This question arose out of the question Excessive empathy, social cues and adaptive behavior evaluation whereby excessive empathy was considered to impair interpersonal relationships. My question is asking if you can actually have too much empathy.
Empathy, not to be confused with sympathy is
the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference, that is, the capacity to place oneself in another's position (Bellet & Maloney, 1991).
When empathising, you can actually feel the emotions the client is feeling, and you need to be able to compartmentalise these feelings by recognising that they are not yours to own. They are not your feelings, they are the client's feelings. In the psychological fields, they are there to help you to recognise congruency within the client (is the feeling the client expresses, the feeling the client should have?).
As I pointed out in my comment in Excessive empathy, social cues and adaptive behavior evaluation,
the need to break away at times is self-care
The moment you take on the feelings your client has, this is the moment where you are not exercising self-care.
Empathy is a necessity when working within the therapeutic environment and as Bellet & Maloney (1991) points out, it is important within the field of medicine. Therefore, self-care is paramount to practitioner wellbeing within the relevant fields, as I highlighted in my answer to Named conditions that are the result of exposure to psychopathic behavior of another person? to protect against instances of vicarious trauma caused by environmental psychological conditions.
When looking online, there is a PsychologyToday article (Reynolds, 2017) which proposes that you can have too much empathy but I have a problem following her train of thought on her hypothesis.
With empathy, you will feel their stress, anxiety, and anger in your body. You might feel their pain emotionally and physically. If you let these emotions sit in your body, your body and mind can be emotionally hijacked.
Unbridled empathy can lead to concentrations of the stress hormone cortisol, making it difficult to release the emotions. Taking on other people’s feelings so that you live their experience can make you susceptible to feelings of depression or hopelessness.
With this passage, there was a citation for:
Blaszczak-Boxe, A. (2017) Too much emotional intelligence is a bad thing. Scientific American Mind [Online] Retreived from: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/too-much-emotional-intelligence-is-a-bad-thing
My argument to Reynolds (2017) is that she is describing lack of self-care (lack of compartmentalisation), not excessive empathy, leading to mental health problems within the therapist.
Am I missing something or can there be such a problem as "excessive empathy"? If so, how much empathy is excessive and how would you be able to recognise this excess?
Bellet, P. S., & Maloney, M. J. (1991). The importance of empathy as an interviewing skill in medicine. Jama, 266(13), 1831-1832. doi: 10.1001/jama.1991.03470130111039
Reynolds, M. (2017). Too Much Empathy?: When empathy breaks instead of builds trust. PsychologyToday [Online] Retreived from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/wander-woman/201704/can-you-have-too-much-empathy