Compassion Fatigue

I grew up in a family of caretakers. Some were teachers, cultivating the minds and inspiring the future of young and adult students. Others cared for family members as they aged or faced illness. Others still were medical professionals. I got to see the necessity of caring alongside its cost.

Whether you are a professional caregiver like a teacher, doctor, or nurse or a person caring for a family member, caregiving comes with a cost.

Compassion fatigue is the frequent result of caring for others.

Perhaps the most difficult thing in coping with caregiving and its inherent stressors is that there is a stigma associated with having any sort of reaction to the stress of caregiving. If you’re a nurse or doctor, feeling the burnout is a sign of “unprofessionalism” somehow. The paradigm most helping professions are based on is one that dates back to Hippocrates himself (more than 2,000 years) – one that teaches stoicism and objectivity as a gold standard in healing and medicine. Throughout your time in medical, nursing, or even counseling school there’s an underlying current that pushes you toward a belief that you won’t experience burnout of compassion fatigue if you just remain objective enough. When burnout pushes through you feel like a failure. You’re taught that compassion fatigue and burnout are your fault.

That’s not the reality.

My favorite existentialist and author, Viktor Frankl, wrote, “That which is to give light must endure burning.” He wrote that long before we learned that compassion fatigue is inherent in our work as helpers and healers. The reality is that we must approach the cost of caring as what it is – the opportunity to mature and grow as professionals and people.

If you’re a caregiver attending to loved ones during time of illness your challenges are similar. You’re expected to “keep it together” for everyone, sacrifice your personal time, and not complain about it. You may often feel like you’re all alone in the battle to care for a family member with no help and no one who understands. Speaking up to ask others to help or to voice feelings about the strain of caregiving may seem like it isn’t an option. You tell yourself that to do so would be an act of selfishness.

Learning the truth and science behind compassion fatigue and the cost of caring are important components to healing and re-engaging with your work with renewed motivation, purpose, and positivity. Recovery and management of compassion fatigue are completely possible. It is possible for you to remain engaged in caregiving professionally or personally and feel content, happy, supported, and rewarded.

Supporting those who help and heal others is my passion! For more information on compassion fatigue and evidenced based compassion fatigue recovery please contact me here.

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