Empathy wear syndrome

Empathy is a quality that healthcare professionals need, Especially psychologists, but it can become a double-edged sword.

This quality is defined as the ability of a person to “put on another’s shoes”, to understand them better and to give them the advice best suited to their situation. It is important that psychologists have empathy; but, since it is a double-edged sword, its excessive application has repercussions on the stakeholder. In this article, we will talk about only one of these consequences, called empathy wear syndrome, As well as on its effects.

    What is empathy wear and tear?

    In recent years, there has been an increasing use of the term burnout to refer to someone already “exhausted” from so much work and stress. It is physical, mental and emotional exhaustion. It means it’s time to take a break and relax. This syndrome applies to anyone who has a job or is a student because they have a daily workload and are under stress.

    Something similar is happening in the health professions, especially with professionals who are in constant contact with patients who are going through or have had very stressful experiences. It is known as empathy fatigue syndrome or compassion fatigue, term proposed by psychologist Charles Figley within Psychotraumatology. It is a consequence of the emotional waste of dealing with people who have lived or are going through situations of trauma.


    The symptoms of this syndrome are divided into 3 groups.


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

      2. Avoidance and emotional jam

      Stress can build up session after session if you do not have the requisite emotional intelligence or if the patient situations you have to deal with are very strong, it can lead to emotional saturation, irritability and frustration. Avoidance in certain places, situations or people that remind you of the traumatic event. This can lead to isolation or neglect of interpersonal relationships.

      In the case of psychologists in charge of psychological first aid, this is due to the high exposure to risk factors during their work.

      3. hyperactivation or hyper excitation

      Constant feeling of fatigue, anxiety, guilt or shame. Problems sleeping, difficulty concentrating, panic, and extreme elation from small stimuli can also occur.

      Recommendations for dealing with this emotional crisis

      The syndrome can appear gradually or be sudden, like a bomb that depends only on the time it takes to explode. It is therefore important to learn to recognize the signs and symptoms in order to know when making the decision to take a break and implementing personal care guidelines. It is extremely important in giving therapy or treating patients that participants have good mental health.

      Here are some recommendations for stakeholder self-reliance:

      • Psychoeducational training for the development of resilience and tools to deal with the added stress of daily life associated with exposure to risk factors.

      • Practice relaxation or meditation techniques.
      • Perform leisure activities completely disconnected from work.
      • Know how to ask for help when you notice any abnormal symptoms.
      • Know the situations that trigger high levels of stress and lead to vulnerability.
      • Don’t overload the work nor with cases they know they will not be able to handle effectively.

      As healthcare professionals it is essential to recognize and accept that psychological support and a break from daily activities are also needed from time to time. The problem is that often a “double diary” is worn, no problem identifies abnormal symptoms in a patient, but that is not the case when it comes to oneself. This is why self-knowledge and the implementation of preventive self-care measures should be encouraged.

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