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Mind Matters | Suffering for others

Mind Matters | Suffering for others


I am a 35-year-old journalist and in my nearly 10-year-old career, I have reported on many disturbing and traumatic events. I have come across many individuals whose life stories have left me devastated. This has happened to me even while covering stories on animal cruelty. I think those incidents have deeply affected me emotionally and mentally. I find it difficult to do my job as a reporter these days. I empathize too much with the people whose stories I am covering. I feel like their traumas are my own and I don’t know how to separate my work from my personal life. Please help! 

—A worried journo

Answered by Krishangi, Psychologist, Happy Minds

As counselors to people with many kinds of troubles, we come across many stories that keep us up all night. But a teacher once told me: “Their problems are theirs, and yours are yours”. I understand your job requires you to connect with other people and listen to their stories. It is only normal to be affected by their tribulations. We humans empathize with the hardship and trauma of fellow humans. But if you take it too far, it will encroach on your personal life.

You must remember that their stories are not yours. You are your own individual self and you probably have your own set of problems to deal with.

You have to consciously separate yourself from the problems of other people when you are out reporting their stories. One thing you can do is reflect on what you know about the individuals you are talking to and how you can help them by telling their stories. Zoom out from whatever bad situations they might be going through and portray yourself as someone who can help them in a realistic way. 

Remind yourself constantly that your professional and personal lives are two different things. Mixing them up is the last thing you want to do. Learn to leave your work at office. 

To deal with the negative emotions you pick up from your work, you have to find an activity that helps you take them out of your system. If you are not yourself and you start getting affected by other people's sufferings and life stories, you will get burned out and worse, your career will take a hit. 

No, doing these things does not mean you are being selfish, or you do not care about other people. It simply means that you are protecting yourself as an individual.

So if you have interests like working out, or yoga, gardening, or anything you enjoy, you need to make time for them. Focus on growing as an individual.