A new neuroscientific study shows that compassion training can help us cope with other people's distress.
Empathy can be painful. Or so suggests a growing body of neuroscientific research. When we witness suffering and distress in others, our natural tendency to empathize can bring us vicarious pain.
Is there a better way of approaching distress in other people? A recent study, published in the journal Cerebral Cortex, suggests that we can better cope with others’ negative emotions by strengthening our own compassion skills, which the researchers define as “feeling concern for another’s suffering and desiring to enhance that individual’s welfare.”
“Empathy is really important for understanding others’ emotions very deeply, but there is a downside of empathy when it comes to the suffering of others,” says Olga Klimecki, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Germany and the lead author of the study. “When we share the suffering of others too much, our negative emotions increase. It carries the danger of an emotional burnout.”