(This is a continuing blog series from my attendance at the Boundless Compassion Retreat and Facilitator Training in June 2018. Some of the contents are adapted from Boundless Compassion – Creating a Way of Life by Joyce Rupp, 2018, with permission from Joyce Rupp, author).
At times, our compassion in caring for others can result in what is called compassion fatigue. It is the stress and strain due to caring for others who suffer. The fatigue begins when we do not practice self-care. Symptoms of compassion fatigue can be:
- Brain fog, insomnia, reactionary behavior, panic attacks brought on by lack of sleep or over being emotionally drained.
- Profound grief.
- Depression or disinterest.
- Martyr attitude or bitterness whereby you become angry or resentful.
- Substance abuse.
- Socially withdrawn.
I experienced several of these symptoms about 4 years ago when I became the primary caretaker of my elder father who was going through a traumatic relationship break-up and had health-related issues. I would have 2-3-hour phone calls with him and travelled to be with him for a day. The conversations were emotionally painful for me, filled with his bitterness, anger, resentment, and emotional loss. I tried to be empathetic and compassionate, but I got lost in my emotional pain that resulted in angry words exchanged with my father. Over time I realized I was becoming ill, physically and emotionally, in my attempts to be a listening, caring son, at the cost of not caring for myself.
So, how can we lessen compassion fatigue?
- “Wash your hands” when you are done being with the person, i.e., emotionally decontaminate yourself by taking a few minutes to let go of the emotions inside yourself.
- Do a “quick lube for yourself.” This is called conscious complaining to get out whatever is bottled up, place no judgment on it, and then go on.
- Be wary of “attachment fatigue.” We wear ourselves out when we’re attached to the outcome of our hard-compassionate work, such as success or recognition.
- Set boundaries for yourself. Protect yourself by saying NO.
- Practice mindful meditation to become centered again.
- Don’t be the “fixer” of someone’s pain.
- Protect yourself from:
- Other’s unhealthy expectations or negativity,
- Being consumed by emotion,
- False flattery from someone, or
- False promise from someone.
Being compassionate does not mean to care for someone at the expense of ourselves. As Robert J. Wicks says, “A key to life of meaning and compassion – especially when faced with our own and others’ intense emotions – is to take some space to let what we are feeling settle before we respond.”
My next blog will focus on Compassion and Marginalized. Thank you.