I am burned out, I don’t know what is going on but I’m frustrated and angry when people ask me for help. I just want to be left alone. These are just a few of the things that one may be experiencing when they have compassion fatigue. Who gets compassion fatigue? I mean, it doesn’t even sound real right? On the contrary, it is known that people who have caregiver roles and/or jobs are at risk.
Compassion fatigue occurs as a result of working in a field such as medicine, 9-1-1, police, among others and as a result of taking care of a family member who is unable to care for themselves. It is likely that people who are drawn to working care giving jobs could have compassion fatigue already. Many people have spent their lives as people pleasers and care more about helping others than taking care of themselves. You may be the person your friends run to when they experience upsetting events and need to vent or get some advice. This is great until those events become enmeshed in your brain and you suddenly can’t stop thinking about that horrible event that your friend described that happened to them, or that other event that your other friend told you about that evoked some strong emotions, oh and don’t forget when your other friend told you about that traumatic experience and you stayed up for hours with them trying to make them feel better. As caretakers, we tend to deny ourselves any kind of helpful self-care. Some symptoms include burnout, isolation, excessive complaining about admin decisions, drug/alcohol use, preoccupied, trouble concentrating, and more.
For 9-1-1 operators, EMTs, and Police compassion fatigue is very common. These people spend all week seeing people in traumatic and emergent situations, helping people who are having emergencies, and talking to people at the worst moments of their lives. After time one may notice they start using defense mechanisms so that these events “don’t bother them”.
What do I do if I think I have compassion fatigue? Own it, realize that if you think you are suffering from it, you likely are. Talk to others who understand the things you deal with on a daily basis. Know your limitations and remember to practice self-care. Remember family is great but may not understand what you are going through. Do not use drinking, drugs, etc. to make yourself feel better. Do not ignore the symptoms and let it go until you have a psychological break down. Do ask for help from a professional if you need it!
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Written by Anne Wiggs, MA, LPC-Intern
Supervised by Jennie Fincher, Ph.D., LPC-S