Empath Fatigue: When Nice People Stop Being So Nice

Empath Fatigue (also known as Compassion Fatigue or Vicarious Stress Disorder) is a stress-related condition in which you stop being able to empathise with people due to the fact you have introjected other people’s stress and traumas for far too long. Your eagerness to help and be an active listener is substituted by overwhelm, exhaustion, depression, anxiety or even tearfulness for no apparent reason. You feel confused and most of all guilty for not being able to keep giving to other people as you used to. It’s like you are not you anymore, and you don’t even understand why. You just know something is not right and people who are on the receiving end start complaining about your lack of attention and giving.

It is not unusual for empaths, highly intuitives and codependents to reach such state of exhaustion. People who are in helping professions are also familiar with it. It’s a scary experience because there is a moment in time in which you simply stop feeling at all. Whatever people tell you doesn’t make any sense and, worst of all, you don’t care. You feel nothing. Your cup has ran out. In fact, there’s no cup anymore, you managed to smash it and whatever you try to put in flows out. Unless you glue yourself back together, you won’t be able to return to your empathic nature. Weird, right? It’s real though.

WorthlessnessFrustrationHeadachesLack of empathy
TearfulnessBrain fogExhaustionWithdrawal
Signs of Empath Fatigue

For me, reality started to become unmanageable in early December. Work was not going well and there was not much positivity around me to hold on to. I tried to stay afloat but I failed. I stopped running and I started binge eating to cope with stress. I caught myself thinking many times about who would bring me some good news to make up for the stress around me. I guess the number one problem of an empath is the lack of control over what one absorbs from other people and places. Most people listen to each other stories and then go ahead with their day. I don’t think this is true for an empath. Stories and people’s energies remain with us, if we don’t have a good buffering system in place.

I didn’t ask to be an empath. If I knew how to completely shield myself from other people’s suffering, don’t you think I would? I wonder whether people have any idea of what is like to go around everyday and carry what’s mine and what isn’t, because I also have a life and I’m not conscious all the time. Do you think you might get the flu every time someone sneezes? Wrong example in the epoch we live in, but I hope you got my point. We didn’t use to think we would get sick when someone sneezed around us. I don’t think I’m going to be overwhelmed by other people’s complains weeks-on-end either.

Then there is this thing called boundaries which might well be the number two problem of empaths. We erroneously think people have the same sensitivity and level of consciousness to know when enough is enough. How can they, if we don’t even know where the line is. We worry that by putting boundaries or saying no, we will hurt other people’s feelings and the truth is that people who push our buttons to the limit are those who also know no boundaries. Like attract like, isn’t it? If you struggle to establish boundaries, you will end up attracting people who know no limits and who violate your sacred being, which wasn’t protected in the first place by the lack of clear boundaries.

Reduce stress factorsMeditationEat healthy foods
Sleep as much as you needLearn about boundariesReach a friend who can help build you up
Increase physical activityEngage with activities that reconnect you with who you areSeek professional help
Strategies do Manage Empath Fatigue

Are people who do such thing evil? Of course not. At least, I want to believe they are not. Empaths don’t settle boundaries just because they are saints either. The common problem is that both givers and takers know nothing about themselves and have no strong sense of individuality. They don’t know where they start and they don’t know where they end. At the end of the day, the issue lies in the fact that people don’t know themselves enough to draw the line of their own being. Givers never reach beyond the line and takers go way over the line. The story we tell ourselves is also very simple: givers are the martyrs and takers the perpetrators, until a day comes in which givers flip out due to exhaustion. Then givers become the beast and takers the victim. Same old story of good and evil.

I’m currently working through a book called Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No, written by Dr Henry Cloud and Dr John Townsend. I honestly didn’t know I had such a big problem with establishing boundaries up to the moment I read the first chapter of this book which describes how a day without boundaries looks like. That’s when I realised I was having days, weeks, months and even years with no boundaries at all, or at least when I needed them the most. Thanks to this book, it became clear to me that I have always been afraid of setting limits and then be perceived as unloving, selfish and a really bad person. You will be perceived like that – or worse – when you get to Empath Fatigue and be totally depleted to give back to people, so why not put your wellbeing first like everyone else seems to do? And, please, don’t fall for other people’s guilt trap. It’s your job to take care of you and sometimes that means you will upset people, so maybe it’s better that you upset them without reaching a boiling point.


  1. This is so relatable, yet I learned a lot about myself from reading it too. Thank you for sharing this, you’re right, there is this binary we often work with ( ‘good and evil’) and I’ve found it helps so much to acknowledge the gray area… thank you:)

    Liked by 1 person

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