Why Empaths Experience Emotional and Physical Burnout And How To Recover

One thing empaths, or psychic people may experience is what I call psychic burnout.

This is when you have been overloaded with too many things that require your psychic energy, and you not only become depleted, but no longer have the ability to connect and look at things as you normally would.

I became interested in this after listening to Dr Dan Siegel, a renowned psychiatrist, talking on the difference between empathy and compassion and the concept of empathic burnout. Perhaps rather naively, I had never really sat down and though about the distinction between the two terms.

An article in the British Journal of General practice “Burnout and empathy in primary care: three hypotheses” explores whether burnout is an empathy killer, whether empathy causes burnout, or whether empathy prevents burnout. They define clinical empathy as:

“primarily a cognitive quality that involves an understanding of the inner experiences and perspectives of the patient as a separate individual, combined with a capability to communicate this understanding to the patient.”

And that:

“clinical empathy must involve the ability to distinguish the self from the other in order not to be misplaced in the patient’s pain and emotions. This will guard against longer-term exhaustion and depersonalisation, and help to prevent burnout.”

Tania Singer, an expert on social neuroscience, is cited in an article “Compassion over empathy could help prevent emotional burnout“, which explores her ideas on the important difference between empathy and compassion. She states that:

people with a lot of empathy want to change that to compassion so they don’t get overwhelmed when confronted with suffering.” 

and feels that training in compassion could be particularly useful for

healthcare professionals and people under a lot of stress in order to prevent burnout.

Dr Daniel Siegel describes “empathy as the gateway to compassion” in his interview on the Dr paradox podcast.  Following on from Tania Singers work, he also stresses the importance of the difference between empathy and compassion.

When you train a person to be empathic they are vulnerable to getting burnt out. The whole brain gets over activated and shuts down.  Whereas someone trained in compassion, actually doesn’t shut down. And they increase positive internal states.

He also emphasises that moving from empathy to compassion can be taught, but it does require practice to separate the two.

In my experience, when you go through empathic burnout, you will feel a psychic type of pain (also could be said to be a phantom pain) and a great mental weariness. Also, in my experience, it seems that others are oblivious to this, and still insist on wanting answers or wanting to share their life issues with you.

My recommendation is to fall of the face of the planet for a while and do something that requires no interaction with others at all.

Take a day off every week and insist that is your time. Some will not like it. Some will become indignant about it. But that is their issue, not yours.

You aren’t any good to others when you are burnt out, and if you push yourself too far, you will find yourself in a place where it may take a long time to recover.

Be kind to yourself. You are under no obligation to anyone.