New York Times: Energetic Boundaries Very Important.
Well, that’s kind of what they said
A recent op-ed in the New York Times caught my attention because it dealt with an issue dear to my heart and work: healthy energetic boundaries. Well, sort of. Overtly, it dealt with how many people feel helpless in the face of the magnitude of suffering in the world. The author describes how this can result in what appears to be apathy at first but is really empathic distress. Empathic distress means “hurting for others while feeling unable to help.” And at the heart of this is how we are often tripped up by empathy and compassion and conflate the two. The article is titled “That Numbness You’re Feeling? There’s a Word for It” by Adam Grant.1
Notably, he cites the the research of neuroscientists Olga Klimecki and Tania Singer* who identified that empathy can be part of the problem. The older term compassion fatigue is a “misnomer.” Compassion and empathy have hugely different impacts on our bodies and psyches. Empathy often creates “more distress.” Compassion is witnessing and (when possible/appropriate, etc.) being willing to help. Empathy is taking on others’ pain as our own.
It is a huge distinction.
This is some of the same research I used in creating Shining Bright Without Burning Out: Spiritual Tools for Creating Healthy Energetic Boundaries in an Overconnected World.
Decreasing Empathic Distress
For those of you who have been in an Energy Ecosystem class with me sometime in the last decade or have downloaded the self-paced Shining Bright Without Burning Out course/audiobook, you know. The distinction between empathy and compassion is one of the first things we cover!
Being unable to adjust between compassion and empathy is a big reason why so many of us feel drained and overwhelmed. (In addition to all the things that are actually happening, of course.)
I know this article is behind a paywall, so apologies if you don’t have access to the article directly. The research* (see below for a few citations from these researchers) is important inspiration to my work and perfectly aligns with the spiritual concepts of energetic boundaries I’d been taught and have been teaching for many years before knowing about Klimecki and Singer’s work. We have reached a tipping point with empathic distress. It is a crisis within the crises.
If you want manageable tools to implement what the research has shown, one option is to download the course. Meditation practices that focus on compassion help and some are included in Shining Bright. The course also going deeper into individual archetypes, guided meditations, creating relationships with spiritual allies, and tools tailored to who you are uniquely in the world.
Here is an article I wrote some years back related to this: Healing Empathic Overload: Shamanism and Energetic Boundaries. which can give you an idea of why I find this work so personally important and how it has played out with some clients.
Book a session if you want one-on-one guidance as you work through the material or navigate being yourself in our intense world.
Wishing You a Peaceful Heart,
@2024 Mara Bishop Whole Spirit LLC
1 Grant, A (2024). That Numbness You’re Feeling? There’s a Word for It. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2024/01/01/opinion/israel-war-empathy-pain.html
*a few papers for reference
Klimecki, O., & Singer, T. (2012). Empathic distress fatigue rather than compassion fatigue? Integrating findings from empathy research in psychology and social neuroscience. In B. Oakley, A. Knafo, G. Madhavan, & D. S. Wilson (Eds.), Pathological altruism (pp. 368–383). Oxford University Press.
Klimecki, O., Leiberg, S., Lamm, C., & Singer, T. (2013). Functional neural plasticity and associated changes in positive affect after compassion training. Cerebral Cortex, 23(7), 1552–1561. https://doi.org/10.1093/cercor/bhs142
New York Times: Energetic Boundaries Very Important