It would look something like that
One of my all-time favorite comedy pages is an Albanian one, Ngop. Their creations make me laugh so hard, so often, and I just donated to their PayPal to show my appreciation. (I included donations in my article about Three Ways to Make a Difference, Wherever You Work.)
Ngop posted a new video about different types of people in friend groups. The first type was the environmentalist. She and her friends were chilling, drinking beer when she starts pestering them about polar bears. One of her friends is like, “Huh? Girl what? Like we don’t have enough problems as is!” All the exchanges are funny as hell and hard to recreate or explain unless you’re Albanian.
After laughing my ass off with their videos, I thought about her friends’ reaction and compassion fatigue.
It’s an important concept yet one we don’t often talk about, and I felt the need and responsibility to write about it.
What is compassion fatigue?
Imagine having to hear other people’s issues, regrets, anxieties, stresses, fights, irrational thoughts, all day. Imagine having to tell people their loved ones have a deadly condition, day in and day out.
Compassion fatigue is one of the reasons I’m not pursuing a career as a psychologist until further notice.
Compassion Fatigue: When Caring Hurts Too Much
That’s the title of The Compassion Fatigue Project’s guidebook for dentists, in collaboration with the Academy of General Dentistry. As Dr. Stamm writes in The Concise Manual for the Professional Quality of Life Scale (2009):
“For most, their work is not traumatizing and their potential exposure to life-and-death situations is slight, CF comes and goes—sometimes you feel great and sometimes you just feel hopeless.”
For example, if a dentist has a personal history of child abuse and a patient comes in for treatment due to an oral injury resulting from a family violence situation, it could be very difficult for the dentist, since the patient’s experience becomes a trigger for traumatic stress in the provider.”
Listening to trauma and stories of abuse can take a serious toll on your mental health. Compassion fatigue is considered a mild form of PTSD, especially common in healthcare professionals, and which comes as a response to others’ suffering.
Empaths, caregivers, activists are also prone to experiencing compassion fatigue.
Compassion Fatigue Symptoms
That list is in alphabetical order on accident. When I talked about the condition earlier this week, Noelle, my (empath) friend shared it, saying she learned something new.
In my All-Time Favorite Newsletters article, I mentioned educational journalism and The Marshall Project:
The criminal justice system is in crisis. The Marshall Project “strives to educate and enlarge the audience of people who care about the state of criminal justice”. Through their award-winning journalism, they’ve reached thousands of people.
I’ll admit I don’t always read The Marshall Project newsletter when it pops up in my inbox.
Staying informed is key, but compassion fatigue is a real thing.
While it’s important to be there for our friends, to actively learn and unlearn, to talk about injustice, it’s helpful to assess our own well being, thoughts, and feelings.
During emergencies, you need to help yourself first.
No matter how inattentive you might be to flight instructions, you’ve likely heard flight attendants say, “Put on your oxygen mask first.”
In Albania, we have a similar saying: “A drowning person drowns you.”
That sounds selfish, would Albanians simply leave someone to drown? Would we, just like with the polar bears, say “Huh? Girl what? Like we don’t have enough problems as is!”?
Nah, we always pull up! We would help, but only “after putting our mask on,” only after making sure someone wouldn’t have to pull two dead bodies out of the water.
“Put on your oxygen mask first.”
Preventing and combating compassion fatigue
Usually, people get quite a few signals that they tend to avoid before they experience compassion fatigue in its most excruciating form.
Unfortunately, most syllabuses and med/psychology literature don’t mention CF and how negatively it can impact workdays and lives.
It’s hard to cure something you can’t name.
There are some preventive measures healthcare providers, empaths, and caregivers can take to avoid emotional burnout.
“Studies have also shown that a positive attitude toward life such as a sense of humor, self confidence, being curious, focusing on the positive, and feeling gratitude ranked high in being helpful in treating traumatized people.
Additionally, support, supervision, balancing work and private life, relaxation techniques, and vacation time have been useful.”Compassion Fatigue, Susanne Babbel, Ph.D., M.F.T.
Maintaining a positive attitude is one of the best things you can do for your health and heart, figuratively, and literally.
What would self-compassionate responses look like for you?
Every vulnerable person, meaning everyone who helps, can benefit and heal faster from having a better understanding of the matter.
More physical exercises result in less fatigue and reduced feelings of low levels of energy.¹
Self-care can reduce the chances of internalizing others’ pain and trauma.
Awareness of bodily sensations and emotional turmoil and a simple –pause– can do more for you (and the people you help) than weeks of you being readily available and susceptible to others’ trauma.
As for getting to that point of recognizing when to pause, meditation massively helps.
Practice what you preach and always be a little more compassionate to yourself than you think you should.
¹Puetz, T. W. (2006). Physical activity and feelings of energy and fatigue. u003cemu003eSports Medicineu003c/emu003e, u003cemu003e36u003c/emu003e(9), 767-780.
Exactly!! Compassion fatigue. I’ve been a Psychiatric Nurse for 35 years. Lately I have had doubts of whether I am doing the best job that I can. Also there are times where I feel my job affects my ability to give compassion and understanding to my own family and loved ones when they need it most. It definitely takes it’s toll. Meditation and mindfulness accompanied with intelligent articles like yours are a good dose of inspiration. 🙂 Thank you!
Thank you for sharing this, if I had to guess, I would say you’re very good at your job, and your doubts are only a testament of your commitment to your patients. I’m glad meditation is helping, it’s truly one of life’s most incredible remedies.