Empathy Burn Out


A recent post on the Lucky Otters Haven blog asks: Can you have too much empathy?

While empathy is vitally important to one’s psychological health and to the health of human relationships, one of the dangers of having too much empathy, according to Lucky Otter’s post, is the potential for “empathy burnout”.  This is particularly a hazard among those who work in the helping professions: nurses, emergency room doctors, police, and psychotherapists.

As a naturally empathetic person myself, I have always been drawn to the helping professions. This is why I became a nurse. Prior to going to nursing school, I worked full time for a major television ministry for almost three years in the 1980s.

My job title was “teleminister”.  I spent each 8 hour shift on the phone, praying with people. We were encouraged to keep our prayer calls short, because we always had calls waiting. I averaged more than 70 prayer calls per shift, which totalled more than 350 per week.

Every single work day, I was told about, and prayed about, one terrible heartbreaking tragedy after another. When I finally left that job in 1987, my empathy was burned out. I had also lost my Christian faith! I did not get my faith back until 2003. My empathy came back a lot sooner than that. But, oh my goodness — it was a very long time before I could stand to listen to anybody tell me about their problems!

Around my second anniversary as a teleminister, I was given a framed certificate congratulating me for completing 35,000 prayer calls. That’s 35,000 prayers for 35,000 heartbreaking situations.

And I continued to work there for another 7 months, during which time I racked up a little over 10,000 more prayer calls. Wow…. no wonder I had empathy burn out!!

Psalm 34:17 says: The Lord is close to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

Today, when I start feeling overwhelmed by all the troubles and tragedies in the world, what a relief it is to remind myself that I can’t fix everyone and everything — but God can, if we trust Him and wait on His perfect timing and His perfect will.

Which is another way of saying that I believe in God today, and I am gratefully aware that I am NOT Him!

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