In helping professions, compassion fatigue is an occupational hazard of the job.
There is nothing to be ashamed of, or feel guilty about when you find yourself worn-out and not wanting to hear any more sadness and problems.
Compassion fatigue is the cost of caring. You are a deeply caring individual and you are devoted to your work and calling. But when you start questioning your skills and consider walking away because you’re exhausted that can be scary.
Have you ever found yourself in a conversation with someone that seems out of place?
Someone is sharing their heart with you in the grocery store or at a social event? You shift your weight backwards, turn sideways, hold up your hands, look away, or try to change the subject? It’s not that you don’t care for this person, but what they are sharing is a private issue and you are standing in the produce aisle.
Essentially you are trying to silence or avoid the conversation until you can speak in a more appropriate place. Makes sense. But, silencing a person or avoiding difficult topics in a counselling session now that’s a sign of compassion fatigue.
Silencing & Avoiding difficult conversations can be a sign of compassion fatigue.
I know this first hand because this is what I experienced when I found myself facing burnout and compassion fatigue. I had worked 13 years in the mental health field and a client was divulging some very intense trauma. I was exhausted and couldn’t handle any more tragic stories.
Rather than listening with empathy and allowing her to find healing in releasing the pain and hurt that she has never told anyone before, I cut her off. I asked a question that turned the conversation in a different direction. When she continued I held up my hands in a “stop” position and tried to divert the session. This was the final cue telling me that I wasn’t doing well.
Compassion fatigue, or my inability to empathize and see what she was needing at the moment got caught in the way of supporting her.
Anger is an easy go-to when your exhausted and depleted and can be a symptom of compassion fatigue.
A home I think we are all familiar with the short temper, low tolerance for stress and rapid mood swings. Things that we are all vulnerable with stress levels are high. But what happens when these levels remain high for long periods of time? Often that results in the breakdown of relationships.
At work, irritability with co-workers and feelings of resentment, because you think that you are doing a greater share of the work, can be a result of compassion fatigue.
Interestingly, research shows that individuals in the early stages of CF worker harder rather than less. They can appear to be the most dedicated staff but coming into work early, leaving late and taking on extra responsibility and projects. However, feelings of frustration grow and overwhelm creeps in as they watch others take lunch breaks and use vacation time while they are facing back-to-back meetings and continuous project deadlines.
Increased use of alcohol and drugs is a very common behavioral sign of CF and VT.
Doesn’t matter if it’s a cup of coffee, a bowl of ice cream, over the counter sleep aid. If a substance is needed to be able to cope with the pressures of life, work and home then you are self- medicating and are a substance user.
Technology is a behavioral addiction that is used to escape, distract and zone out when you are experiencing stress. The feel-good chemical that are released in your body when you win a level, get a like, watch a funny video are no different than the chemicals our brain releases when you use some drugs.
When your use of substances increase in regularity or volume just so you can maintain status quo that is a sign that you are in the red zone.
Some of the not often talked about signs and symptoms of CF and VT are Impaired ability to make decisions, forgetfulness.
Have you ever found yourself staring into the fridge at the end of an exhausting day forgetting what it was you were looking for?
I think we can all say we have done that, but the inability to make decisions or another way of saying it a loss of confidence in your skills can cause you to feel incompetent.
When you doubt your skills and unsure of what course of action to take because of brain fog you start to question your profession and if you are in the right field or industry.
We all lead busy lives, forgetting to turn the coffee maker off or what we were getting from the fridge is fairly normal. But forgetting to pick up your child at daycare (which I have done) or regularly forgetting appointments? Can be a sign of overload.
Withdrawing from social events is a common, but often overlooked sign of compassion fatigue.
I was talking with a coworker about my experience of compassion fatigue and she told me that she used to spend the weekends out with friends and visiting family. Now, she wants nothing more than to stay in and read a book or watch a movie. Now, I know some of my introverted friends are different than myself, they are rejuvenated by having time alone and I get that it’s important. But the key here is that there was a marked change. If you’re not sure if you have changed, ask a friend or your spouse, they will be happy to tell you.
If you are curious about your levels of compassion fatigue, I encourage you to click the link below and complete the Professional Quality of Life Assessment. After answering 30 questions you will be emailed your personalized results.