Empathy- Is There Such A Thing As Having Too Much?


Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied…Matthew 5:6

Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of others.  It closely resembles the definition of a “people whisperer”.  Lately I’ve been wondering if being an empathetic person is really a blessing or a curse.  I’m beginning to think that having too much compassion for others can be harmful to your health. 

The meaning of the Greek name “Sandy” is defender of men; protector of mankind.  I feel like I have been a defender and protector of mankind since the day I was born.  I have a heart for the hurting; it’s in my DNA and it was evident in childhood when I used to run interference between my defenseless mom and the alcoholic rages of my dad.  No one asked me to do it; it came natural to me. It just seemed like the right thing to do.

Over the past couple of weeks my compassion and empathy for others has really pulled me down emotionally.  It has caused me to stop and wonder if there’s really such a thing as being too compassionate or having too much empathy.

At the present time, my step father is slipping away (it’s hard for me to say he’s dying) and the tragedy is there is no conclusive medical diagnosis for his condition.  It appears he’s lost the will to live and that he’s suffering from a broken spirit.  This is very difficult for me to accept because of my faith and my belief in miracles and because I am an encourager that believes he should fight the good fight and not give up.

A friend of mine loss her job suddenly and unexpectedly.  My heart breaks for her not only because she is a single mom but because she has already suffered a lot of pain and disappointment in her personal life at the hands of others.  Losing her job seemed like the final blow; like she was kicked when she was already down so low.  Finding a new job is difficult and it’s scary when you don’t know how you will provide for the needs of your family. 

I have witnessed enough bullying and mistreatment of others over the past few years to last a lifetime and it sickens me when people act that way.  Emotional and physical abuse is at an all time high in our society and it’s not only happening in our homes but in our schools and workplaces too.  Emotional abuse is difficult to prove and sometimes difficult to recognize because the behavior is often minimized and rationalized.  The fact of the matter is hurting people hurt people and the behavior is real.

So what do we do with all of this pain that we feel inside for people who are hurting?  Do we internalize it and pretend it doesn’t bother us?  Do we lash out and express it in inappropriate ways?  Typically my response is to pray and sometimes I cry for as long as it takes to get it out of my system. Last weekend I took a drive through the country, sometimes sobbing my eyes out as I drove along.  Through the tears I couldn’t help but notice beautiful yellow butterflies dancing in front of the windshield.  No doubt God sent them as an expression of His nearness and to cheer me up.  Crying it out helped immensely to relieve the angst and pain that I was feeling inside.  Later I recalled a passage from my twelve step recovery days about “acceptance” and I looked it up when I returned home.  Surprisingly enough I realized that it still applies today. 


So….are you tender hearted when it comes to the pain and suffering of others or are you indifferent or oblivious to their pain?  Do you look the other way and pretend not to notice or are you a member of the justice league who stands up for the rights of others?  Hopefully you are not too self-absorbed to even care.

As always, please feel free to share your thoughts and feelings on the subject.





Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *