Sensitivity, Empathy and Compassion Fatigue — What Can You Do?

photo courtesy of Anne Allanketner
photo courtesy of Anne Allanketner

“…Compassion hurts. When you feel connected to everything, you also feel responsible for everything. And you cannot turn away. Your destiny is bound with the destinies of others. You must either learn to carry the Universe or be crushed by it. You must grow strong enough to love the world, yet empty enough to sit down at the same table with its worst horrors. To seek enlightenment is to seek annihilation, rebirth, and the taking up of burdens. You must become prepared to touch and be touched by every thing in heaven and hell.”

(from Daily Afflictions: The Agony of Being Connected to Everything in the Universe by Andrew Boyd)

This would be you. Am I right? Connected to everything in the universe? With your super-sensitivity, empathy and compassion and your capacity to perceive more, question more and feel more?

I’m guessing that you could probably do with a little less more-ness. A little less super-sensitivity-empathy-compassion. But it’s who you are. You’re stuck with it. And, yes, we need you. We need you. This planet needs its rainforest minds.

So. Are there any advantages to being able to “feel connected to everything?” And, how do you get through each day on the roller coaster of annihilation and rebirth?


You’re not alone. Because you’re actually a part of everyone and everything. Rethink your loneliness. Your connectedness allows you to know you’re a part of the mysterious magical whole. Tune into the magic.

Your connectedness is your superpower. Opening to it, softening around it, welcoming it will bring more insight, intuition and creativity into your life and onto the planet. And, yes, there will be sorrow. Welcome it. Feeling the sorrow will bring more insight, intuition and creativity into your life and onto the planet. Believe it.

How to get through each day:

Find ways to know and express your deepest self. Whether through an art form, a physical outlet, a nature experience, a spiritual practice, a nonprofit, or a career path. Don’t wait any longer.

Turn your rage and despair into art. Dance it. Paint it. Write it. Sing it.

Limit your exposure to the news. Read novels instead of the comments on Facebook.

Get support from other humans who have rainforest minds. Know your limits and set boundaries when needed. Just because you’re capable, doesn’t mean that you have to take care of everyone.

Nourish your sense of humor. Snarkiness, silliness, reading Calvin and Hobbes and binge watching Jon Stewart can be beneficial.

And, from Lin-Manuel Miranda, words to soothe your sweet sensitive soul:

“…When senseless acts of tragedy remind us /That nothing here is promised, not one day. /This show is proof that history remembers/ We lived through times when hate and fear seemed stronger;/ We rise and fall and light from dying embers, remembrances that hope and love last longerAnd love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside./ I sing Vanessa’s symphony, Eliza tells her story/ Now fill the world with music, love and pride.”


To my dearest bloggEEs: How do you manage your sensitivity and empathy? How do you stay compassionate in such a tumultuous world? Share your experiences, thoughts and feelings with us. We’re listening.

Book release update: My book is scheduled for release June 27, 2016! Details are here.



Author: Paula Prober

I’m a psychotherapist and consultant in private practice based in Eugene, Oregon. I specialize in international consulting with gifted adults and parents of gifted children. I’ve been a teacher and an adjunct instructor at the University of Oregon and a frequent guest presenter at Oregon State University and Pacific University. I’ve written articles on giftedness for the Eugene Register-Guard, the Psychotherapy Networker, Advanced Development Journal and online for psychotherapy dot net, Rebelle Society, Thrive, Introvert Dear, and Highly Sensitive Refuge. My first book, Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth, is a collection of case studies of gifted clients along with many strategies and resources for gifted adults and teens. My second book, Journey Into Your Rainforest Mind: A Field Guide for Gifted Adults and Teens, Book Lovers, Overthinkers, Geeks, Sensitives, Brainiacs, Intuitives, Procrastinators, and Perfectionists is a collection of my most popular blog posts along with writing exercises for self-exploration and insight.

29 responses to “Sensitivity, Empathy and Compassion Fatigue — What Can You Do?”

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  6. Genealogy Jen Avatar
    Genealogy Jen

    Thank you for sharing this Paula. Exactly what I needed today.

