Can I Be Empathetic While Looking After Myself?

empathy hand reaching to cats paw

Can I Be Empathetic While Looking After Myself?

How can we be Empathetic to others and give them a helping hand when times are tough without us taking on their troubles and feelings and ending up feeling bad ourselves? Is it possible to be empathetic while looking after myself?

Being a good friend, being there for others when they are going through a rough spot, or listening to the stories of others or the news can leave us with residual feelings. Being empathetic is the ability to walk in another’s’ shoes, to understand and experience their circumstances from their perspective and offer support. It is important that we set ourselves boundaries where we protect ourselves and can remove our personal lives from the stories of others.

empathy dalai lama

Looking after yourself is the key to providing empathy

As a social welfare worker I have adapted techniques to manage my private life from that of my clients. Often this is more difficult when I am personally attached to the people who are experiencing the difficult circumstances. When friends and family are doing it tough or I see or hear something that pushes my personal buttons it is much harder to set the balance and keep myself protected. 

So I thought today I would talk about ways to keep the balance – how to be a great friend or work with the moments in life that impact us, and work on how to stay grounded and protect yourself.

balancing pebbles while being empathetic

Creating balance without taking on other people’s problems 

Work out your personal strategy – something that you can easily do every time you feel yourself taking on the problems of others. For me, this is having a shower, imagining all the bad stuff going down the drain. For you, it may be going for a run, walking on the beach or going to the gym. 

Some people like to use essential oils or incense. To burn them or rub a little lavender oil on your third eye or temples to relax and remove yourself from the mental fatigue of what you have been told. Breathing exercises may also help. Take in 3 deep breaths or count backwards from 10, and with each breath out see the stress and negativity leaving you.

empathy aromatherapy

If you have just had a negative situation, received a difficult text message or seen something on the television that has made you feel like you are taking on the negativity, you can set yourself aside from the situation by taking some time out alone, having a cup of tea, and sitting in the sun or all of the above.

Creating healthy boundaries while being empathetic

Make sure you create boundaries. This may be an energy boundary where you set yourself a ‘shield’ around yourself of white light. Blocking out the bad energy or negative feelings. It is a bit like clearing your aura and putting a fence up so nothing bad can come in and taint your personal space.  Another good way to create boundaries is to surround yourself with things you love.  If you are in a busy, negative workspace put photos or plants or your favourite crystal or fluffy animal on your desk. This will give you comfort and a safe space to be in, even when things around you are going a bit crazy.

feet not crossing boundaries

I have seen from many groups I am a member of that often people end up feeling anxious, stressed and even depressed by what is going on around them, and the amount of feelings they take in for themselves.  It is important to set boundaries for yourself and not be afraid to say ‘No’.

If you feel that you are going to end up drained from a particular interaction you may want to limit the time you are spending in this situation, or decline to be part of it at all. Setting healthy boundaries is a way to look after yourself in order to enable you to be empathetic.

If a certain group of people sap your energy and they are having a party, then maybe it is better that you decide to do something else rather than come away from the evening feeling worse than when you went.  It is not a bad thing to set limits and to say ‘No’ to others in order to protect yourself. If you are one of those people that feels guilty for looking after yourself, it may take some practice though.

Looking after yourself is just as important as empathy

Self-care is very important as if you take on the troubles of everyone else you will have no strength to look after your own life.  When the inevitable negatives come along in your life you will feel stressed and unable to cope with them because you are already overwhelmed by the problems of others. You will find then, coming to a suitable resolution for your own problems will be much harder.  It does not mean you can not look after others; you just need to follow good strategies to make sure you are also looking after yourself.

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