By in Random

Can Empathy Lead to Apathy?

I spend a fair amount of energy attempting to cajole others to become informed, to take part in causes near and dear to their hearts, to be active citizens by voting and keeping up with their elected officials. I do this because I firmly believe that in some small way, such activity and behavior will make a difference.

There have been times I've defended the apathetic, presenting what I felt were some reasons for the lack of concern about issues. I get that many individuals and families have all they can do to get through each day, to put food on the table, to find or keep a roof over their heads.

Never once did I imagine I might drift into apathy myself.

I find that at times I feel I can't possibly read another news article or listen to a news program. As much as I usually hunger for information, for learning about my fellow human beings around the world, sometimes I am simply overwhelmed.

I feel helpless to do much of anything of substance to take corrective action about even the smallest thing -- but when it comes to people, there really are no small things, are there?

My empathy works against me in times like this. I feel too much and internalize the hopelessness, injustices and despair.

I have an improved understanding of yet another reason why a person may become apathetic. I don't want to become that way, so I take a stand back, some deep breaths -- and push forward.

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by all this is going on in your town, your country, in the world? How do you handle it?

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Image Credit » Mike Sansone CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr

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bestwriter wrote on October 19, 2014, 8:37 AM

You can get satisfaction by doing little things and they add up to quite a bit.

SandraLPetersen wrote on October 19, 2014, 9:05 AM

An answer to your questions is yes. Yes I get overwhelmed by all of the suffering, pain and despair in our country and in this world. I don't like doing it but I start shutting out news that would make my insides churn with feelings of wanting to do something but not knowing what to do. It's important to step back for a period of time and restore yourself daily in order to continue to have empathy for those around you. Easier said than done.

Kasman wrote on October 19, 2014, 11:11 AM

It's like trying to hold back the tide. You can't really - all you can do is what you can do and when you can't do any more then take a break. No-one is above emotional fatigue and trying too hard leads down a path no-one really wants to go down, a path which will lead to overwhelming sadness. But, as SandraLPetersen says, that is easier said than done when we know that we can make a difference.

Scorpie wrote on October 19, 2014, 2:27 PM

I pick my battles carefully from items that I can predict the outcome. I help people within my sphere of influence where I can also be a support system afterward.

TheTalker wrote on October 19, 2014, 4:13 PM

Sometimes it is important to step away, take a break and focus on other things until you have dealt with these emotions.

alexdg1 wrote on October 19, 2014, 4:18 PM

I try to do as much as I can to be a good citizen (vote, pay taxes, don't abuse the "system), but there's only so much that I can do, y'know?

oldies909 wrote on October 19, 2014, 4:52 PM

Yes life is very over whelMing. So much to see and do.

Feisty56 wrote on October 19, 2014, 9:39 PM

Many times I would agree with you wholeheartedly, but sometimes the issues seem so numerous and so insurmountable that not only is action difficult, but thinking becomes almost paralyzed.

Feisty56 wrote on October 19, 2014, 9:41 PM

I'm sure that I am more easily frustrated than some at different issues. Deliberate unfairness/injustice and outright lies rankle me to no end.

Feisty56 wrote on October 19, 2014, 9:43 PM

Sandra, I have to do the same thing from time to time. I need the mental break from all of it for a short span of time. You're right -- it is easier said than done, but we are of no use if we can't keep our psyches refreshed from time to time.

Feisty56 wrote on October 19, 2014, 9:45 PM

No, we can't hold back the tide any more than a single one of us can right all the wrongs in the world. I have on occasion been reduced to tears with my frustration of it all. I do believe that each of us can make a bit of a difference in some things, but we cannot take on the world in total.

Feisty56 wrote on October 19, 2014, 9:48 PM

I try to help those who are closest to me in whatever way that I am able. It's the best place to begin, at least in my view. Sometimes, though, I feel as if I ought to do more in a wider context. That's where some of my writing comes in -- not to change anyone's mind about anything, but to perhaps inject a different perspective for consideration.

Feisty56 wrote on October 19, 2014, 9:51 PM

I'm sure you're right about this. For self-preservation I do take a break from the many issues. I become more physically active and focus on other creative outlets rather than writing.

