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The syndrome of attrition by empathy

The syndrome of attrition by empathy

August 12, 2022

Empathy is a quality that is necessary in health professionals , especially psychologists, but this one can become a double-edged sword.

This quality is defined as the ability of one person to "put oneself in the shoes" of another, to understand it better and to give him the most appropriate advice for his situation. It is important that psychologists have empathy; however, given that it is a double-edged sword, applying it in excess brings repercussions for the intervener. In this article we will talk about just one of these consequences, called empathy syndrome , as well as its effects.

  • Related article: "Empathy, much more than putting oneself in the place of the other"

What is empathy wear?

In recent years the use of the term burnout has been increasing to refer to a person who is already "burned" by both work and stress. It is a physical, mental and emotional exhaustion . It means that it's time to take a break and relax. This syndrome applies to anyone who has a job or is a student, since they have a daily workload and are subject to stress.

Something similar happens in the health professions, especially with those professionals who are in constant contact with patients who are or have suffered highly stressful experiences. It is known as wasting syndrome due to empathy or compassion fatigue, term proposed by the psychologist Charles Figley within the Psychotraumatology . It is a consequence of the emotional residue of dealing with people who have or are going through trauma situations.


The symptoms of this syndrome are divided into 3 groups.

1. Reexperimentation

An unresolved traumatic experience associated with the patient's conflict may arise. Rumination of thought about an event and flashbacks appears .

  • Maybe you're interested: "Rumination: the annoying vicious circle of thought"

2. Affectionate avoidance and numbing

Stress can accumulate session after session if you do not have the emotional intelligence required or the situations of patients who have to deal with are very strong, this can cause emotional saturation, irritability, and frustration. Avoidance of certain places, situations or people that remind you of the traumatic event. It can lead to the isolation or neglect of interpersonal relationships.

In the case of the psychologists in charge of providing Psychological First Aid, it is due to the high exposure to risk factors during their work.

3. Hyperarousal or hyperarousal

Feeling of fatigue, anxiety, feelings of guilt or constant shame . There may also be problems sleeping, difficulty concentrating, panic and extreme exaltation by small stimuli.

Recommendations to manage this emotional crisis

The syndrome may appear progressively or it may be sudden, like a pump that only depends on the time it ends to burst. Therefore it is important to learn to recognize the signs and symptoms to be able to know when to make the decision to take a break and implement self-care guidelines . It is extremely important to give therapy or deal with patients, that the participants have good mental health.

Some recommendations for the self-care of the interveners are:

  • Psychoeducational training for the development of resilience and tools to deal with stress added to the daily routine of being exposed to risk factors.
  • Have relaxation or meditation techniques.
  • Perform leisure activities completely disconnected from work.
  • Know how to ask for support as soon as you notice abnormal symptoms.
  • Know the situations that trigger high levels of stress and lead to vulnerability.
  • Do not overload yourself with work nor with cases that they know they can not handle effectively.

As health professionals it is essential to recognize and accept that psychological support and a break from daily activities is also needed from time to time. The problem is that many times a "double agenda" is carried, without problem the abnormal symptomatology is identified in any patient but this is not the case when it comes to oneself. That is why we must promote self-awareness and the implementation of preventive self-care measures.

Ivan Throne | The Dark Triad Man | Full Length HD (August 2022).

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