The impact of Compassion Fatigue
This month we feature the impact of Compassion Fatigue (CF) in your role as a caring professional and how this can impact on you professionally and personally. This is not a concept that many people are familiar with, despite the fact that the majority of caring professionals will experience it during their working career.
CF is experienced as the gradual decrease in compassion over a period of time. It will affect one’s ability to show concern for and empathise with another person’s experience. In extreme cases it leads to a sense of detachment and a desire to avoid clients/patients. Individuals may experience similar symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PSTD). These symptoms may include intrusive thoughts, poor concentration and will impact on overall work performance and satisfaction.
Many people associate CF with Burnout. There is some overlap between CF and Burnout, but the origin of the symptoms has different roots. Burnout is caused by prolonged periods of unmanageable (unmanaged) stress, whereas CF is caused by prolonged periods of giving care and compassion, and witnessing other’s traumas.
In the case of CF, prevention is truly better than the cure. Once a person has slipped down the path, they may find it impossible to continue in a caring profession and/or find the journey back to wholeness may take years. It is important for people in caring professions to implement strategies to prevent CF.
- Personal self-care, such as taking a break from work, participating in breathing exercises, etc.
- Making space for activities and people that “refuel you” such as exercise and recreational activities that help to reduce stress.
- Establishing healthy boundaries.
- Developing one’s communication and social support.
- Placing one’s work/role in the context of GOD’s work and plan.
The last point, deserves some unpacking. As Christians, we acknowledge that our mission as Christ’s body, is to play a part in God’s mission (Isaiah 61). However, we often do things by relying on our own strength and we forget to rely on His Spirit to be our guide as to where and when he would like us to intervene. We also don’t rely on His Spirit to empower us for the task of intervention. As a result, we run on ‘empty’ instead of ministering from the overflow of what God has given us. Sometimes this will mean, saying ‘no’ to the real needs surrounding us – but it also means that when we say ‘yes’, we will be able to do it with all the gifting that God has given us. Trust that God has His mission in hand and He will call and empower each of His workers specifically.
For more information on symptoms and treatment of CF: