“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”
~ Brené Brown
I often hear from helpers who attend my workshops that empathy will cost them. I’ve often been asked workshops, “What if I reflect and don’t get it right?” Many helpers fear that one fails the client with underreaching or overreaching while reflective listening. The fear that getting a reflection “wrong” often functions as a way to avoid feeling incompetent or embarrassed with clients.
Helpers have also shared the idea that taking the plunge to make deeper, empathic connections with clients increases the risk for burnout.
Research tells us that as burnout increases, empathy decreases (Wilkinson et al., 2017). However, being empathic is not as draining as we think. According to Wilkinson and his colleagues, the reverse is true as well: as empathy increases, burnout decreases.
Being empathic is certainly a complex process. There are emotional, cognitive, and behavioral components of empathy that translate into sharing in another person’s feelings and suffering, while understanding those feelings and communicate this understanding from other person’s perspective (Mohammadreza, et al., 2015; Wilkinson, et al., 2017).
Higher levels of empathy have been associated with greater sense of personal accomplishment and therefore lower levels of burnout. Research has also identified a “willingness to donate” one’s inner resources to help others as a factor associated with empathy and optimism (Mohammadreza, et al., 2015). In other words, when being empathic, we can feel more optimistic, feel good about our efforts to help others, and all while fostering relationship engagement, which are all associated with decreased levels of burnout.
So…your empathy can not only create the environment necessary for others to engage and change, but can also help you to maintain optimism about your work with your clients and help you feel good about the work you’re doing.
Mohammadreza, H., Vergare, M., Isenberg, G., Cohen, M., & Spandorfer, J. (2015). Underlying construct of empathy, optomism, and burnout in medical students. International Journal of Medical Education, 6, 12-16.
Wilkinson, H., Whittington, R., Perry, L., & Eames, C. Examining the relationship between burnout and empathy in healthcare professionals: A systematic review. Burnout Research, 6, 18-29.