Many leaders, coaches and others in the helping professions find meaning and joy in their work. They give so much of themselves to their work, and to the people they work with. And, they keep giving and giving. They absorb the stresses, frustrations, problems of their clients / co-workers. They become the sink everyone dumps into, and the pool from which everyone draws. Add to this, the additional responsibility of caring and looking after elderly or unwell parents, young children, spouse…
There comes a time (often sooner than later) when the pool starts to run dry! Compassion Fatigue (CF) sets in.
CF is the emotional and physical exhaustion that caregivers (that’s nearly everyone in the helping profession, or leadership position) develop. It’s not a question of if they develop it, but just a question of when. You cannot walk through water without getting wet – so why would you think that listening to the problems, stresses, emotional distresses of others will leave you unaffected? Through emotional, physical and psychic osmosis, we tend to absorb these energies into our own body and being.
The irony? The more we care, greater is the certainty we are likely to be overcome with CF. The danger is that we usually are not able to recognise it! Some symptoms include: losing energy, feeling dispirited, not being able to sleep well, binge eating or drinking, putting on weight, getting bitter, becoming short-tempered, feeling continual guilt and resentment at the never-ending demands and so on. The compassion fatigue trap is that the moment we start feeling any of these symptoms, we start to work harder and harder. Research shows that this vicious spiral leads to anxiety, depression, substance abuse, migraine, backaches, stress related illnesses and so on.
The root cause of CF is the fact that we CARE! It’s known as the ‘cost of caring’. It happens to those who do their work well! Our empathy towards others is the key contributor. In our wanting to help others, we forget one important stakeholder – ourselves! Self-care takes a back seat because we’re swept away with the demands of others. We don’t realise the toll that compassion fatigue takes on our own bodies, minds and hearts. So how do we deal with compassion fatigue?
The first step is to understand and realise that CF is something all of us can and will go through. Use self-awareness to track the symptoms that you might be going through. Focus on bringing in the most important stakeholder onto your care radar – yourself; start a self-care plan. Find a supportive network, partner, coach or coaching supervisor to help you minimise / manage the impact of CF.
If you care about your work and others – you don’t really have a choice; start caring about yourself too!
We’d be happy to work with you if you think you are at on the edge or in the depths of compassion fatigue. Email us on email@example.com.
Mathieu, F. (2012). The compassion fatigue workbook: Creative tools for transforming compassion fatigue and vicarious traumatization. New York: Routledge.
Figley, C. R. (2002). Introduction. In C. R. Figley (Ed.), Treating compassion fatigue. New York: Brunner-Routledge.