Every year, the hospital where I work sponsors an “Employee Symposium.” They state it is a way for us to learn how to “Rest, Relax, Rejuvenate, and Refresh.” I think a good way to do all of those things would be to stay home from work – but apparently they want us to figure out ways to stay sane while we keep working – go figure. As I was reading over the list of things they were offering this year, one thing caught my eye – a class on “Compassion Fatigue”.
Compassion Fatigue – it immediately struck a chord and made me want to learn more…because I’m often not as compassionate as I would like to be. In fact, when I signed up to be part of 1000 Voices for Compassion and started seeing the wise and profound quotes in my Facebook newsfeed, reading the wonderful and touching posts by my fellow bloggers, and watching some great video testimonials, I started to feel inadequate. What could I possibly say about compassion that wasn’t already being said so eloquently by people who obviously were really compassionate and lived their lives that way every, single day?
I am a fraud
I want to be more compassionate, I really do! In fact, one of my “personal goals” for work last year was to be more present with patients and to moderate my tone as I spoke to them on the phone so that I did not come across as uncaring or without empathy.
I am a failure.
I still have patients tell me I’m rude, or in a rush, or not compassionate or empathetic. They will demand my name…my “full name and employee number!” They will order me to connect them immediately to my supervisor so that they may lodge a complaint. They often use language that would make my mother blush (or slap them upside the head). *Sigh*
Do I suffer from Compassion Fatigue?
According to the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project, maybe so. They state:
“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.”
They go on to say that people who are attracted to care giving often enter the field already compassion fatigued! “Often they are people who were taught at an early age to care for the needs of others before caring for their own needs. Authentic, ongoing self-care practices are absent from their lives.”
I wonder if Compassion Fatigue is not just limited to those in the healthcare industry – what about those who are long-term home caregivers for elderly parents or disabled family members? What about mothers and fathers, who care for difficult children on a daily basis? What about those that always put their work first, their spouse first, the housework first, anything and anyone first, before their own needs? Those that even fail to identify that they have needs or feel they are too unworthy to matter?
Do you recognize any of these symptoms in yourself?
- Excessive blaming
- Bottled up emotions
- Isolation from others
- Receives an unusual amount of complaints from others
- Voices excessive complaints about others
- Substance abuse
- Chronic physical ailments
- Nightmares and trouble sleeping
- Difficulty concentrating
Of course, any and all of these symptoms could be associated with other diagnoses – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Depression, Borderline Personality Disorder, and more. But still, aren’t all of these are an unhealthy balance of emotions, behavior, and in some cases, wonky brain chemicals and/or past traumatic events and how we are able to deal (or not deal) with them? I guess the main reason why Compassion Fatigue is connected with the healthcare field is because it is associated with the repeated contact with those that are suffering – a type of secondary stress trauma that healthcare workers face from dealing with the pain, grief, and distress of others, pushing their own issues and needs aside in the process.
So, what do you do if you think you might be suffering from Compassion Fatigue? Awareness is the first step – and then authentic and sustainable self-care. The basics, such as eating right, drinking plenty of water, and exercising are helpful. Developing a healthy support system with people who care, are willing to listen, and contribute to your self-esteem is important. Learn to say no, set boundaries, and live a balanced life, with time for you, your family, and fun instead of being focused on work all of the time. Finally, because those with Compassion Fatigue may have past issues they haven’t dealt with, counseling may help.
It all boils down to self-care and compassion — and doesn’t everything? We all want to love and be loved – but we have to truly love and accept ourselves before we can be open to a really healthy relationship. We all want the world to be a more compassionate and caring place – but how can we understand compassion and live it daily unless we are compassionate with ourselves – recognizing our limitations and faults, but choosing to forgive and love ourselves regardless? We want to be mindful and present with others – but that is more easily achieved when we can learn to be the same with ourselves and really live in the moment.
Compassion. Love. Caring. Mindfulness.
It’s like they tell you on airplanes – if the oxygen masks come down, put yours on first and then you can assist others. While you might feel guilty, thinking you should be a better person now and every moment of the day (I know I do), perhaps we can all cut ourselves some slack. Maybe we can try being compassionate first with ourselves. Perhaps we can try to learn the skills needed to be happy, healthy, and content in our lives and then, keeping that balance, move on to be more compassionate towards others. It’s a win-win for everyone in the long run!
I hope my blog isn’t the last stop you make as you read about compassion today. There are 1000 (and more) voices talking about this very important subject. If you are one of them, please share your post link below. If you are just hearing about 1000 Voices for Compassion, please comment and share your thoughts so you can be a voice today!