You can’t always be the martyr: Balancing self-care and empathy


Elle Love 

How can you be an empath while also taking care of your own mental health? Graphic by Mars Nevada/The Gateway

Starting off 2020, we set resolutions toward success in various aspects including self-care and personal growth.

I personally want to develop myself more as a journalist and to continue the path of self-discovery and identity. However, with the time dedicated to courses, on-campus activities, work, health etc., I would use what little time I have left for the relationships I have in my life.

Dedicating and managing my time toward relationships isn’t always easy. There’s only so much you can do to lift the burden from someone’s back before it becomes your problem.

Self-care and empathy may sound contradictory at first because it’s about finding the right balance of time between yourself and other people. Let me tell you, however, it’s not. I can share how to remain being compassionate for others without absorbing their stress.

It’s not your job to take everyone’s pain

I don’t want anyone to be in emotional pain. Sometimes, I care about other people’s wellbeing more than I do my own. However, my good intentions aren’t always reciprocated, and I can’t control how a person will take my advice or support.

“You feel people’s pain, both loved ones and strangers, and you instinctively want to take it away from them,” said Judith Orloff, M.D. in a Psychology Today article. “In fact, many of us have been taught that being compassionate means it’s our job to remove other’s pain.”

You can make room to support loved ones without directly fixing their problems by setting clear boundaries about how you can help them. What is the limit of what you can do? If you feel like you have done as much as you are able, it’s best to step back.

The best help comes from letting people handle their own situations and to validate overcoming their challenges. You can simply decrease the time you spend with them everyday for other tasks you need to accomplish and check on them every now and then if you want to.

“Ask yourself, ‘What lifestyle changes can I make to better support my sensitivities? How can I be a caring person but not a burnout? What practices can I use to replenish myself?’ Clarifying your goals sets a positive tone for change,” said Orloff in her book, “Thriving as an Empath: 365 days of Self-Care for Sensitive People.”

You can also suggest that your friend visits other on-campus support groups like Students Overcoming Stress (S.O.S) or schedules an appointment at Counseling and Psychological Services.

Appreciate your sensitivity

When choosing to dial back on our energy and time as empaths, it doesn’t mean we have to completely shut off from doing what we love, which is helping people. I can’t erase the fact that it’s part of my identity to be friendly and supportive—why would I want to end that?

“Take some quiet moments to reflect on your empathic gifts: your intuition, depth, creativity, compassion, and desire to better the world,” said Orloff.

You cannot control how others are receptive to who you are, but you can only change how you perceive yourself. As an empath, I’m proud to be as friendly as I can be to people whether it’s reciprocated or not.

What matters is your self-discovery.

Decrease What Overwhelms You

The last thing anyone would want or need, especially when maintaining a balanced life, is sensory overload. It’s difficult for me as a neurodivergent to know my limit to what I can do for people when it’s assumed that people with autism “don’t have feelings at all.”

Sensory overload occurs when you’re getting more input from your five senses than your brain can sort through and process, according to a Healthline article. Some of the major symptoms include restlessness and discomfort, difficulty focusing from competing sensory input and extreme irritability.

“Many empathetic patients have come to me saying, ‘I’ve felt overwhelmed for years’ They live in a persistent, uncomfortable state of sensory overload or else have become exhausted, burned out, or sick.” Orloff said in her book.

Catch the feeling of sensory overload as early as you can by simply taking a break from listening to that friend. You can let them know that you are empathetic to their needs, but your needs are just as important.

Creating the balance between self-care and empathy is challenging but not impossible. I promise to practice self-care techniques that treasures my sensitive soul and my loving heart.