The first time I heard the term “compassion fatigue” I felt shockingly SEEN. I didn’t know how to describe the intense combination of exhaustion and contempt that I was experiencing as I took care of my 87-year old mother-in-law. But when the neuro-psychologist who was evaluating her said it to me like it was the most normal and natural way for me to feel, I wanted to hug him and burst into tears. YES! YES! YES! My feelings were normal, it didn’t make me a jerk to feel so drained, and of course I was feeling that way!!
During that time I felt trapped and helpless. Sure, I was helping her and doing all that I could, but there was no amount of my effort that was going to end her suffering. I felt like all that I was doing wasn’t creating change, so why bother? It was frustrating, consuming, and honestly, I started to feel burdened by her misery. People would tell me what a good person I was for taking care of her and all I could think was, “if you only knew how empty my compassion tank is right now you wouldn’t say that.” But somehow, by the grace of God, I continued to have enough fumes in my tank to keep showing up for her, loving her and honoring her journey through decline.
I am constantly reminded that everything we go through has a purpose, and now I am seeing compassion fatigue show up in my friends and clients. However, what seems to be causing it is the never-ending tragic headlines, the spiritual work we are all called to do around humanity & anti-racism, and holding space for the mass amount of grieving that is going on both all around us as well as within us.
To give you more perspective on compassion fatigue, it looks like
- Feeling burdened by the suffering of others
- Increased irritability
- Feelings of self-contempt
- shaming yourself for things you’ve done or thought
- feeling disconnected or detached from your own thoughts
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty sleeping or having bad dreams
- Pure exhaustion; physical, mental or emotional
- Unsure of how to safely express your emotions
- Feelings of hopelessness or powerlessness
Compassion fatigue IS normal, but unfortunately it thwarts healing. By healing ourselves we heal the world – our healing raises our energy level and therefore raises our consciousness. By elevating our consciousness we are better able to see the bigger picture and how others experience the world – objectively and without judgment. When we have respect and empathy for others’ experiences without judgment, change occurs naturally as contempt and confusion are replaced with joy and intuition.
So, now what? Just like with any journey, the first step is awareness. Beyond that, self-freakin’-care. Be kind to yourself and know that wherever you are on your path is totally okay and acceptable. No one is allowed to shame you for where you are on your healing and education journey. Be sure to discuss what you are learning about yourself and the world with someone you trust. There is a saying in recovery, “we are only as sick as our secrets,” so if you are secretly hurting, healing, or learning and not sharing with another person, your process is like a plant without sunlight. We are meant for connection, we grow and help others grow through our exchanges.
More ways to prevent or cope with compassion fatigue
- Understand that those close to you may not be on the same page as you or have the bandwidth to be there for you – love them anyway and connect with someone that is in alignment with you at this time
- Limit your daily news intake. Seriously, know what you need to know and set some boundaries.
- Seek out the awesome stories – books on the topic of racial injustice are selling out! Several small businesses owned by minorities are getting badass support, a law just passed making it illegal to fire someone based on their sexual preference, more animals are getting fostered and adopted due to social distancing, the planet is getting a break and air quality has improved, etc.
- Gratitude or positivity list! I’m sure you’ve heard this before but there are so many studies done on how keeping a gratitude list improves your mental health.
- Meditate or take a meditation nap. Throw on a mediation, close your eyes, and take a break from overstimulation. I highly recommend the app Insight Timer.
- If you have Spotify, check out the Daily Wellness playlist.
- Move your body, sing, dance. Getting out of your head and into your body does amazing things for the soul! I challenge you to shake your butt without a smile, it’s damn near impossible.
Whatever you do, honor yourself and your needs. Find what works for you and what doesn’t. This is a call for you to take care of yourself but it isn’t a call for complacency. As we continue to move forward, be sure to take positive action to change your environment and listen to those who are suffering. Don’t let your heart and your mind check out, we are gaining ground and that is amazing!
In a nutshell, this crappy feeling is a thing. No one is the authority on how you should feel, how to make a difference or when it’s okay to rest. And if they think they are entitled to shaming your process they can f*@k on off because we all need to be doing what is right for ourselves in order to heal.