Being aware of the people around us, their feelings, thoughts and emotions and react to them is in the focus of mindfulness. However, when we share people’s suffering at the same time being unable to do it without equanimity, the empathetic reaction to it can have great impact over us. In the words of meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg “It’s almost inevitable that we get burnt out, at least from time to time.” This happens partially due to our inability to distinguish the empathy and compassion as a response to other people’s suffering.
On the one side the empathy could be defined as an ability to feel the suffering of others. However we can differently respond to it; we can ignore it, we can feel overwhelmed, or we might even feel blame. On the other side, the compassion implies a kind of control and balance of equanimity. Sharon and Dan Harris, of 10 % Happier, had a conversation on this topic, where they mentioned and explained the difference between empathy and compassion and also suggested some possible ways to prevent the burn out.
How to Care Deeply Without Burning Out
- It is essential to differentiate empathy from compassion. The possibility to share other people’s emotions and to feel the struggle of others is known as empathy, while compassion is defined as one of the many possible reactions to empathy
- Figure out when you get overwhelmed. We cannot avoid experiencing burnout. Besides that, the most important thing is to recognize what is going on and regain balance. Compassion also means caring about yourself as well as about others, but in a wiser and more balanced way.
- Know that you can’t change the people. The wisdom and intelligence to be aware that we are not meant to make the world a better place for others are integral part of compassion. We cannot be focused on other people’s problems and pain all the time. We can only recognize their pain, be willing to offer our help, but we cannot influence their perception of the world. This is the crucial moment of letting go. Related to this Dan Harris says: “My father says the hardest thing about having kids is letting them make their own mistakes. That’s compassion with equanimity.”