Feisty56 wrote on October 19, 2014, 9:53 PM

Those things are very important, Alex -- and if more folks followed your example, I think our country would be better off. There is only so much any of us can do. My frustration is sometimes due to my feelings of impotence in making a difference in the many, many things always going on.

Feisty56 wrote on October 19, 2014, 9:54 PM

It can be overwhelming at times, I agree with you. I am fortunate to have a really great fella with whom I spend my Sundays. He helps me to see the bigger picture when I get on a rant and brings me back down to earth in a kind way.

bestwriter wrote on October 19, 2014, 9:55 PM

When you are not able to handle the issue it is best that you walk away from it and just send good wishes. There is no other way.

somedsatisfied wrote on October 20, 2014, 4:00 AM

I am a highly sensitive person so I do often feel overwhelmed if I don't take some time to desensitize and unwind from it all. I make time to do this regularly.

BarbRad wrote on October 20, 2014, 4:30 AM

I hear you. I can barely stand to watch or read the news anymore because I feel almost powerless to change things when it seems my elected officials are ignoring those they represent and the government seems to be more interested in making people think they are solving a problem than really solving it. When I'm overwhelmed, I pray. If there is something I can do, I try to do it. I also am doing what I can to change things on the local level where our voices have the best chance to be heard.

AliCanary wrote on October 20, 2014, 6:51 PM

Yes, burnout can be a big problem. One of the guys I used to volunteer with said that the average "lifespan" of a volunteer was two years. I've been with my animal rescue group for about 12 years, but I am not one of the more involved people, so that probably insulates me a lot.

paigea wrote on October 21, 2014, 10:13 PM

I figured out a long time ago that I have to do what I can for my family and then pick small things to do outside of my family. I will be no good to anyone if I take on too much. My parents were vere politically active and I enjoyed being involved with them. But life is just more overwhelming to me. I watch the news, then I quit watching the news and focus on doing what I can. I hope you can get your energy back.

Ruby3881 wrote on October 24, 2014, 11:07 AM

Do I get overwhelmed? Yes, quite often I suppose. Those of us who have opened our hearts and who have taken the time to really see what's going on around us can often see too much. At these times, it's easy to see any good we could potentially do as just a single drop in a leaky bucket. But we must live on, and so I allow myself to wallow a bit before I pick myself up, dust myself off, and carry on. A good cup of tea can help.

And sometimes a change of imagery helps too. So I try to focus on the ripples I create, rather than on filling a bucket that's losing water faster than anyone could possibly pump it out. Sometimes, if we're lucky, our ripples are wide enough that someone does come along and repair (or replace) that old bucket. Then suddenly our drops seem to do so much more good than ever before :)

Feisty56 wrote on October 24, 2014, 1:07 PM

I think that is a mentally healthy approach to keep from becoming completely overwhelmed or apathetic.

Feisty56 wrote on October 24, 2014, 1:42 PM

The powerlessness, is for me, central to my feelings of being overwhelmed. Even in praying I feel as if I can't pray enough or remember all the issues about which I have concerns to seek intervention.

Feisty56 wrote on October 24, 2014, 1:45 PM

Yes, between the bashing and the apparent indifference to actual facts, political races are a sham. Add to that the voter suppression laws going on in many places and it hardly seems worth the effort to go to the polling place. This is an area where I stand firm, however, because I am quite sure the plan of muckrakers is that people will abstain from voting. Not me; I check out everything I am able to and make my decision based on that info.

Feisty56 wrote on October 24, 2014, 1:48 PM

I can feel within myself when burnout is about to strike because the tone of my thoughts and words are more of those of disdain and anger, rather than gathering information and trying to see how I might become a part of the solution.

Twelve years as a volunteer at the animal rescue group? That is awesome. There must be some feelings of accomplishment there, even one animal at a time.

Feisty56 wrote on October 24, 2014, 1:50 PM

I agree with you -- starting with the people we love and care about is the most important and likely the most valuable contribution we can make. I do that, too, but sometimes still feel useless in the scheme of things.

Feisty56 wrote on October 24, 2014, 1:51 PM

On most days, I agree that even our drops make a ripple some where or in some one's mind and heart. That is what keeps me going.