Empathy is, obviously, a crucial characteristic of effective caregiving. The ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes means that you can better meet their needs. But there is a particular kind of empathy you’ll want to understand in order to protect your own overall health: emotional empathy in caregiving.
Emotional empathy takes caregiving to another level. Instead of simply understanding how another person is feeling, emotional empathy includes actually experiencing their feelings. For example, if you are an individual who is strongly emotionally empathetic, sitting beside somebody who is crying will bring tears to your own eyes. If they are in pain, you will feel distress. You are the type of individual 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 bad thing. Yet for a family caregiver of an older loved one, it may bring about mental health problems if not properly managed. The potential risks are increased if the person in your care has dementia or other cognitive problems.
A lot of emotional empathy can be extremely overwhelming and draining. It could result in emotional burnout, which often can cause you to shut down emotionally. If it is too painful to care so much, you may find yourself pulling away from your loved one.
If you think you are dealing with heightened emotional empathy, these tips can certainly help:
- Speak with a mental health professional to help you identify whether your response to your family member’s condition is reason for concern.
- Try to separate your own personal feelings from those of the individual in your care. Your individual life experiences may be coloring how you are responding to the other person’s situation.
- Devote more time to listening than formulating your own response when your family member is talking with 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 person questions about their experience to better understand what they’re thinking and feeling. In the process, remind yourself not to make an effort to “fix” anything.
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