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Perspective: When Empathy Evaporates


Eighteen months into the pandemic, our country still hasn’t found equilibrium with the no longer so very “new” normal. In fact, folks seem to be having a few more public “come aparts” about things than a year ago.

Our emotional resources are less plentiful today than they were back when summer brought a decline in COVID cases and an increase in hope that the worst was behind us. But numbers ticked back up and anti-mask/anti-vax sentiment continued to spread like the virus itself. It can be hard to feel compassion for folks who seem to be choosing risk over safety – of self and others. You can see evidence of this all around.

If you’re finding yourself short on “caring capacity,” please know that you’re normal. You may be feeling Compassion fatigue, which comes from exposure to trauma, and the past 18 months have been one long national trauma. Or it might be Pandemic Burnout. That’s an exhaustion that’s physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual. Compassion fatigue hits us with a wallop, and we suddenly realize just how overwhelmed we are. Burnout is more of a cumulative, slow burn that saps the enthusiasm and joy we feel for life bit by bit.

If you’ve lost your compassion or empathy for others, and you feel ready to shut out the world, please take these feelings seriously. Reach out to a caring and supportive person or a professional helper. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed, but it’s not okay to let yourself suffer. When you feel you can no longer care for or about others, it’s a clear sign that it’s past time to care for yourself.

I’m Suzanne Degges-White and that’s my perspective.

Chair and Professor - NIU counseling and higher education