Are you an empathetic person? A lot of people will answer that question positively. No one likes to admit that they’re selfish or that they can’t understand the emotions of others. Then there are those people who simply don’t realize they aren’t good at identifying situations that require an empathetic response.

The definition of empathy is understanding another person’s feelings about a situation by looking at it from their point of view. Empathy then means stepping forward and providing some assistance in an attempt to move that person out of a negative emotional situation.

By the way, this isn’t always the right response when you notice someone struggling emotionally.

Just because you can put yourself in someone else’s shoes doesn’t mean you should act. You don’t owe anyone your empathy. That may sound cold. We’re not encouraging you to stand by and let someone suffer. We’re just saying that some individuals in certain situations should be left to their own devices.

Imagine the following scenario:

You have a friend who’s always causing problems. In your group of friends, this person brings people down and seems to go out of his way to harm relationships and cause emotional damage. You might wonder what’s going on in his life and why he acts this way.

Wanting to help this person is admirable. He’s a friend, so you might want to talk to him about his actions. In many cases, this type of person isn’t going to respond positively to you or anyone else pointing out what you see as negative behavior.

Here’s another time when empathy might not be the best course of action:

You Don’t Take Care Of Yourself First

Do you know anyone like this? Everyone says she’s the most wonderful person. She’s selfless. Maybe she’s always volunteering at a charity or a homeless shelter. She’s that caring person who is so empathetic that she’s always bringing home another stray dog or cat.

Those are wonderfully selfless actions. The problem is that sometimes these people go out of their way to find situations where they can respond with empathy. They place the world’s problems ahead of their own. They don’t take care of themselves physically. Finances and relationships suffer because of their constant empathy.

Being empathetic is beautiful. It means you have a kind soul. Know when to treat yourself with empathy instead of suffering in some way because you’re always taking care of others.

Empathy Can Give You Tunnel Vision

Here’s what sometimes happens. You find someone in a desperate situation. You respond with empathy because that’s who you are. You identify their emotional distress and provide assistance in some way. That’s beautiful.

Sometimes when this happens, you can put on blinders. All you see is that person needing assistance over and over and over. You develop a sort of focused vision on that person’s problems, and on nobody else. The result is that you become pushy and the person feels you’re smothering them with your good intentions.

They also might think your constant attention means you believe you’re better than them. Neither one of these outcomes is what you were trying to produce, but things turned out that way despite your best efforts.

Empathy can be a wonderful thing. It can also be the wrong response. Use the situations we just discussed to see if you’re possibly turning to empathy when there’s a better response.