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Empathy + Self Care: Why you need both

by Christina Fakiri |

In March, a mysterious virus was killing people in China at alarming rates, it spread to Italy and in late March we began our shelter in place. As usual, I immersed myself in articles, the news, conversations with friends in the medical community. I consumed the pandemic. In May, riots began in memory of murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. I consumed the images and articles about why people were rioting, the details of each murder. I began to realize the anxiety it was all causing me. 

As a parent, empathy was a character trait that was in the top 3 that I wanted my children to learn and practice. Many times hearing from my husband and I to our children, "How do you think your actions made that person feel?" Fortunately the conversation usually included, how the scenario made our child feel as well.

What is Empathy? The Ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Here's where it gets dangerous, when you take on the feelings of another to the degree where it starts to affect your thoughts every day all day. When it disrupts you moving forward and taking care of yourself. There's a point this weekend I had to stop and tell myself, "You cannot take on everyone else's pain." 

“You feel people’s pain, both loved ones and strangers, and you instinctively want to take it away from them,” said Judith Orloff, M.D. in a Psychology Today article. “In fact, many of us have been taught that being compassionate means it’s our job to remove other’s pain.” 

Ways to take care of yourself while still sharing compassion for others. 

  1. Acknowledge your empathy and your ability to be compassionate towards others. It's a skill and character trait that should be celebrated and honored.
  2. Resting your mind. Whether it's meditation or shifting your energy into a good book. Take a break from mentally fighting the fight for someone else. In my case, it was sensory overload of reading articles and watching the news. I started to binge on all of it. 
  3. Push reset. Take care of yourself. My actions include, heading to my favorite bookstore (despite that shopping in person right now scares me) and buying myself and my kids a new book to start. I'll plan on partaking in two of my favorite products from our collection, the eye pillow and our body balm. Self care become secondary or not at all at times, for me this often leads to either a Trigemenal Neuralgia outbreak or Vestibular Migraines. This necessary reset will help me heal the outside and inside as well. 

While I can't solve the problems of the world, I can try my best to find the balance between compassion for others and for myself.