Is Compassion Fatigue Consuming Clinical Workers and Samaritans? Lack of Self-Compassion Can Be The Answer

Dharan.M

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Man holding broken mirror photoJurrien Huggins

Compassion fatigue is a form of mental and emotional exhaustion. You get compassion fatigue when you try very hard to help others out of their suffering.

An Indian proverb says, “Even juices of longevity when consumed beyond limitations, will turn into life-consuming poison.”

Compassion is a quality of higher consciousness. Compassion is about showing sympathetic pity for adverse circumstances, pain and suffering. Showing kindness, empathy, compassion, and providing help and support are all signs of positive action. However, when you go beyond your energy limits with these qualities, it can lead to compassion fatigue.

You need to turn your attention inwards and start becoming aware of yourself if you….

  • Wallow in deep compassion for others every now and then.
  • Constantly worry about how to solve someone else’s problems.
  • Overload the mind with sympathetic thoughts throughout the day.

Who are those who’re usually affected by compassion fatigue?

Compassion fatigue can affect anyone, but it most often affects people in helping professions. If you’re a writer, doctor, therapist, lawyer, social worker, nurse, or caregiver for your loved ones, you should be aware that you can be affected by compassion fatigue.

Writers strive to deliver meaningful work to the world. Writing is a challenging, yet joyful process. But if we overwork to create positive and valuable works without taking well-deserved breaks, and rests, we can also get compassion fatigue.

Symptoms of Compassion Fatigue

Symptoms of compassion fatigue include mood swings, restlessness, irritability, anxiety, depression, excessive use of substances such as nicotine, caffeine, alcohol, and illicit drugs. It can also lead to poor concentration and judgment, memory problems, and psychosomatic symptoms such as headaches and back pain. In the case of a writer, it can lead to writer’s block.

So what’s the first and the best thing we can do now to counteract compassion fatigue?

We can start practicing self-compassion. Showing compassion is an external act; showing self-compassion is an internal act.

Start showing kindness, love, empathy, and compassion to yourself. Lack of self-compassion can be one of the reasons we suffer from compassion fatigue.

Self-compassion is like an invigorating tonic or healing medicine, for anyone who wants to stay mentally and emotionally healthy and happy.

What are the key ingredients present in self-compassion?

To have a holistic and fulfilling experience with self-compassion, we need to bring all these qualities into our lives:

  • Self-forgiveness.
  • Gratitude.
  • Self-appreciation.
  • Self-love.
  • Self-monitoring.
  • Self-reflection.
  • Self-awareness.
  • Practice the Art of Letting Go. (Letting go of thoughts, feelings, habits, activities, work and relationships that are harmful to us).
  • Practice Acceptance.
  • Practice Detachment.

Yes…the list of positivity can grow! I shall end here and now begin talking about a few of those qualities.

Doing Self Reflection To Understand “Enough”

Imagine a reader feedbacks to a new writer saying, “your stories are so boring… I prefer to read them at night so that I can fall asleep better.” A writer reading such feedback might feel disappointed and think of himself as incompetent. He may start pulling all-nighters to come up with stories that could validate his abilities, or the writer may feel demoralized and mentally exhausted to get back to writing.

One of my clients shared that she cares deeply for her elderly parent. She was expecting appreciation from her siblings for her efforts. Unfortunately, her brothers bluntly told her that… she “didn’t care enough” about their parents. She immediately felt unappreciated and lost interest in continuing care for her elderly parents.

If someone expects too much from you and isn’t satisfied with what you give out of goodwill, they may pull you into a state of compassion fatigue.

If you suffer from compassion fatigue, it’s also good to reflect on these three areas: needs, expectations and desires.

  • Needs: It’s something I must’ve in order to satisfy my survival needs. It can also be a form of emptiness within me that needs to be filled. For example, the psychological need for love and belonging, the attachment need for appreciation, connection, fear of insecurity, and validation.
  • Expectations: It is something I expect from others to heal my pain or give me pleasure, happiness and satisfaction.
  • Desires: These are my wishes and wants that align with my expectations.
    Usually, desires and expectations contribute to mental and emotional pain if not managed well. Too many desires and too many expectations become the gateways to misery and suffering.

There are times when you feel like you’re not doing enough. Sometimes there are others who tell you that you aren’t doing enough. It’s always good to first self-reflect and comprehend the reality of your actions. We need to be aware that not all feedback, opinions and quick self-assessments are accurate.

Ways We Can Practice Self-Compassion Methods To Overcome Compassion Fatigue

These methods aren’t just limited to overcoming compassion fatigue. These methods are applicable in managing overall mental and emotional well-being.

  1. Set The Mark For Limits

Learn to say no. When my battery is down to one bar, I usually don’t make calls, watch Netflix, or surf the web. I make sure my battery is working fine until I go home and recharge it.

Learn to say no when your body and mind demand rest. Seek help, share responsibilities, set clear boundaries and a time frame.

2. Write a Journal of Self-appreciation and Gratitude

When someone says you’re not helping them enough, or you feel like you’re not helping others enough, you need to start paying attention. Negative thoughts and remarks might cause you to feel unappreciated. When you feel unappreciated, you start working hard and very hard to prove your self-worth. You may start overworking to fulfill your own needs, desires and expectations, or the needs, desires and expectations of others.

Start writing a self-appreciation journal. Write and appreciate yourself for the work done during the day. Appreciate yourself for the smallest to most incredible things you do each day. Self-appreciation will help you assess your daily productivity and capabilities.

Writing a self-appreciation and gratitude journal is also about validating yourself. The best person to validate you is yourself. You’re the best person to assess your strengths and congratulate yourself. The person you spend the most time with is…. yourself.

A self-appreciation journal lets you feel gratified and more contented with yourself. Self-appreciation helps you accept yourself for who you’re.

You may add a “thank you to the universe” at the end of every page.

3. Read the Spiritual Story about ‘The Giving Tree’

There’s this story about the Giving Tree that became a friend to a man. The tree kept giving the man what he asked for to meet all the man’s needs. The tree felt happy to give to the man, but in the end, there was nothing left for the poor tree. And the man didn’t care. You can read the story at this link.

The story talks about the action of taking (ego) and the action of giving (love). I would say the tree must have gone through compassion fatigue(although this part is not talked about in the story).

If you’re a person of reciprocity, unconditional love, positivity, kindness, empathy, sensitivity, compassion and generosity, goodwill and selflessness, then you’re pretty much like a giving tree. If you’re overdoing it to the point of exhaustion, it’s time to rethink and moderate your actions. Keep your self-care needs and overall well-being in mind.

Compassion fatigue is a signal or messenger from the universe telling us that our energies are running low in our energy banks. Be frugal with your energy.

4. Edit the imbalances - Practice Let Go

Most of the time, problems arise because of imbalances within us. To create balance, you must let go of the non-essentials. Just as we clean up our homes to eliminate clutter, we should work to let go of anything that causes confusion and exhaustion in our lives.

Next, you can also ask yourself if you’ve any inner unmet needs? If we fix the emptiness within us, we can limit the use of energy.

When I was a kid, I didn’t get much recognition or validation. My hard work wasn’t appreciated. I was compared and criticized. As I grew up, I sought attention and tried to help everyone so they would like and appreciate me. I wanted to fill my “inner voids.” Thankfully, my deep mindfulness meditations woke me up from my metaphysical slumber and improved my mental clarity. I realized that I need to stop being a slave to my unmet needs that cause my intelligence to turn against me. While recognition and validation are good for motivating us, relying too much on others to fill our “inner void” leads to emotional exhaustion.

5. Create a Routine

From 8 am to 1 pm, it’s time to show compassion to others. From 1 pm onwards, it is time for self-compassion. Remember to strictly set a time for your self-care.

6. Practice Self-Monitoring

  • Food: You’re what you consume. Food is nourishment. Never look at food as a permanent coping mechanism, and indulge in unhealthy over-eating habits.
  • Sleep: Are you getting 6 to 8 hours?
  • Exercise: A simple twenty minutes daily walk in the park is refreshing.
  • Self-care: Do you’ve positive habits that make you happy and boost your spirits? Your self-care habits can be beneficial and productive for you and others.
  • Positive reinforcement of thoughts and emotions: Journaling, self-reflection, reading, writing, mindfulness meditation, and gratitude prayers.

To make your self-monitoring a success, remember these four key points:

  • Effort: Don’t overthink, don’t procrastinate. Start doing.
  • Consistency: Do it every day. Ten minutes of exercise, meditating, writing and reading is still better than skipping a positive action.
  • Moderation: Make sure you don’t overdo anything to the point of exhaustion.
  • Discipline: Never neglect the three points above (effort, consistency and moderation).

7. Practice Detachment - Creating a fine line between role identification and role engagement

This method is a spiritual method called detachment. Detachment in spirituality isn’t about neglecting and avoiding responsibilities and actions, but about floating and flowing without sinking.

If you stick a picture with glue, it’s easy to remove, but if you stick it with superglue, it’s hard to remove. In the same way, never over-identify with your role, but engage with your role. Do your tasks and duties, but stay a little detached so that you can observe yourself and witness your own functioning.

When I work as a social worker and therapist, I’m aware that my job is to serve humanity. I take on the role of a human service provider. Being a service provider is one of the roles I perform, but I am clearly aware it’s not my fixed identity in this universe.

The problem arises when I think the role is me. I begin to believe that “I’m that particular role.” I cling to my role and think that my whole life depends on that role. The more I identify with a role, the more ego, values, beliefs, expectations, validation, desires and needs I associate with it. Later, this identification leads to comparison, anxiety, stress, burnout, and all kinds of imbalances. The end result is mental and emotional exhaustion — compassion fatigue

When I’m aware that I’m performing a role and that role isn’t my fixed identification, I can float and flow in a state of healthy balance.

We can achieve and excel if we’re strongly committed to our roles. But we mustn’t deplete our energies by becoming entangled (over-identifying) in our roles.

8. Know Your Comfort Zone

Once upon a time, there was a dog sitting on a mat crying. A passerby asked the dog, “why are you crying, little one?” The dog replied that he had stepped in a nail that was stuck on the mat. The passerby asked, “why don’t you get off this uncomfortable mat if it hurts so much?” The dog replied, “sir…. the pain hasn’t become bad enough for me to leave right now.”

The moral of the story isn’t about dogs developing a special ability to talk when they are in pain. The moral of the story is about knowing our comfort zone. Sometimes nothing is done to move forward because the pain isn’t painful enough for us to do anything about it. It’s good to prepare early, take small steps to make positive changes, and not wait until the problem gets bigger. Stay alert and attend to any pressing issues right away that could affect your overall health in the long run.

Thank you for reading my insights.

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A Therapist, Social Worker, Writer, Author, and Spiritual Mentor. I’m the author of the empowering personal spiritual guide book: The Cosmic Romance with Existence & The Golden Halo, a free substack newsletter that delivers enlightening stories and poems to your inbox.

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