Every summer my entire family gets together for a July BBQ party. My cousins, aunt and uncle, my brother, his wife, and growing, all go to my parents house. This post reminds me of a conversation I had with one of these people at last year’s party. Now, I wont say who I spoke to for anonymity’s sake but they came to me with a dilemma about another individual who they are close to. Apparently this individual is having a difficult time in their life and has become very codependent. I know I’m being extremely vague here but we’ve all known someone who’s been dependent on others. So this family member asked my opinion on what should be done about this very codependent situation. My response was, “you’ve tried everything you can. At a certain point you just have to let people do what they are going to do and if they want to change then they will find out how to.” Immediately I could tell by the shocked look on my family member’s face that this was not the response they were looking for. Seeing as I am a therapist and generally a very compassionate person they had expected a very different response and in their defense, the response was kind of tough. If it were a client of mine, I probably would not have framed it that way. After some time passed, I felt like I had let them down. Why had I not been more empathetic? But then it dawned on me, I was probably experiencing compassion fatigue.
Who Experiences Compassion Fatigue?
Unless you are in the helping profession, compassion fatigue is something that most people haven’t heard of. It is the gradual lessening of compassion overtime. It’s emotional exhaustion and the inability to be empathetic and provide emotional support for others when they need it. Compassion fatigue is common among certain professionals that work directly with people who have experienced trauma such as therapists, nurses, psychologists, teachers, police officers, first responders, and caregivers. But even if you aren’t professionally involved with trauma you can still experience compassion fatigue. For instance if you are a family member who takes care of a loved one, if you’re listening to a partner who is struggling in life, or you’re a friend who emotionally supports another friend, you might also experience compassion fatigue.
What Are the Symptoms of Compassion Fatigue?
You might be experiencing compassion fatigue if you have any of the following symptoms
- You’re staying away from emotionally engaging in others
- You’re blaming other people for whats happening
- Being preoccupied
- Isolating yourself from others
- You’re having difficulty with concentrating
- You’re doing poor self care
- You’re having nightmares
- Feeling apathetic
- Having physical problems such as gastroenteritis, chronic headaches, or insomnia
- Making impulsive and often unhealthy decisions
- Calling out of work often
- You’re unable to follow through with prior commitments
- Negativity towards other people or management
- You’re unable to complete tasks and assignments
- Feeling insecure
- Feeling Irritable
What Can I Do If I Think I Have Compassion Fatigue?
If you think that you are experiencing compassion fatigue the first thing that you need to do is take care of yourself. Do your self care. That means meeting your basic needs then moving on to your additional needs. Basic needs are things that you need to do every day to feel good about yourself. Brushing your teeth, taking care of your hygiene, getting proper rest, exercise, and eating a healthy diet are all basic needs. Additional needs are things like getting your nails done, taking yourself to a movie, and booking a vacation.
Just like I was experiencing compassion fatigue last summer, you might be experiencing it today. Being fatigued is not a shameful thing and taking care of yourself is the priority.