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    […] Sensitivity, Empathy and Compassion Fatigue – What Can You Do?  Your Rainforest Mind […]

  9. Taylor Avatar

    I have just stumbled upon your blog and am loving reading all the articles you post. I was identified as gifted at 9 years old after a teacher told my mother I should get assessed by a psychologist. I was bullied and not happy at all. However apart from moving schools and going to a specialized class (which singled me out) I did not receive any additional support or counseling. To be fair, I didn’t want it. I wanted to be the same as everyone else. I couldn’t be that smart, I was only reading as a 16 year old… My maths was on par with my age. This need to be the same has backfired on me now, as my parents pushed my giftedness aside and never spoke of it again. Now as a 22 year old woman, I am about to finish a midwifery degree. I am so passionate about it, and feel as though I am challenged, while also able to help people. I have been reading this article while feeling particularly alone and that nobody will ever quite ‘get me’. It’s good to know there are people out there with similar experiences. In relation to this particular article, I would love to be able to find a way to fight the fatigue without having to withdraw myself socially, I seem to get criticized when I do this to ‘reset’. The current coping method is to have a nap every day, which obviously is not sustainable long term. Hopefully one day I will finally not feel embarrassed to go and seek additional support!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Hi Taylor. Glad to have you with us. Perhaps you’ll feel more and more able to be yourself as you see your experiences reflected in my blog. It sounds like you might also be an introvert. Have you heard of Susan Cain and her book Quiet? You might want to check her out.

      1. Taylor Avatar

        I haven’t but I definitely will, thanks! I’ll be continuing to read as you post from now on I think!

  10. Gabi Montoya-Eyerman Avatar
    Gabi Montoya-Eyerman

    Sometimes the fatigue is from trying to do and be everything for everyone, that gifted curse of thinking we can help and love the world and then our human limitation and physical body reminds us and we crash down and live in a fog of confusion and wonder who cut our wings off and how dare my body get tired! To know when to stop and rest is a thing I have not figured out yet, since I push and push and go and help and do and run and go because we know the crash will come and keep going, don’t let it catch us! must. keep. going.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Gabi. Stopping and resting are so important!! Remember that if you’re exhausted, you’ll be so much less effective than if you take care of yourself. Self-care will also be good modeling for your kids!

  11. Mark V Avatar
    Mark V

    I am alone, once again. Chronically poor, living in the most down-and-out part of town where hundreds of homeless people are scattered about on the streets among the trash that blows around like the tumbleweeds in a dusty old western movie.

    Many of the homeless here are the beautiful people who expertly and harmoniously lived on this land for at least 12,000 years. Anyone who has lived here and experienced the harsh environment and the weather extremes must marvel at how any people could live here for very long without modern technology, let alone thrive for thousands of years on their wits alone. Still, in little over 200 years these incredible people have come to be tossed aside, and to be considered by many to be lazy, stupid and of little more value than the trash that needs to be swept off the streets and away from sight. (There is evidence that a form of PTSD is passed down from generation to generation making such people more vulnerable in the present, but perhaps that is for another discussion).

    Living here is a daily reminder that in this modern era, an era that is widely believed to be the apex of mankind’s’ evolution and achievements, is nevertheless still guilty of considering many humans as being less valuable — less HUMAN — than others, people whose lives are unwillingly sacrificed so that others may easily acquire their “2.1 kids, their picket fence and their couch-grass in suburbia” as my high-school English professor often said to gently chide the insensitivity and assumed entitlement of my fellow students.

    I struggled for 30 years to get to grips with why I could never fulfill even an eyedropper of my potential, and I tried many, many solutions. The only thing that was a constant over that time was the belief that there is somehow a spiritual connection to be made, not just for my sake but for others.

    I now believe that had my life continued on that upward trajectory that it was on when I was a young man, I may never have considered becoming an activist or a spokesman for the less empowered and the invisible, because I would not be able to relate to them. Long-term suffering has a way of doing that. It takes the rose-colored glasses off and forces you to look at the world the way it really is, to think in real, concrete terms of “what is wrong with my/this world”, and most importantly, “what do I need to do to help fix it?”

    This is an insane world that cannibalizes human lives to feed itself — and now it appears it is feeding on humanity itself — and while I used to harbor hope that being positive was going to change it, I no longer do. I am very angry but that’s ok. It makes me want to DO things. Change things. Change MYSELF to be the most empowered, effective person I can.

    Honestly the responsibility and pressure scares the crap out of me. But don’t tell anyone.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Your secret is safe with us, Mark. I hope we can provide some of the support you need to DO things.

  12. staciemooney Avatar

    I go through short waves in times like these. It knocks me down and I get up pretty quickly, empowered and energized, only to be knocked down again. My biggest issue is not with the horrific tragedy, not to minimize it in the least, it hurts my heart beyond measure, but the way our society has responded just blows me away. That’s what I can’t make sense of. That’s the part that knocks me off my feet. I feel like I can see so clearly the missteps and injustices of the world. Then I feel empowered to help change peoples’ thinking. Of course, that turns overwhelming and seems impossible which takes me back to that dark gloomy place. I feel like I’ve been on this desperate search to find my place in this world where I can actually make a difference and it is completely alluding me. So I stay on this rollercoaster. 🙂

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Don’t give up the search, stacie. You’ll find your place.

