WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF COMPASSION FATIGUE?
If you are exhausted, irritable, pessimistic, depleted or ill and you spend your days helping, protecting or serving others you could be suffering from compassion fatigue. Other common symptoms include apathy, excessive tiredness, agitation, trouble sleeping, trouble concentrating, disorganization, lack of motivation, anxiety, hyper-vigilance, difficulty making decisions, tardiness, stubbornness and social isolation.
It’s additionally been noted that increased avoidance of certain people or situations signals a wish to distance one’s self from a client as well as reminders of the client's trauma as a way of coping with secondary traumatic stress.
SUBTLE SYMPTOMS OF COMPASSION FATIGUE
It’s easier to spot some of the major symptoms but there are also subtle changes in lifestyle such as normalizing trauma-centric thinking patterns, seeing and talking about trauma all the time, experiencing relationship difficulties, decreased social activity and having few or no personal relationships that don’t involve work or work-related conversations.
ISN'T COMPASSION FATIGUE JUST BURN OUT?
No. Compassion fatigue and burnout are uniquely different in their manifestation and recovery process. Compassion fatigue can arise with little warning and cannot be remedied by merely taking a break from work, unlike burnout that can often be addressed by changing one's position or place of work, getting sufficient rest and activating basic self-care. Numerous studies have reported on the importance of having different treatment protocols for secondary traumatic stress and burnout.
COMPASSION FATIGUE AND THE LINK TO PERSONAL TRAUMA
Furthermore, there is a relationship between compassion fatigue and one’s own personal history with trauma. Often people are called to meaningful work due to unresolved traumatic experiences. This personal history provides them with great insight into the specifics of particular types of sufferings and can be an opportunity for them to find deeper healing for themselves. J. Eric Gentry found that addressing the individual’s primary trauma is often necessary before attempting to work through his/her secondary trauma.
BEWARE OF "THEIR PAIN IS WORSE THAN MINE!"
Be on the lookout for what we've coined the “hierarchy of pain” - the voice that says “their pain is worse, mine doesn’t matter.” All pain matters; your wise self knows this but the constellation of societal conditioning, professional pressure, ego, unconscious pain, internalized oppression and past harm have tricked you into believing certain types of pain are more deserving of a compassionate response than others. It is simply not true. Your pain, discomfort, and worries are valid too. It is important that you continue to process and grow through your own life challenges as often there is a tendency to ignore your own problems because they don’t feel as severe as those you serve.
THE "HIERARCHY OF PAIN" AND SELF-COMPASSION
This “hierarchy of pain” is a master trickster because the same voice that condemns your own pain as not worthy of attention and support is the same voice that condemns the pain of people who are suffering “just a little bit” - those you deem to have more privilege and smaller problems. It judges them for being too sensitive or overreacting to their life challenges. When we activate self-compassion we can in-turn let go of the voice of judgment towards others and meet them where they are.
I AM SO ANGRY, I CAN'T GIVE ANYMORE!
It can be frustrating to feel tapped out and unable to move forward with grace. You came in with so much energy, optimism and have given your all. We get it. It’s important to understand that big-hearted people with big missions are who compassion fatigue effects the most. You get depleted because you care and that is nothing to be ashamed of. If you didn’t care and want things to be better there is less of a chance of being affected.