Is it possible to have too much empathy for others?

@TheHorse (67111)
Pleasant Hill, California
February 28, 2016 11:27am CST
On Friday afternoon, when I got to my kid client's house, he looked really sad. The house was dark, and his mom and brother were nowhere to be found. He made some self-deprecating comments about himself (he's usually pretty cocky), and I found myself feeling sad for him Fortunately, we rallied, played some basketball (he's good!), went to McDonalds, and then went to the Dollar Store and bought two basketball pumps, one for him and one for me. But when I dropped him off at home, the house was still dark, and his mother and brother were still nowhere to be found. He did all he could to get me to stick around for awhile, but I ultimately had to go and play music with my adult friends. As I was driving home, I was thinking about how I only get to spend a year with each kid, taking them out for big fun once a week, and then I have to move on. Many of the kids I work with come from troubled families, and I sometimes wonder if a year is enough. Throughout the evening, I couldn't let go of my sadness for this kid. As psychologists, we're supposed to do our best and then "let go" at the end of the day. But that's not always easy to do. I've hardened myself up enough that I don't feel sad for every bum or prostitute that I see on the streets. But it's hard for me to "let go" once I've established a relationship with a kid. Do you ever feel like you have "too much empathy"?
35 people like this
35 responses
@LadyDuck (162794)
• Switzerland
28 Feb 16
I could never do your job because I am unable to "let go". Now I am thinking to your young client and I feel so sorry for him.
8 people like this
@TheHorse (67111)
• Pleasant Hill, California
28 Feb 16
But as my mood improves, I'll think about the good times we've had together, and the long-term positive effects those good times will have on him.
5 people like this
@LadyDuck (162794)
• Switzerland
29 Feb 16
@TheHorse You surely are of a great help and it shows, because he tried to keep longer with him.
3 people like this
@TheHorse (67111)
• Pleasant Hill, California
29 Feb 16
@LadyDuck He and I get along very well. I always look forward to our meetings.
3 people like this
@Corbin5 (109259)
• United States
28 Feb 16
I taught for over 30 years. I often had to deal with having "too much empathy" when it came to a student who needed much more of me than I had time to give. My husband always had to set me straight when he saw that I was on the verge of stepping in and taking over to help a child in distress.
4 people like this
@TheHorse (67111)
• Pleasant Hill, California
28 Feb 16
I'm glad your husband was there to keep you in check. When you work in a helping profession, there's always that temptation to just take over and "make things right." There were a couple of kids in Oakland I was just about ready to adopt! The littlle guy in this photo had been my buddy since he was 13 mos old, and I worked with him every day until he was four.
2 people like this
@Drosophila (16705)
• Ireland
28 Feb 16
I can if I let myself, but I often don't.
3 people like this
@TheHorse (67111)
• Pleasant Hill, California
28 Feb 16
Don't worry too much? Or don't let go easily?
3 people like this
@Drosophila (16705)
• Ireland
28 Feb 16
@TheHorse I often try to keep distance, so I don't get too empathetic.
2 people like this
@TheHorse (67111)
• Pleasant Hill, California
29 Feb 16
@Drosophila I certainly don't give money to every beggar on the street. I'd be broke. But I do what I can.
3 people like this
@hexeduser22 (5853)
• Philippines
29 Feb 16
You are doing great and you have a big heart. I'm pretty sure that those is thankful that you get to spend some of your time with them... It is sad but there are just something's in this world that no matter how we try to change or do something about it, nothing will really change.. The life you live is hard.. I salute you on this one
3 people like this
@TheHorse (67111)
• Pleasant Hill, California
29 Feb 16
Yes, I worry that the big picture will stay the same. But for those who work in social services, it's one client at a time.
3 people like this
• Philippines
29 Feb 16
@TheHorse good thing I'm not in that industry... I would have adopted every client of mine
2 people like this
@DaddyEvil (25061)
• Aurora, Missouri
29 Apr 16
I thought that WAS where you found that beautiful little girl in your avatar, @hexeduser22 bastart! I am sure she didn't really KNOW you, or she wouldn't be smiling like that!
@Platespinner (16772)
• Winston Salem, North Carolina
28 Feb 16
That empathy is what makes you good at what you do, unfortunately that doesn't make your job any easier.
3 people like this
@TheHorse (67111)
• Pleasant Hill, California
28 Feb 16
That's a good point. Having a good memory for what was important to me at various ages helps too. I do wonder if it would be healthy to do a one-year follow-up on the kids we work with just so they know they're still in our thoughts.
2 people like this
• Winston Salem, North Carolina
28 Feb 16
@TheHorse having been a kid once myself I bet that would have a positive impact. It is empowering to know that you are remembered and thought of. I considered fostering, but I don't know think I have what it takes to take in a child knowing I would have to let them go again.
2 people like this
@TheHorse (67111)
• Pleasant Hill, California
28 Feb 16
@Platespinner It's something I've discussed with some of my colleagues, but I've never "officially" suggested it. I've only been with this organization for two years and change.
2 people like this
@JudyEv (125594)
• Bunbury, Australia
29 Feb 16
That would be so hard to leave him in an empty house when he obviously wanted you to stay. I guess I'm more likely to get involved with needy old folk (older than myself!)
3 people like this
@TheHorse (67111)
• Pleasant Hill, California
29 Feb 16
I like working with kids because I see hope for their futures. But sometimes I feel like what I'm doing is just a drop in a large bucket.
2 people like this
@JudyEv (125594)
• Bunbury, Australia
29 Feb 16
@TheHorse I can understand that you feel like that but to the individual child it would mean so much to him. He doesn't consider himself a 'drop'. It is great work you're doing.
1 person likes this
@just4him (120007)
• Green Bay, Wisconsin
28 Feb 16
I think it's good you do. I don't think anyone could have too much, it simply means you care, and that's a good thing.
3 people like this
@TheHorse (67111)
• Pleasant Hill, California
28 Feb 16
I agree overall. But I don't want to burden myself with worry when there's nothing more I can do.
2 people like this
@just4him (120007)
• Green Bay, Wisconsin
28 Feb 16
@TheHorse There is one thing you can do for that person - pray for him. No one can have too much prayer. That little guy seems like he can use all he can get.
1 person likes this
@MandaLee (3738)
• United States
28 Feb 16
Good morning @TheHorse How heartbreaking. I don't think there is any such thing as too much empathy. Thank you for all you do.
3 people like this
@TheHorse (67111)
• Pleasant Hill, California
28 Feb 16
Thank you for the kind thoughts! I'll just keep on keeping on and hope the best for each kid when I have to move on.
2 people like this
@T_gray (7808)
• Salina, Kansas
29 Feb 16
I understand empathy all too well. I am a very empathtic person so much that it makes me sick or changes my mood completely. It sucks sometimes. I don't think I could do your job at all.
2 people like this
@TheHorse (67111)
• Pleasant Hill, California
29 Feb 16
Or maybe you'd do it very well. You'd just have to train yourself to "let go" when the day is done.
2 people like this
@T_gray (7808)
• Salina, Kansas
1 Mar 16
@TheHorse Letting go would be the hard part...
1 person likes this
@TheHorse (67111)
• Pleasant Hill, California
1 Mar 16
@T_gray Today, I'm taking half of the day off. I'm proud of myself.
1 person likes this
@lilnana1111 (2341)
• United States
29 Feb 16
Yes, especially when it come to children.
2 people like this
@TheHorse (67111)
• Pleasant Hill, California
29 Feb 16
I think the desire to nurture them is hard wired into all (most) of us, male and female.
2 people like this
• United States
29 Feb 16
@TheHorse I think you're right.
1 person likes this
@Marcyaz (35651)
• United States
28 Feb 16
I do sometimes feel I have to much empathy and I have to try to curtial that but it is hard to let go.
2 people like this
@TheHorse (67111)
• Pleasant Hill, California
28 Feb 16
It really can be difficult sometimes.
2 people like this
@Marcyaz (35651)
• United States
29 Feb 16
@TheHorse I imagine it would be especially if you have become so close to them.
@Jessicalynnt (47895)
• Centralia, Missouri
28 Feb 16
that just proves you care, all you can do is what you can do, try to provide the tools to make a lasting difference. I say that, but I worked in a crisis care center at a childrens home before...and it was HARD. you knew bad stuff was happening, everyone did, but what you cant prove, what the kid won't admit...sometimes.... kid goes back in and you just know whats going to go on. and you have no way to stop or change a thing
2 people like this
@TheHorse (67111)
• Pleasant Hill, California
28 Feb 16
Yes, that's incredibly frustrating. I think this child is "safe" at home right now. but it's not a stimulating enough environment for him.
2 people like this
• Centralia, Missouri
29 Feb 16
@TheHorse hopefully something will come up, something that works out that he can participate in or do, or a hobby thats ok for kids. I know, its not much, but sometimes hope is all there is
@teamfreak16 (41175)
• Colorado Springs, Colorado
28 Feb 16
I've been told that I have none to very little, honestly, so I'm probably not qualified to answer.
2 people like this
@TheHorse (67111)
• Pleasant Hill, California
28 Feb 16
Who told you that? Do you agree?
1 person likes this
@teamfreak16 (41175)
• Colorado Springs, Colorado
28 Feb 16
@TheHorse - Oh, my girlfriend, for one, past girlfriend's too. And yeah, they probably are right for the most part.
2 people like this
• United States
28 Feb 16
I would have a hard time letting go if I was in your position. Was he old enough to be home alone? Though I think he had a wonderful time with you!!
2 people like this
@TheHorse (67111)
• Pleasant Hill, California
28 Feb 16
We always have a good time together. He has a wonderful sense of humor. He's 11, so I'm not worried about him being home alone. I was a latch key kid in my later elementary years.
2 people like this
• United States
29 Feb 16
@TheHorse Do you often visit him? Is his family ever around then?
1 person likes this
@allknowing (66438)
• India
29 Feb 16
Too much empathy is no good if it just hangs in the air. You need to do something if you can or just move on.
2 people like this
@TheHorse (67111)
• Pleasant Hill, California
29 Feb 16
I do as much as I can and have survived OK so far. I also have other interests that aren't as directly tied in with others' psychological health. Music and woodworking help keep me happy.
1 person likes this
• Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
28 Feb 16
People tell me that all the time, but if I can I try to help people. I just bought a bottle of water for a homeless man. He was trying to steal it and of course the store's staff was watching him from the minute he walked in the door. I was buying gas and figured a dollar and change wasn't going to break the bank. It was wrong for him to try to steal it, but I just felt compelled to do something.
@TheHorse (67111)
• Pleasant Hill, California
29 Feb 16
Sometimes that's the best approach. I saw a video of a cop doing the same thing for a woman who was trying to shoplift some food.
2 people like this
@jstory07 (68187)
• Roseburg, Oregon
28 Feb 16
A year is not long enough to get to know the children.. I guess you can only do the best that you can.
2 people like this
@TheHorse (67111)
• Pleasant Hill, California
29 Feb 16
I'm able to establish some pretty good relationships with these kids in a year. But there are times that I wish I could work with them longer.
1 person likes this
@jaboUK (54336)
• United Kingdom
28 Feb 16
I wonder what it's like for the kids when they are 'let go'. Do they feel abandoned, do you think?
2 people like this
@TheHorse (67111)
• Pleasant Hill, California
28 Feb 16
I'm not sure. I worry abut that too. We spend a month or so working on "closure," letting them know we're only allowed to see them for a year, processing how we both feel, etc.
2 people like this
@sharon6345 (130461)
• United States
28 Feb 16
So much that I would have gone back to check in on him.
2 people like this
@TheHorse (67111)
• Pleasant Hill, California
28 Feb 16
I stayed with him as long as I could. I almost called later in the evening to make sure mom made it home OK, but I decided not to.
1 person likes this
• United States
29 Feb 16
this's a most sad tale, my horsey friend. i fear i'd had to've stayed with him. when i worked't the hospital, i was prone to goin' visitin' once my shift was done. those elderly folks from nursin' homes that nobody e'er showed up to visit (didn't 't the nursin' homes neither) jest needed somebody to spend time with 'em. i'd read to 'em, we'd visit 'n then i'd take such 'pon myself when they were released. i reckon one could say 'twas too much. although it took time 'way from my own family though, i felt such needed to be done. to let'em know they mattered.
1 person likes this
@TheHorse (67111)
• Pleasant Hill, California
29 Feb 16
I think that's a good thing. It's also consistent with most religious teachings I've been exposed to.
2 people like this