December 4, 2019

Empathy is my superpower, but sometimes it feels like my kryptonite

People can begin to experience healing often after just a single encounter of empathy

I would be a rotten therapist if I didn't have empathy. Empathy allows me to understand and feel the world of my clients. It gives me the ability to help clients feel seen, cared for, and feel normal. People can begin to experience healing often with just a single encounter of empathy.

If empathy is such a great thing, why does it sometimes feel so bad to be an empathetic person? When people suffer, empathy allows us to go into their world and hold some of their suffering. But there is a cost to that. If you really share in someone's pain, that means you may also feel that pain. You lighten their burden, but sometimes in the process, you take part of their burden on yourself.

As a therapist, I have generally been able to be empathetic and present for my clients without taking all of the pain home with me. I have had less success doing that in my personal relationships.

To lighten someone elses burden, it may make your burden heavier

I had a friend whose husband died in a plane crash. I was shocked when I heard about it, and I couldn't stop thinking about her and her children. I felt overcome with emotion. I thought about her son's upcoming graduation and his first day of college without his dad. I thought about how it must feel for her to go to bed at night and not feel her husband next to her. I thought about the feelings of hopelessness and regret that come when someone you love deeply dies suddenly.


I had another friend whose stepchild was killed in a heartbreaking and senseless act of violence. She sent me a text with her favorite picture of him, young and full of life. And she shared that his burial day was also his birthday. I sobbed thinking of the unspeakable loss of a child and the cruel twist of fate that had him buried on his birthday. I sobbed sitting there at dinner in front of my kids feeling so sorry for her, and so thankful for my loved ones surrounding me. 

I would like to think that being empathetic in this way allowed me to be a more caring person in her life. And for that, I would not trade empathy for anything, but the truth is, sometimes it's a gift I would like to give back.

You have to go into someone's grief to really have compassion...and it's hard and uncomfortable

It is not fun feeling sad, feeling heart ache, confusion, and crying through other people's suffering. When I asked a friend of mine for advice about how to help a grieving friend who had just lost a child, she said this, "You have to go into someone's grief to really have compassion...and it's hard and uncomfortable." It's hard and uncomfortable. That is gospel truth.

We live a life where we choose comfort and pleasure most of the time. I can't really even blame people for doing that. I do it. But there are times that call for something more than that. You can either ignore other people's pain, or you can walk with them as far as you are able and as far as they will let you. For me, I don't think it's really even a choice if I am going to do the work I believe I am created to do.

So, even though it means I am sometimes more emotional and fragile, I want to keep committing to being empathetic. It is my superpower and my kryptonite. And that is part of what makes it a gift. It is something given at a cost.
Empathy is a gift and part of our calling as human beings living in community.


To those of you who are struggling with pain, professional counseling can help lighten your load. Please contact one of our Houston counselors at 713 - 591 - 3612 or email us at Nancy @

This blog is not intended to substitute for professional counseling. 

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