a part of you. When we say, “I have too much empathy”. What we are really saying is “I’m being too much of myself and this is a bad thing”.
What if you were to say…
“I have empathy and today I get to use”
Notice the feeling of acceptance that comes with this reframing.
We all have unique personality traits. It’s not that one is better than another. You should not have to apologize for being you.
Change the way we use empathy…
When we start to see our strengths as tools, we can learn how and when to use these tools effectively.
Using the same tool in the same way for every situation is not going to work. And will end up being stressful.
Gallup has identified two sides to every strength. The balcony and the basement.
The balcony is when we are using the strength well, it’s giving us energy and it’s having a positive effect on those around us. With empathy this would look like all the times you were able to read other’s emotions and know just want to say or do. It’s how you create natural trust with people and bring a sense of healing to others.
The basement is when we are using the strength on auto-pilot and it’s not helping ourselves or others in the best way possible. With empathy this could look like times when we are over-involved, moody or become too soft and emotional.
Being aware of times when we are operating in the balcony or basement of empathy will help you take back control of this fantastic strength. You can choose how and when to apply it.
It helps to think of our strengths as sliding scales. It’s not on or off. Instead, there is a scale from balcony to basement. When you can observe how you are using your strengths you can choose to dial up or down as needed.
How and when to use empathy…
For years you may have been trying to suppress one of your greatest strengths. We know this is exhausting. Instead…. Now it’s time to seek out opportunities to use empathy.
We call this playing to our strengths.
When we use our strength intentionally, we feel stronger!
Here are some suggestions of ways in which you can seek out opportunities to put your great strength of empathy to work.
- Practice naming your feelings and helping others to name their feelings.
- Build trust with people by letting them know that you know how they are feeling.
- Practice being silent. With such high empathy even your presence is powerful for others.
Be 100% Authentically you
Using our strengths on purpose gives us energy and meaning. We become 100% aligned with who we are.
It’s not that we have ‘too much empathy’. It’s that you have never appreciated the true power and beauty of your empathy. Now is the time to turn the volume up on this amazing strength and be more of who you really are.
We have only just scratched the surface of what is possible when you tap into your strength of empathy.
I would love to help you discover your greatest strengths and live your best life. Playing to our strengths helps us to reduce stress, gain confidence and unlock our potential.
If you want to figure out your strengths contact me today at firstname.lastname@example.org
Find out today if your pain or symptoms could be curable by taking this free self assessment.