A Severe Case of Empathy

Good morning Mr Burt.

Good morning Doctor.

What can I do for you?

Well, you see I think I might have …. because recently I’ve noticed, especially when a client is troubled that I seem to … well what I mean is that it’s …. it’s hard to discuss …. especially for a man.

Please, I am not easily shocked. Perhaps you could just tell me what the problem is

OK – I’ll just say it – sometimes when I am with a coaching client I think … no, I feel…. well I just know exactly what they are feeling! It’s uncanny! Have I got empathy?

Mmm. That doesn’t sound like empathy to me. More like telepathy.

But I don’t believe in telepathy.

Nor do I.

So am I delusional?

Perhaps. Are there other symptoms?

Well it’s all rather confusing. I don’t always feel that way. Sometimes, I listen but what they say just doesn’t affect me. It’s like I really don’t care.

That sounds more like apathy.

Yes, maybe it is.

And other times they say things that are outrageous, that just can’t be true. And I feel quite cross.

Mm. Some sort of antipathy you mean?

Yes, exactly.

But I can get over that, and shift my apathy, and then I just feel so sorry for them.

Different again – that’s a tell-tale sign of sympathy.

It’s so difficult. Telepathy, apathy, antipathy, sympathy, empathy – I don’t know what to think or feel.

Tell me. Do you have good days when you feel right in yourself and relaxed about what you are feeling even though your client is troubled?

Yes, I guess so.

So what are the symptoms on those days?

It’s not so much symptoms, it’s just that I am moved emotionally by my client and I get that they are going through a tough time. And they can see that I get it. I don’t pretend to know exactly how it is for them. But they know I am o.k. walking alongside them and sitting with them. And somehow they know that I might have experienced something similarly challenging in my life and come through it. I feel myself responding to them with compassion, although I have no idea what the right way forward is for them. But whatever they choose, I’ll support them, listen and stay resourceful.

That does sound like empathy to me.

Oh, I knew it! Is there a cure?

Unfortunately not. But you can live with it well if you look after yourself. Mindfulness helps. Exercise is good. Diet matters. And the odd glass of wine on a Friday night is worth trying. And remember, just like me sometimes, you can’t fix another person. Does that sound ok?

Yes, that’s fine. Thank you Doctor – it actually sounds really good.

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