Saturday, 21 August 2010


A friend of mine gave me the book, "Man's search for meaning" written by Viktor E. Frankl a psychiatrist who writes of his struggle for survival in Aushwitz and other Nazi concentration camps.

My friend Carrie explained that I would enjoy the message in the book. The thing is I'm reading it, but each page leaves me feeling physically sick. I try saying to myself, "those people he's writing about are no longer suffering. It's over for them now, and isn't it good that he wrote this amazing testimony to human nature?"

As I read Frankl's words I think of the once strong men being weakened bit by bit with every lash of the whip, every morsel of food removed from them their bodies wasting away. An unimaginable environment created to inflict pain and suffering on humans - by humans.

I am going to persevere with the book, but it may take me a while as I can only manage 2 0r 3 pages at one sitting.

I've often wondered if the reason I can't read harrowing stories or watch "real life" movies that show extreme suffering, is because I over empathise with the people involved.

Interestingly, in my daily work I often hear incredibly sad stories from my clients and I am able to stay grounded and give them the support and guidance they need to help them deal with the issues facing them. I don't sit in floods of tears nor am I struggling to keep it together when they open up to me - far from it. I can certainly feel sadness for what they've been through, but somehow I feel really able to listen and give the support they need to re-gain their health and vitality.

Perhaps then my inability to read or watch human suffering is because I feel powerless, unable to help or save any of those people in desperate need, whereas in my professional capacity I can DO something to help stop a clients' suffering.

On a lighter note I remember watching TV a few years ago and as the tears flowed freely down my face Tina came in and said, " Oh Mum! What are you watching?!" Through my sniffles I said, "'s Groundforce."
"Groundforce?? GROUNDFORCE the gardening programme you mean?" Tina questioned.

"Yes! That woman is a nurse and she's just come home from her shift and found that they've completely transformed her garden into a beautiful place for her to sit and relax!"

"Okay," said Tina tentatively. "EMILY! come through and see this..Mum is crying at Groundforce!"

My girls weren't laughing at me (I don't think! ) but they were intrigued at the fact that a gardening programme provoked such an emotional response.
"Some people think only intellect counts: knowing how to solve problems, knowing how to get by, knowing how to identify an advantage and seize it. But the functions of intellect are insufficient without courage, love, friendship, compassion and empathy." - Dean Koontz


  1. I have had this over-empathising thing really badly, with some quite dire consequences, though it seems to be better once you know it's there. Where do you think it comes from?

  2. Hi Tamsin, I think it's worse when we feel we are powerless to help. So, when you notice you are over empathising it seems a bit better once you have awareness of it, maybe that awareness also helps you find a way to "do" something. So, I can give money to The Red Cross or to an appeal on TV when a disaster has struck, that helps a bit - but I am also aware that people will still be suffering and dying - and I can't stop that from happening. None of us can. In my opinion it's about maintaining our own reality and keeping a sense of balance about what is achievable. Probably feeling powerless at other times in our lives comes to the surface when we feel powerless to others' pain, resulting in us over empathising.

  3. You're very good at this! Sounds like a good explanation.