When was the last time you went out to a social event because YOU wanted to go?
Not because you were required because of your job, or because family expected you to, but because you genuinely were looking forward to going out, seeing people, laughing and enjoying the event.
Weeks? Months? Years?
Old friends call and you let it go to voicemail.
You hear of a birthday celebration and you immediately feel your chest tighten.
You no longer look forward to the regular golf or basketball game with friends.
Events become an obligation that you go to but only out of guilt.
You would rather be home.
Every Thursday I go to run-club. I say run loosely because there is a fair amount of walking involved.
A small group of friends meet at a local restaurant or coffee shop, “run” a set route then meet back for drinks and apps.
It’s great. In fact, I joined this group as self-care. They were not connected to my work, family or church.
New people, new conversations.
I was encouraged to exercise, but with no pressure to perform. It’s an evening I look forward to.
But at some point I found myself missing run-club because I was too tired.
Some days (air quotes) I had too much work to do (close air quotes).
Or I would say that my kids and family needed me.
Missing one or two weeks quickly turned into months.
Thursday nights were supposed to be about self-care, but I would choose to stay home instead.
Engaging with more people and hearing their problems after a long day at work was too much.
I was exhausted.
Looking back at that time in my life I can see that my shift in behavior, becoming socially isolated, and emotionally unavailable was a telltale sign that I was experiencing compassion fatigue.
Compassion fatigue is profound emotional and physical exhaustion that helping professionals and caregivers can develop over the course of their career as helpers.
It is a gradual erosion of our empathy, our hope and our compassion. Not only for others but also for ourselves.
Compassion fatigue has been described as “the cost of caring” for others in emotional pain.
It is not a result of weakness, sin or failure, but it is an occupational hazard.
A known risk of providing empathy to others. Only those who care can become fatigued.
A colleague of mine once told me that she used to be a person who loved to go out on the weekends.
She loved to go to events, dinner with friends or just enjoy an evening out.
However, after years of working as a nurse supporting others, she found that she went out less and less and now has no interest in leaving her home on the weekends.
She just wants to go home, isolate from the world and enjoy a good book.
Enjoying a good book or enjoying time alone is not a sign of compassion fatigue. (And all the introverts sigh in relief!)
When there is a marked change or you are specifically avoiding being around people because of exhaustion from caring this is when I would suggest taking a closer look at what you are experiencing.
I love this quote from Rachel Naomi Remen: “The expectation that we can be immersed in suffering and loss daily and not be touched by it, is as unrealistic as expecting to be able to walk through water without getting wet.”
Understand, that often your exhaustion and desire to isolate does not come from weakness or failure or sin.
It is the cost of being caring and supporting others.
However, it is not healthy to remain exhausted and isolated.
Use this assessment to see if you are experiencing compassion fatigue.
Just like people who work on a construction site wear a helmet to protect them from known work hazards, there are protective measures for compassion fatigue.
Although I do not believe it eliminates the risk, engaging in boundaries, supportive relationships and knowing your triggers are a great start in healing from compassion fatigue.