Empathy is good, but what if you care too much? Dr. Judith Orloff has advice for empaths – USA TODAY

Posted: November 8, 2019 at 2:49 pm

This post was added by Alex Diaz-Granados

An Indiana nonprofit created a video to show the shocking effects of opioids on the body. The group hopes the video will promote empathy. USA TODAY

There's a cost to caring too much.

Two prominent mental health counselors a resilience expert at an Ivy League college and a megachurch pastor died by suicide in September. At the 2017 U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundations Health Means Business summit, Arianna Huffington, sleep evangelist and author of The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time, said people who toil in the charitable space often have the most trouble detaching from work and, well, going to bed.

Meanwhile, Justin Phillips, a mother who lost her son to a drug overdose, is trying to start the #chooseempathy movement. She founded Overdose Lifeline to raise awareness that addiction is not a choice and requires empathetic responses.

Dr. Judith Orloff, a psychiatrist and self-described empath, agrees society needs moreempathy given the rising rates of addiction, suicide and mental illness, among other challenges. But she cautions those who choose to be empathic or find it comes naturally about the need to care for themselvesfirst.

More: Oprah Winfrey reveals latest book club pick: 'I'm in awe'

The New York Times best-selling author's new book, "Thriving as an Empath: 365 Days of Self-Care for Sensitive People"(Sounds True publishing), is now in stores.

Dr. Judith Orloff is a Los Angeles area psychiatrist, author and empath.(Photo: Courtesy of Judith Orloff.)

Here, she talks with USA TODAY health policy reporter Jayne O'Donnell, who calls herself an "overempathizer."

Dr. Judith Orloff:Ordinary empathy is the ability to feel someone elses pain as well as their joy, the ability for us to be open-hearted. It's such a beautiful trait. Being an empath, however, goes further. Empaths have extremely sensitive neurological systems and dont have the usual filters that other people have, so they feel things intensely and often are emotional sponges who take on other peoples stress if they dont learn how to set boundaries and practice other self-care techniques ... Most empaths are introverts like myself, but some are extroverts who love socializing but still need to decompress afterwards to take care of themselves.

As part of my research on empaths, I developed a 20-question self-assessment test in my earlier book, "The Empaths Survival Guide," to determine if you are an empath. Some of the questions include: Have I been labeled as overly sensitive?(in a derogatory way). Do crowds drain me, and do I need a lot of alone time to replenish myself? Do I take on other peoples stress or emotions? Do I replenish myself in nature? Am I super-sensitive to noise, smells and excessive talking?

Empaths have many special challenges and also many gifts.

Orloff:I believe empathy is the most precious trait in human nature. We need more of it in our country and in the world. Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone elses shoes so you can see their point of view. Empathy is so powerful because it opens our hearts. It allows us to try to understand another persons position, even if we dont particularly like them or if we disagree on an issue. This gives us the best chance of successfully communicating with them and resolving differences.

Orloff: Yes, Ive seen many of my patients, including empaths and all sensitive people, care too much and become burned out by empathy overload or get involved with addictions, including substances, foodand sexto numb themselves out. In my psychotherapy practice, there has been an epidemic of empathic patients consulting me who are exhausted, anxious, depressed and overwhelmed by added stress in their personal lives, which is aggravated by our worlds non-stop stress.

Arianna Huffington reports that over two-thirds of doctors in the U.S. say they are burned out, depressed or both! Plus the general suicide rate in our country just keeps going up. Those in the helping professions have trouble turning stress off so they also tend to experience impaired sleep and increased anxiety.

Orloff:Taking adequate alone time is essential to decompress. When my empath patients go nonstop in their jobs or as parents without periodically slowing down they risk chronic exhaustion, anxiety and overwhelm. Scheduling mini-breaks in your life to take a few deep breaths, spending some quiet time without phone calls, demandsor over-stimulation, taking a walkor meditating for even a few minuteswill break the momentum of stress and prevent sensory overload.

Also I teach all my patients that no is a complete sentence.

Orloff: Being a caring listener is one of the great empathic gifts we can give others. But we dont have to listen for hours on end to be effective. Giving someone your caring attention for five to 10 minutes can be very potent, as opposed to getting hooked into repetitive two-hour phone conversations that wear you out. I love you and I will be thinking of you is a wonderful thing to say after responding to the person for a limited time. Also, I recommend having short check-ins with the person. A technique I suggest in "Thriving as an Empath"is the 3 Minute Phone Call. This is when you tell the person youre available for this period of time and you want to support them.

As an empathic person, you adore giving, but what I hope my book will provide you with are strategies to give in healthy ways but also practice self-care so you can be a balanced, happy person.

If you or family members are struggling with issues mentioned in this story and you would like to connect with others online, joinUSA TODAYs "I Survived It"Facebook support group.

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Empathy is good, but what if you care too much? Dr. Judith Orloff has advice for empaths - USA TODAY

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