Compassion Fatigue is a normal emotional and physical reaction to the knowledge of a stressful or traumatic event occurring to someone close to us and our attempts to help a significant other alleviate their suffering. (Figley, 1999)
Reaction to other’s stress and/or trauma is not isolated to significant others, but is widespread for those whose jobs help people alleviate suffering: caregivers, counselors, paramedics, veterinarians, firefighters, nurses, volunteers, military, advocates, etc.
Examples of emotional and physical reactions:
- Lowered mood
- Decreased interest / activity in things you enjoy
- Difficulty concentrating
- Sleep disturbances
- Distressing dreams
- Feeling detached from emotions and others
- Hopelessness (Figley, 1999)
Examples of situations that can contribute to compassion fatigue:
- Caring for a family member who is ill
- A family member is incarcerated or recently released
- Frequent violence in neighborhood
- Witnessing others suffering either through media coverage, line of work, or other sources.
Because of the significant importance of people in our lives, a threat to one is a threat to our own sense of safety and stability. When attempting to relieve others suffering we wonder if we are making a difference, experience sadness, guilt, and overwhelm. Our “compassion muscle” becomes stressed leading to emotional and physical fatigue.
Compassion Fatigue goes by several names: Secondary traumatic stress, vicarious trauma, and helper trauma, to name a few. Regardless of the term used, our innate desire to help and care for others deserves attention to maximize support and compassion for ourselves and those around us.
Counseling, support groups, personal care-plans, and self-help literature can have positive impacts on our desire to care for ourselves and others.
Further Reading on Compassion Fatigue
- Secondary traumatic stress: Self-care issues for clinicians,researchers, & educators By The Sidran Press.
- Trauma stewardship: An everyday guide to caring for self while caring for others. By Laura van Dernoot Lipsky
Figley, C.H. (1999). Compassion fatigue: Toward a new understanding of the cost of caring In Secondary traumatic stress: Self-care issues for clinicians,researchers, & educators (pp.3-28). Lutherville, MD: The Sidran Press.