What You Need to Know About Compassion Fatigue

Hey there, wonderful helper! I have created this space for Helping Professionals because we have our own very important set of needs. We are in the business of helping others in a way that expands beyond the occasional favor, shoulder-to-lean-on, and helping hand that others provide. 

If you are like me, you share a piece of yourself with each and every person that you work with. You give in immeasurable ways: with your time, with your mind, with your energy, with your soul. The question I often get asked from my sensitive clients is "don't you ever get tired of hearing about everyone else's problems?" and from my closest friends and family "doesn't it ever wear on you?"

The answer put simply is yes, of course it does! This is why I have developed a dynamic and plentiful set of self-care habits that help me to offset the constant giving. I put just as much energy into giving back to myself, into recharging my batteries, and keeping my cup full so I can then give the best to others.

What is compassion fatigue?

There are limitations to the compassion that we give as professional helpers. If you have not heard of compassion fatigue, it is essentially being too overworked, overwhelmed, and overstressed to fully be present and compassionate helpers. This often occurs when we neglect good self-care practices for ourselves, when we lack support from others, or when we have reached the dreaded point of burn out.

Compassion fatigue can set in when we have internalized the negative conflicts of those we help or when we experience the trauma of others in the most empathic way: by feeling it ourselves. Sources on this syndrome indicate that it goes deeper than normal stress. It can actually impact our ability to truly help others, to see positivity and hope. 

In having that negative experience of our own, we are less likely to feel fulfilled in our work and are less prone to having the empathy that we once had for others. As you can imagine, experiencing compassion fatigue can become a cycle of feeling helpless for our clients and helpless for ourselves. 

What can we do about it?

Once you sense that you are suffering from compassion fatigue in any way, it is important to acknowledge it. There is a lot of shame in admitting that helping is hard but that only adds to the problem. We are only human and truly can help the best when we have first helped ourselves.

The "cure" for compassion fatigue is varied and depends on the type of person you are. Identifying the sources that contributed to this will be an excellent place to start. Perhaps it is the volume of helping that you are involved in. Maybe it is the type of work that you do or the type of clients that you see. Often times it is about finding balance. 

Adjustments should be made to your lifestyle and are best when proactive, rather than short-term or reactive. We can always use more support in the helping profession, so perhaps an ongoing check-in with a fellow helper, support group, or therapy appointment is necessary. Whatever it is, know that compassion fatigue is real and can be treated. 

I would love to hear how you combat compassion fatigue! If you are looking for an online group of fellow professional helpers, join us in our private Facebook group. If you need more individualized support, contact me.