What is compassion fatigue?

You may be hearing this term for the first time.

Studies confirm that caregivers play host to high levels of compassion fatigue. Day in, day out, workers struggle to function in caregiving environments that constantly present heart-wrenching, emotional challenges. Affecting positive change in society, a mission so vital to those passionate about the value of caring for others, is perceived as elusive, if not impossible. This painful reality, coupled with first-hand knowledge of the flagrant disregard for the safety and wellbeing of the feeble and frail, takes its toll on everyone from full time employees to part time volunteers. Eventually, distrust and negative attitudes prevail.

Compassion fatigue symptoms are elevated displays of chronic stress resulting from the caregiving work we choose to do. Leading traumatologist J. Eric Gentry suggests that people who are attracted to caregiving often enter the field already displaying symptoms of compassion fatigue. A strong identification with helpless, suffering or traumatized people or animals is possibly the motive. It is common for us to hail from a tradition of what is labeled “other-directedness.” Simply put, we were taught to care for the needs of those around us before caring for our own needs. Authentic, sustainable daily self-care practices have been absent from our lives.

If we sense we are suffering from elevated levels of compassion fatigue, chances are excellent that we are. Our path to wellness begins with one small step. Awareness. A heightened awareness can lead to insights regarding past traumas and painful situations that are being relived over and over within the confines of our symptoms and behaviors. With the appropriate information and support, we can embark on a journey of self-discovery, healing past traumas that currently serve as obstacles to a healthy, happier life.

Many resources are now available to help us recognize the symptoms and causes of compassion fatigue. Healing begins by employing such practices as regular exercise, healthy eating habits, highly functional relationships, enjoyable social activities, journaling and restful sleep. Hopefully, the information on this website will be of use to you and help you jump-start your healing journey.

Accepting the presence of compassion fatigue in our lives only serves to validate the fact that we are deeply caring individuals. Somewhere along our healing path, the truth will present itself: We don’t have to make a choice. It is possible to practice healthy, ongoing self-care while successfully caring for others.