Moderation: Even in Empathy OR Empathy is for Suckers

We’re told empathy is good. That it’s great. That without it we’d be sociopaths. Fine. I don’t disagree. But I think it’s time we sat down and talked about the dangers of too much empathy.

(Now, if you suffer from not enough empathy, go away. This isn’t for you. Go figure out how to have more empathy. It’s fun. In moderation. And, if you get so good at empathy that you start depleting yourself in the constant service of others, please came back and read the shit out of this article.)

Ok, thank you to everyone who stuck around. We can talk freely now. 

If you…

put the feelings of others in front of your own because it’s just easier to maintain their emotions for them than it is to deal with their outbursts,

…you might lack moderation in empathy.

If you…

feel other people’s emotions inside your body and sometimes get overwhelmed because, jesus, that can be a lot of emotions to hold,

…you might lack moderation in empathy.

If you…

notice people around you depending on your empathy because they find it so personally rewarding, and when you stop offering them the level of empathy they’ve grown accustomed to, they ask you, “Is everything ok? Because you’re kind of acting like jerk.” but really you’re just acting regular,

…you might lack moderation in empathy.

By now, everyone is hobbling around with crutches made of empathy. The givers can’t get around without them. And neither can the takers. It’s this goddamn transfer and transformation of energy, people—that is where we can find moderation. Energy is finite. We can’t create it or destroy it. So moderation is all about paying attention to what kind of energy is being used and where it’s being used and noticing if it should shove off or change. We can find that flow and work toward instinctively knowing how to manage the energy (the finite energy we can’t create or destroy). 

When empathy runs amok, it usually means people are doing their favorite thing (the givers and the takers) because the effort to NOT do our favorite things feels—in the moment—harder than moderation. Our favorite thing is usually what’s easiest and most familiar. Stepping outside the familiar brings greater risk of failure. But, spoiler alert, there’s no risk of failure. The true risk is holding back to the point that you never get to experience the pain and beauty of failure. Failure can be jarring. It stops you in your tracks. Makes you look at everything differently for a minute. That’s ok. You’ll be able to fix everything in post.

Guan Yin – Bodhisattva / Goddess of Compassion

But I digress.

Ok, how do you moderate empathy? Get attuned to yourself. Use your magic attunement skills—the ones that allow you to interpret a nano-second of body language that tells you everything you need to know—use them on yourself. Take an attunement selfie. (I only wrote that because I thought of it, not because it adds value to this article. I never said I was a good person.)

Use your vast emotional intelligence and epic self awareness to tame your own dragon for once. Do the hard thing and deal with the outbursts, when they come, with curiosity and compassion. 

Ask yourself what you’re feeling. Every day. All the time. Find the true feeling and watch it until you know what you need. And then either give yourself what you need or ask someone to give it to you. And then, after you do or don’t get it, only then do you decide what to do next.

I know you know this, but, I just love saying it: there’s a finite amount of energy and we can’t create it or destroy it. And THUS—because light is energy—there is also a finite amount of light we can shine on ourselves and others. One spotlight can only cover so much of the stage. So why not give yourself, at a minimum, half the spotlight in this one-person show called your life. 

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