A new study from Northwestern University and University of British Columbia found a link between parental empathy and health problems.
The study recognizes empathy as good for kids and parents but also associated it with higher systemic inflammation.
“They’re almost like a sponge,” said Christina Jimenez, licensed marriage and family therapist with Doorways in Phoenix. “Absorbing everything that the child is going through and making it their own issue.”
It’s different than having the boundary to say, “This is about my child; this is not about me,” she said.
“When parents empathize with their child they’ll attempt to find closeness or help them through an emotional experience,” Jimenez said. “There are basically feeling with their child.”
On one end of a given spectrum there may be parents who have an inability to understand an issue is about the child and not about them.
“On the opposite end of that spectrum would be a parent who rarely listens to what is important to the child and rarely empathizes to the child,” Jimenez said.
A healthy and functional boundary for parents is typically somewhere in the middle, she said.
“Having what I call a plexiglass wall up,” Jimenez said. “Where they’re there, they’re being seen, (and) the parent is helping the child be heard.”