April 3, 2023 by Dean Bellefeuille

daughter hugging and caring for senior mother

A vital characteristic in any effective caregiver is being empathetic. The ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes allows you to better meet their needs. But there is one particular type of empathy that you need to understand as a caregiver in order to protect your own health and wellbeing: emotional empathy.

Emotional empathy takes caring for an older loved one to a new level. Rather than merely understanding how another person is feeling, emotional empathy involves actually experiencing their feelings. For instance, if you’re someone who is highly emotionally empathetic, sitting beside someone who is crying will bring tears to your own eyes. If they are in pain, you will experience distress. You will spring into action when someone has an immediate need.

Could Emotional Empathy Be Harmful to Caregivers?

There’s nothing inherently harmful about emotional empathy. Yet for a family caregiver of an older loved one, it can lead to mental health problems if not carefully managed. The risks are even greater if the person in your care has dementia or other cognitive problems.

Too much emotional empathy can be extremely draining and overwhelming. It can lead to emotional burnout, which in turn can cause you to shut down emotionally. If it’s too painful to care so much, you may find yourself pulling away from your loved one.

If you believe you’re over-caring as a result of heightened emotional empathy, these tips can help:

  • Try to separate your own feelings from those of the person in your care. Your personal life experiences may be coloring how you’re responding to the other person’s situation.
  • Talk with a mental health professional to help identify whether your response to your family member’s condition is cause for concern.
  • Think from a perspective of curiosity. Ask the person questions about their experience to better understand what they are thinking and feeling. At the same time, remind yourself not to try to “fix” anything.
  • Spend more time listening than formulating your own response when your loved one is speaking to you. This means shutting out your own thoughts so you can focus exclusively on what they are saying. It can help you avoid making assumptions or missing important pieces of information they want to share.

At Home Independent Living is here to help you avoid over-caring and better care for yourself, so in turn you can better care for the person you love, through customized services such as:

  • Transportation and accompaniment to appointments and fun outings
  • Companionship for conversations and entertaining activities
  • Light housekeeping, laundry, and meal prep
  • Grocery shopping and other errands
  • Assistance with personal hygiene needs like showers, baths, and getting dressed
  • And many others

Contact us at (315) 579-HOME (4663) to request a free in-home consultation to learn more about how home care can help both you and someone you love.