Can you have too much empathy?


Believe it or not, the answer is “Yes”! But it really shouldn’t be too surprising, since people with high empathy are also highly sensitive, and since they feel everything so keenly, sometimes the negative emotions surrounding them can drag them into a depressive state.

A friend who reads this blog sent me this article, thinking it could possibly explain the depressive state I’ve been in. While I’m not sure that’s the reason I’ve been so down, it’s still an interesting article and should bring some clarity to HSPs and empaths who are feeling inexplicably depressed. If you are an HSP or an empath, think about whether you’ve been exposed to negative people or people who are going through bad experiences or suffering depression. You might have picked up on the emotions of others.

Empathy is a wonderful trait to have but having too much of it can hurt its bearer. At some point, you can even suffer from “empathy burnout,” which basically means you shut off your ability to feel empathy after you’ve been drained emotionally by giving too much of yourself to others. Empathy burnout is common in people in the helping professions, many who are naturally empathetic. After a few years, they may find themselves no longer able to empathize with the people they help, and even beginning to resent them. That’s why there’s so much attrition in these professions.

I think practicing mindfulness is a good skill, not only for people with C-PTSD and personality disorders, but also for empaths and HSPs who may have too much of a good thing!

Here is the article she sent me.   It also explains the differences between empathy and sympathy.  (They are not the same thing!)  Sympathy is more detached and cognitive; even narcissists can feel sympathy, though they might have a limited capacity to feel emotional empathy.

Exploring Hyper-Empathy Syndrome


22 thoughts on “Can you have too much empathy?

  1. I never realized too much empathy can be a personality disorder. I have been searching for a list of NOS personality disorders. What a hassle! It was like finding a needle in a haystack. Here it is, finally:
    Personality disorders
    Cluster A (odd)

    Cluster B (dramatic)

    Cluster C (anxious

    Not specified

    I couldn’t find Hyper-Empathic in there. Where did you find it? AHA! I should have looked under Hyper-Empathic in the first place. I found “Hyper-Empathy Syndrome is a fairly new and unexplored disorder of the brain. It has been called by many names so far, but it has been officially classified by DSM (Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders) as a Personality Disorer Not Otherwise Specified (PDNOS). ”

    Well, interesting that this is under NOS along with it’s opposite, Psychopathy. Interesting blog. I am sure I will be linking to it as well as the article you link to. My interest is partially sparked by the fact that, along with ASPD, I was assessed with NOS, no further explanation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Interesting list. I don’t know if I’d call it a personality disorder myself. That’s interesting it’s in the same list with NOS disorders as Psychopathy!

      PD-NOS is often given to people who would otherwise be diagnosed with ASPD (or sometimes NPD) due to the stigma associated with those disorders. But you already have the ASPD dx, so maybe they just thought you had another PD but weren’t sure what it was. Could you be an Empath/Psychopath!?! (is that possible?) Didn’t you say once you also had an HPD dx?


  2. Pingback: Is Psychopathy Really a Disorder? | CLUSTER B

  3. I worked full time for a major TV ministry for almost three years in the 1980s. My job title was “teleminister”. I spent each 8 hour shift on the phone, praying with people. I averaged more than 70 prayer calls per shift, which totalled more than 350 per week.

    Every single work day, I was told about, and prayed about, one terrible heartbreaking tragedy after another. When I finally left that job in 1987, my empathy was completely burned out. I had also lost my Christian faith! I did not get my faith back until 2003. My empathy came back a lot sooner than that. But, oh my goodness — it was a very long time before I could stand to listen to anybody tell me about their problems!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Around the second anniversary of me working as a teleminister, I was given a framed certificate congratulating me for completing 35,000 prayer calls.

      That’s 35,000 prayers for 35,000 tragic situations. And I continued to work there for another 7 months, during which time I would have racked up a little over 10,000 more prayer calls. Jeez…. no wonder I had empathy burn out!!

      Liked by 1 person

      • This sounds like what we used to call “compassion fatigue.” Some (not all) people who have had a lot of pain and misfortune in their lives are very prone to it, because their own suffering has made them sharply attuned to the suffering of others. On the other end of the spectrum there are the people who can only focus on their own misfortunes and brood over all the times people have screwed them over, and have no time to listen to, much less care about, the sufferings of other people. While compassion fatigue can certainly wear you out, the world is a better place because you did not become like that second group. How you survived more than forty thousand calls like that in the space of three years is a miracle — the first hundred calls or so would have done in a lesser woman. 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

        • Aww… thank you. I ❤ you, Bluebird.

