Can Empathy Be Hazardous to Your Health?

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You’re a giver. You obligate yourself to everyone else's needs. And, you easily absorb other people's suffering.

Let’s face it: You want to solve their problems.

You’re empathetic. You’ve been taught that selflessness is heroic and respectable. You have the need to feel accepted, and so you donate all of your energy to everyone else but you.

You feel guilty for even the thought of taking time for yourself.

By saying “no” to yourself, you’re telling your body you’re not a priority.

Why? Because you’ve been taught that.

But, you end up emotionally and physically drained with anxiety and depression.

So, how can empathy be hazardous to your health if you’re taught it’s such a heroic and respectable trait to possess?

  • It starts with what we’ve been led to believe we should be doing as a society.
    Women and caregivers are at more risk because they are taught to “be nurturers.” However, this does not mean other demographics are excluded. If you were taught to please others before yourself, you are at risk.

  • There’s a neuroscience theory called the Hebbian Theory that states “cells that wire together, fire together.”
    Your brain responds quicker to adverse reactions, e.g., perceived threats and suffering and even when you hear the word, “no.” The more you expose yourself to this, the easier it is for your body to trigger the fight or flight response (the acute stress response that increases our heart rate and puts us in defense mode).

  • After being chronically exposed to stress, the cells in your hippocampus (part of your brain that processes memory and cortisol regulation) become damaged.
    (Ever notice that you tend to forget things when you’re stressed out?) At this point, your body does not know how to turn off the fight or flight response. This is literally how anxiety disorder is formed.

 

So, what can you do to get out of this rabbit hole?

  • Utilize the same Hebbian Theory concept: “Cells that wire together, fire together.”
    You can retrain your brain to form neural pathways in the prefrontal lobe part of the brain. This area helps to promote a more relaxed state of well-being. 

  • The frontal lobe sends signals to secrete balancing hormones, like oxytocin, that turn off the fight or flight response. This is what happens when you say “yes” to yourself.
  • FYI: This is exactly how pet therapy works – and explains why I love being around white fluffy animals so much. 

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If the shower is your only sanctuary for alone time, then take advantage this easy solution I have to offer.

Say “yes” to yourself. You're worth it.