Compassion fatigue occurs when people are constantly exposed to suffering. When a person expends so much compassion and empathy to people in pain, they become so overwhelmed that they begin to retreat emotionally. In fact, their compassion can ebb over time and cause complete apathy if self-care isn’t practiced regularly.
Empaths face a dark side where the pain of others can become so all consuming, they face two options. Build up walls or burn themselves out. Without learning how to establish healthy boundaries, empath can face a host of physical or mental health concerns. So, retreating can seem like the safest option available. However, putting up walls not only protects people from outside emotions, but it can prevent them from dealing with their own emotions as well. Shutting down can deprive people of enjoying the little joys in life. This includes the peace found during reading, drawing, or physical activity; instead, you go numb and just zone out.
Blocking out other people’s emotions to protect yourself will create unhealthy distance between yourself and people that care most about you. You can become disconnected to the needs and goals of your partner, children, or dear friends, especially if you begin to see them as emotionally “needy.” You could even put your job at risk since you stop putting in the appropriate level of effort. Instead of living you become a living zombie only going through the motions of life.
Empaths need to find a middle ground between total openness to external emotions and numbing themselves to life. They must learn self-care practices and begin to observe the situations or people that drain them the most. For example, if being in large crowds is a recipe for fatigue then they must learn how to go on shopping trips during off-hours. If being around a certain person causes the empath anxiety, then it might be helpful to limit the amount of time or conversations topics with them. It is also important to pay attention to drug or alcohol usage to avoid numbing the sensations, but could end up cause long-range problems.
Empaths must focus their attention and efforts on situations and people that uplift them or enhance their life. It can be helpful to create a sanctuary at home that they can retreat to where they can recharge their batteries. Decorate the space in manner that is peaceful and airy, and include soothing lighting, music and scents. Go to this space and focus on diaphragmic breathing to realign your thoughts, or meditate. This can help processing which emotions are yours and which belong to another, but weighing you down. Meditative practices can pull empaths out of their head and into their bodies. Trying yoga, tai chi, or swimming to ground yourself and reconnect with your breath. In this practice you only have to process your own thoughts without an external emotional onslaught.
Self-care will be unique to each empath, as people’s emotional capacity and self-care concepts can differ wildly. It’s natural to experiment with an array of different self-protection and self-care practices before you find your ideal middle ground. If you have been emotionally overwhelmed for years, it will take time and patience to heal yourself as well as learn which emotions are yours instead of another’s. But sorting these emotions out will leave you feeling safer, happier, and healthy. Exercise when possible and eat a balanced diet. It’s okay if you need “me time,” whatever that looks like to you. Finding balance in an empath’s life is key.