If you’re a caregiver, you’ve probably felt compassion fatigue at some point in your life. It’s a normal response to an extreme situation.
Compassion fatigue can express itself through physical symptoms such as headaches, insomnia or complete exhaustion. It can strike quickly, often without warning, as your self-care resources hit the “empty” line. It can make us do things we don’t want to do, such as eating too much or too little, or snapping back at the ones we love. It can control our emotions, making us feel guilty, stressed, angry or ashamed. And it can eventually lead to burnout.
Thankfully, there are many ways to combat compassion fatigue. The Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project (CFAP) has dedicated an entire website to it, and they sum it up this way:
“Caring too much can hurt. When caregivers focus on others without practicing self-care, destructive behaviors can surface. Apathy, isolation, bottled up emotions and substance abuse head a long list of symptoms associated with the secondary traumatic stress disorder now labeled: Compassion Fatigue. While the effects of Compassion Fatigue can cause pain and suffering, learning to recognize and manage its symptoms is the first step toward healing.”
So what can we do about it? CFAP founder Patricia Smith suggests the “fill up, empty out” cycle, which is similar to our mantra of putting on our own oxygen mask first. By filling up our own resources through self-care and self-compassion, we will then be able to meet the needs of others. And when we feel ourselves emptying out again, we know it’s time to replenish. As caregivers, we tend to focus on the compassion we have for others. We need to realize that we deserve the same compassion.
One key to self-compassion is self-forgiveness. It’s important to accept your feelings as real and valid, and to forgive yourself for negative feelings surrounding caregiving and compassion fatigue. Emotions aren’t good or bad – but they can be a signal that something affecting your well-being is out of balance.
Wishing you all the best on your journey as self-compassionate and self-forgiving caregivers,
Founder and Executive Director