Is Compassion Fatigue Real?

Does it happen that you feel drained after you’ve been there for someone in despair for too long? You may be experiencing compassion fatigue. Read along to find out what it is.

We used to hear the term compassion fatigue among care workers, especially social and healthcare workers. Given that their jobs involve working with very vulnerable groups of people, these professionals would be burned out and utterly drained by their continuous efforts to make the world a better place. However, now that we have social media, the internet, and advanced technology, we are pretty much exposed to all the bad that is happening in the world. This makes us all prone to compassion fatigue.

More precisely, compassion fatigue is described as the physical, emotional, and psychological impact of helping others — often through experiences of stress or trauma. You may think that compassion fatigue is pretty similar to or the same as burnout, however, it is important to note the difference. Yes, both of these feelings are accumulative and need time to be developed. However, while burnout usually has to do with having too much work or a lot of responsibilities, compassion fatigue on the other hand happens as a result of your constant availability to help others in pain. 

You should not be feeling guilty if compassion fatigue is what you are experiencing. By all means, this does not mean that you do not want to help people anymore. It only means that you have been severely exposed to the trauma of others, without taking the time to replenish and take care of yourself too.

Professionals share that some of the most evident signs of compassion fatigue include the following:

  1. Irritability & frustration to deal with even minor things in your daily routine;
  2. Lack of quantity and quality sleep;
  3. Loss of sense & identity;
  4. Vulnerability, purposelessness & strengthlessness;
  5. Detachment from the little things that you used to once enjoy;
  6. Rumination and a sense of guilt & feeling of constantly letting someone down;
  7. Helplessness and a feeling that you’re not making any contribution to the world/your community;
  8. Feelings of isolation and despair;
  9. Inability to engage in ‘superficial’ conversations and small talk;

These are only a few of the feelings people usually tend to manifest, while undergoing periods of compassion fatigue, although they may differ, depending on your personality and space you have to actually become aware of your overwhelmedness. 


So what to do if you’re experiencing compassion fatigue?

When you feel like you simply do not have any more empathy to give to people, there is absolutely no better option to follow rather than going to therapy. Discussing these feelings with a professional will help you minimize the consequences and will prevent you from developing longer-term feelings of depression or numbness.

Except for therapy, it is recommended that persons who experience compassion fatigue also start developing certain self-care rituals, nurturing and quality time with themself, as well as with their loved ones, and whatever it is that makes them gravitate back towards feelings of genuine well-being.

If your compassion fatigue is interlinked with your profession, find a way to balance work and life, and consult specialists that may provide you with methods that can help you focus on your life solely, after finishing your shift.

It is important to come to the understanding that we can only do as much as our well-being allows us to, to make our loved ones feel better about themselves. Sometimes, without them wanting to take steps forward to improve their condition, we can’t really do anything at all. 

“It might sound cliché, but you need to put your own oxygen mask on before you help others with theirs. We need to make sure we are tending to our own emotional and physical well-being and needs while we are involved in providing care for others.” – said Yazhini Srivathsal, MD, a psychiatrist with Banner Behavioral Health Hospital in Scottsdale, AZ, for Banner Health.


Photo: fizkes/Shutterstock


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