Sta Hungry Stay Foolish

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

A blog by Leon Oudejans

The burden of empathy

12 October 2017


The meaning of empathy is “the ability to identify with another’s feelings”. It’s “often been discussed as a beneficial process from which favorable individual and interpersonal experiences may be derived” (source). Empathy was the topic of two of my blogs: Advantage vs Empathy and Empathy vs Altruism Narcissism and Sympathy. Note LO: italic markings are mine.

A 2016 study, on the burden of empathy, “found that when people encountered divergence of interests with one’s partner, as compared with when they did not, they experienced higher negative mood and stress and, consequently, lower relationship satisfaction. These effects were intensified, rather than reduced, by empathy.”

At the moment of writing this blog, I suddenly fully understand the above conclusion of this study. I didn’t expect getting myself in this situation. Caring for someone indeed becomes a burden when the perspective on a person’s interests starts to diverge. This divergence may start to happen within several weeks.

From a rational point of view, I do not feel this divergence. The way forward makes logical sense. My subconscious gives a very different signal: stop, before it’s too late. It doesn’t help that I trust (my) subconscious feelings more than (my) conscious deliberations.

I was offered to “cut my losses” and “quit”. It’s somewhat tempting to take a step back and loosen the attachment. I don’t think, feel and believe that this is in my short-term and/or long-term interest. I also don’t believe it’s a mutual interest. Also, I still believe in “for better or worse“.

A 2017 article by Rabbi Noah Zvi Farkas, on the burden and gift of empathy, put me in the right direction. Empathy is rooted in our two primal emotions, being Love and Fear (my 2016 blog). The burden of empathy (ie, Fear) can only happen after first having received its gift (ie, Love). After some reflection, I decided not to reflect this eyeopener in the title of this blog.

The word burden reminded me of a saying which (again) originates from 1 Corinthians 10:13 (GNT): “Every test that you have experienced is the kind that normally comes to people. But God keeps his promise, and he will not allow you to be tested beyond your power to remain firm; at the time you are put to the test, he will give you the strength to endure it, and so provide you with a way out.” Back in 2013, I noticed that this is indeed true.

My burden of empathy pales in comparison with someone else’s burden. My added value is even decreasing, which is in line with the 2016 study. Hence, I must find a way changing my inner empathy to outward sympathy (see my 2016 blog). Alternatively, I should focus on the gift of empathy instead.

The burden of empathy (2014) by Kai Engel (a.k.a. Anton Fedchenkov)

artist, FBalbum, songvideo


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