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Why Too Much Empathy Can Actually Be Harmful

https://www.thoughtco.com/the-difference-between-empathy-and-sympathy-4154381

thoughtco.com

Why Too Much Empathy Can Actually Be Harmful
Empathy vs. sympathy—these two terms are often mixed up, but they actually express very different emotions.

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Sympathy vs. empathy

Sympathy vs. empathy

Although many people tend to confuse the notions of empathy and sympathy, these two are quite different.

While sympathy implies only the fact of feeling concerned about someone, empathy goes way beyond that and it might result in harming the person who is displaying and feeling it.

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The three types of empathy

Empathy is the ability to share another person's emotions after having reached a good understanding of their suffering. There are three main types of empathy:

  • Cognitive empathy, which is defined as the ability to understand and to share someone else's emotions by imagining one's self in their shoes
  • Emotional empathy, which is based on shared feelings
  • Compassionate empathy, which is characterized by the need to actually help the other.

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The threats of being emphatic

While empathy can make both you and the ones around feel better at times, there are also important dangers worth taking into account:

  • Empathy can often lead to unjustified anger
  • It can cause guilt and thinking that your own happiness has come at the cost or may have even caused another person's misery.
  • it can result in a great amount of fatigue.

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A definition of empathy

A definition of empathy

The German word for empathy is "Einfühlung" and was coined in the late 1800s. It means "feeling into."

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Misplaced empathy

In recent years, researchers have found that misplaced empathy can lead to exhaustion and apathy, and prevent you from helping the people who need you.

Worse, people's empathetic tendencies can be used to manipulate them into aggression and cruelty.

The identifiable victim effect

Psychologists point out that defining empathy as the act of stepping into someone's mind to experience their feeling can lead to some tricky moral dilemmas.

  • We are moved to open our hearts (or wallet) when presented with a case such as a charity campaign where a single story of a named, suffering child is showcased to the exclusion of other suffering children. Psychologists call it the "identifiable victim effect."
  • This can also help explain why many people become numb to the deaths of strangers, but be up in arms about the minor loss of personal freedoms they more directly experience.

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The Martyr Complex

Individuals who show signs of the Martyr Complex often act in a way that attracts misery. It is actually believed that they do this on purpose, in order to avoid personal responsibility o...

Recognizing the "Victim"

A Victim Complex sufferer is a person who has difficulties when dealing with trauma, in any shape that this can take

Among the most common traits, we can often find the refusal to accept responsibility when handling their issues, the difficulty to move on from a tragic situation or a tendency to be both pessimistic and critical when talking about others.

Suffering from the Victim Complex

Persons who suffer from the Victim Complex tend to manipulate their partners, in order to hide their own lack of responsibility and maturity. 

Therefore, it is very often that these relationships end up after having become extremely tenuous.

Social ambiguity

Social ambiguity

Social life can be full of uncertainty. Friends don't always smile back at you. Strangers sometimes look upset. The question is how you interpret these situations. Do you take everythin...

The victimhood mindset

Researchers found the tendency for interpersonal victimhood consists of four main dimensions:

  • Always seeking recognition for one's victimhood: Those who score high on this dimension have a constant need to have their suffering acknowledged. It is also normal for victims to want the perpetrators to take responsibility for their wrongdoing.
  • Moral elitism: Those who score high on this dimension perceive themselves as having perfect morality while viewing everyone else as immoral. They view themselves as persecuted, vulnerable and morally superior.
  • Lack of empathy for the pain and suffering of others: People who score high on this dimension are so preoccupied with their own victimhood that they are unaware of the pain and suffering of others.
  • Frequently thinking of past victimization: Those scoring high on this dimension continuously think about their interpersonal offences and their causes and consequences rather than about possible solutions.

Mindset and self-image in interpersonal conflicts

In interpersonal conflict, all parties are motivated to maintain a positive moral self-image. However, different parties are likely to create very different subjective realities. Offenders tend to downplay the severity of the transgression, and victims tend to perceive the offenders' motivations as immoral.

The mindset one develops - as a victim or a perpetrator - affects the way the situation is perceived and remembered.