          I later became a nurse and that was very hard for me, too, because I often felt like I could feel other people's pain. Empathy in a nurse is great, but not so much that the nurse can't see through her tears in order to function.

          My favorite thing in nursing school was my surgery rotation. The patients weren't in pain or fearful, they were under anesthesia. And oh, WOW — I was agnostic then, but seeing how wonderfully our bodies are designed, from the inside out, caused me to lose faith in my doubts, lol.

          I stood at the head of a man having open heart surgery. I saw his beating heart, his lungs breathing in and out…. I thought "How could this happen because of a Big Bang, chance, and natural selection?" It would be easier to believe that a parts factory ecploded and produced our Chevy. 🙂

          Liked by 2 people

          • LL/Lady Q, I wish I’d had you around when I needed a nurse with some compassion! In the course of my hospitalizations (mostly for having my babies, the last three of which were born by c-section), I had a few good nurses, a few mediocre ones, and a few who were downright sadistic. I treasure the good ones, have mostly forgotten the mediocre ones, and had to make an effort to forgive the rotten ones. 🙂

            Liked by 2 people

            • I wish I had been there. Sounds like you really went through it. Wow, 3 c-sections, that’s grueling. ((HUG))

              During my surgical rotation, I helped out during a cesarean. The woman flatlined during the procedure — apparently she was allergic to the anesthesia. While the anesthesiologist was doing CPR, I held her arm up in the air to keep the IV line flowing, in case her veins collapsed. Her eyes were open wide, dilated and lifeless. Agnostic though I was at the time, I was silently praying for her as I stared into those dead eyes.

              Suddenly, I saw the LIFE come back into her eyes!! It was the most glorious thing I have ever seen!!

              I’m sorry about those hateful nurses. I have known several like that. One who seemed to take great joy in informing me that my mother had come to see my newborn daughter in the hospital nursery, but had made a point of telling all the nurses that she did not want to see ME, her “horrible” daughter. Ah, the joy of being the family scapegoat…

              Liked by 2 people

            • The first c-section was an emergency one, done as a last resort after a long and fruitless labor with a baby who just happened to have a 16-inch head that was as hard as a bowling ball. To my complete surprise, I had a very fast, very easy recovery — much faster and easier than I’d had after vaginal delivery. That was why when I had babies #3 and #4 I chose to have repeat c-sections, rather than attempt another vaginal delivery. I admire and envy women who are able to give birth the way we’re supposed to — like my daughter, who had my grandson at home with a midwife, and my goddaughter, who had such a short labor and fast delivery that the midwife didn’t get there in time and her husband ended up catching the baby — but my body just doesn’t work that way.

              Liked by 1 person

            • I know YOU don’t, I thought your mother might have told you. Me, I was born the “regular way” but was very small as my mother smoked and drank while she was pregnant with me and barely ate a thing.


            • I had a condition called dystocia — which means my son’s head was too big to pass through the birth canal. I was in labor for an excrucating 36 hours and had dilated to 4 cm but then closed back up. They finally did the C-section because the drs. were afraid he would go into fetal distress. He was born healthy and had a high Apgar score. My daughter wasn’t as big in the head but since it was only 18 months from my first C-section they were afraid I might rupture if I labored too long. C-section babies are beautiful — they don’t have that squished up look other babies get (this could also be because lots of times they are a bit larger and more developed anyway). Both of mine were very healthy, although my daughter did have jaundice and had to spend some time under the lights to correct her bilirubin levels so I didn’t get to bond with her right away. 😦

              Liked by 1 person

        • I’ve heard of compassion fatigue, and yes that would be the same thing. I think its much more exhausting to be on the other end, brooding over how you’ve been screwed over (that used to be me). That isn’t self compassion, that is self pity, and they are way different.

          Liked by 1 person

          • So true! Self-pity is a disaster. And worst of all, from the self-pitier’s point of view, is that no one else feels any need to feel sorry for you, since you’re doing such a good job of feeling sorry for yourself.


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