  13. Lucinda Leo Avatar
    Lucinda Leo

    I feel so fortunate to have found a spiritual path (via the work of Esther Hicks) that allows me to use my sense of connectedness to uplift (myself and the world). My beliefs give me enormous optimism about humanity and the future of the Earth. From this place of knowing that All is Well I feel empowered, rather than paralysed by anxiety and empathy – and in my empowerment I can make the most difference. I would love for every other sensitive soul to find their own personal path to empowerment.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Lucinda. This is great news. Can you give us a link or title that’s you’ve found particularly helpful? I used to read some of Esther Hicks’ work but it was years ago. Is she still writing? Thank you!

      1. Lucinda Leo Avatar
        Lucinda Leo

        Paula, I’m always a bit nervous mentioning that I follow Esther’s work so I really appreciated your kind reply to my comment. 🙂 Tbh all her books say pretty much the same thing, but I for one never tire of hearing that all is well and that my only work is to get my place into a place of wellbeing! One of my favourites (probably because of the title) is “The Astonishing Power Of Emotions: Let Your Feelings Be Your Guide”. There’s a ton of her work on YouTube, too, and I listen to her meditations every day – have done for years since they came out, and again, never tire of hearing. (The meditations are available on a CD or an app called “Abraham Hicks Vortex of Attraction Guided Meditations.”) I know everyone’s different, but it’s so good to find something that works for me!

        1. Paula Prober Avatar
          Paula Prober

          I totally understand why you’d hesitate but I think it’s important to provide a variety of resources to readers. And I’ve found the writing to be quite helpful. I know it’s not for everyone. 🙂

  14. Walther Ligtvoet Avatar
    Walther Ligtvoet

    I do not seem to be managing it at all. I’m actually tired.. mentally.. of feeling too much, caring too much.. and not taking care of myself as I should be doing. I feel drained of all my energy. For me, at this moment, my giftedness is a curse. Sometimes it just is. Other moments it may be wonderful, empowering and a true gift. But those moments seem to be far away for the time being.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      These are certainly difficult times, Waither. Thank you for telling us what’s up for you right now. Sending hugs your way.

  15. Whitechalk Avatar

    “Your connectedness is your superpower.” I wish I believed this. If people who grieve only for the victims in Orlando, or the Syrian refugees, or the any other group, could appreciate the pain suffered by those who grieve deeply for every victim everywhere, they would have some insight into the depth of compassion felt by the rainforest mind. If only those vigils, those blood drives, those charitable donations brought comfort to everyone. For me, connectedness is a super-burden, and we can spend a lifetime “expressing” it without feeling the burden lift measurably. We all develop coping skills, but the burden can be challenging to manage. As for “you are not alone, rethink your loneliness,” I think that’s more of a prayer or a mindset than a truth or a deed. Someone just asked me whether “boundaries” is some kind of legal term (I’m a lawyer), they just didn’t get why I was setting them to protect myself from people like them. Sigh. The level of ignorance out there is so scary. (Don’t even get me started on what Trump does to rainforests.) If we’re not truly alone, if our superpower could truly guide us to a better place, and if you’re right about “feeling the sorrow,” there may indeed be a way out there somewhere. But the journey can be exhausting, and I’m not sure any superpower could ever lighten that load. Nice try though, Paula!!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Sending you love, love, love, Whitechalk. Thank you for sharing.

  16. Megan Schell Avatar
    Megan Schell

    Paula, are you inside my soul? I am so very tired. I’ve reached a moment where I physically cannot be as involved and compassionate as my heart and mind drive me to be. It’s maddening. If I’m honest, there is an adrenaline rush when I involve myself in empathic work/relationships that I crave, but end up reducing me to lethargy. It’s a paradox. As Paul the Apostle wrote, ‘I do what I do not want to do, and do not do that which I want to do. (paraphrase)’ I believe it may be simple burn out. But there aren’t any helping professionals I know that would know how to ‘treat’ this. Perhaps an intuitive therapist like yourself.

    All that to say, I resonate deeply with your words. Currently, I’m taking life very, very, painfully slow as a means of self-care.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      “painfully slow as a means of self-care” Make sense to me! Thanks, Megan.

  17. Charmaine Coimbra Avatar
    Charmaine Coimbra

    I don’t know my level of giftedness, but I do know my level of empathy and sensitivity. These times are not easy for the sensitive person. Personally, reported events and circumstances on the news (of which I am a news junky and probably why becoming a reporter and writer spoke to me from an early age) flattened me out with a massive stress headache for days on end. I shut down the television, read only the comics, and made limited visits to social media. i worked on a large writing project, learned more about my camera and how to maximize art out of it, meditated, and restarted my piano lessons. It took a deep tissue massage and all of the above to quell the stress. So you post is timely. Thanks.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thanks, Charmaine. These sound like good strategies.

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