#97: The Compassion Conundrum: Is Empathy to blame for our emotional burnout, and adjusting your experience through neuroplasticity. With Dr Olga Klimecki

Join us as we explore the concept of compassion fatigue from a fresh perspective. We take a closer look at the underlying mechanisms behind the terms commonly used when we talk about sustainable careers. While empathy and compassion are often used interchangeably, they are actually distinct concepts, and it’s not just a matter of semantics – it’s a matter of neurology, which has practical implications for you, your career, and your happiness. 

Dr Olga Klimecki is a neuroscientist, psychologist, and certified mindfulness and meditation teacher. She holds a PhD from the University of Zurich in Switzerland and is currently a lecturer and senior researcher at the Friedrich Schiller University of Jena in Germany. Her research focuses on advancing sustainable development goals related to peacebuilding, conflict resolution, socio-emotional education, and overall well-being. With over 70 publications to her name, Dr Klimecki’s work on neural plasticity and conflict resolution has earned her prestigious international awards, grants, and fellowships. Additionally, she runs her own consulting, training, and research company to implement evidence-based strategies in various organisations, start-ups, and companies.

During this conversation, we explore the nuances of empathy and compassion, highlighting their differences and learning why empathy can sometimes have negative consequences, and the term “compassion fatigue” might be a misnomer. We also learn how we can practically apply of this knowledge, explaining how you can rewire your brain to experience the hard things we sometimes need to do as positive experiences, rather than something painful and draining. 

Topic list:

6:02 Empathy and compassion. Are they the same thing?

13:52 The connection between empathy and prosocial behaviour.

17:39 Can we really change the way we empathise with others?

20:59 fMRI results from training compassionate and empathetic responses.

27:17 If compassion is good, then where does the term compassion fatigue come from?

29:13 Why empathy first, compassion next?

30:36 It’s not the compassion causing your fatigue… you are just fatigued.

32:16 How do we train compassion? Olga’s tips to train your brain.

39:03 The hardest part of meditation training.

41:39 Put out the welcome mat and notice your judgements.

44:34 Between a stimulus and a response, there is always a space.

47:03 Reflex responses and training ourselves out of them


Dr Olga’s Research Article: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25247366/


“One of the major sources of burnout is how you perceive the suffering of others.”

“It’s sometimes very healthy to withdraw and to set boundaries to protect yourself.”

“Overall, empathy boosts pro-social behaviour.”


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