Family Caregivers: Is Emotional Empathy Harming Your Health?
Empathy is, naturally, an essential characteristic of effective caregiving. The ability to put yourself in another individual's shoes helps you to better meet their needs. However, there is a particular type of empathy you need to understand as a caregiver in order to guard your own health and wellness: emotional empathy.
Emotional empathy takes caring to another level. Rather than merely understanding how another individual is feeling, emotional empathy includes actually experiencing their feelings. As an example, if you are somebody who is highly emotionally empathetic, sitting beside someone who is crying will bring tears to your own eyes. If they're in pain, you'll also experience distress. You’re the type of person who will spring into action when someone has an immediate need.
Is Emotional Empathy Harmful for Caregivers?
Emotional empathy in and of itself is not a negative thing. Yet for a family caregiver of an older loved one, it may bring about mental health problems if not carefully managed. The potential risks are greater if the person in your care has Alzheimer's or other cognitive problems.
Too much emotional empathy can be extremely overwhelming and draining. It can lead to emotional burnout, which in turn can cause one to shut down emotionally. If it is too painful to care so much, you might find yourself pulling away from the aging loved one.
If you believe you’re experiencing heightened emotional empathy, these guidelines will help:
Speak to a mental health professional to help you identify whether your reaction to your family member's condition is reason for concern.
Attempt to separate your own personal feelings from those of the individual in your care. Your individual life experiences could be coloring how you’re responding to the other person's situation.
Spend more time listening than formulating your own response when your family member is speaking to you. This means shutting out your own thoughts so you can concentrate solely on what they are saying. It can prevent you from making assumptions or missing important pieces of information they want to share.
Think from a perspective of curiosity. Ask the senior questions regarding their experience to better understand what they're feeling and thinking. At the same time, remind yourself not to try to “fix” anything.
Grocery shopping along with other errands
Companionship for conversations and enjoyable activities
Light housekeeping, laundry, and meal prep
Assistance with personal hygiene needs such as showers, baths, and getting dressed
Transportation and accompaniment to appointments and fun outings
And much more
Contact us at 416-422-2273 to request a complimentary in-home consultation to learn more about how home care can help both you and someone you love.