Compassion Fatigue

Trigger warning?

Yeah, Charlie, I suppose I should say that there is a possible trigger warning.

I don’t often speak about what I do but what I do isn’t nearly as difficult as what my coworkers do, day in day out. They are on the front lines listening to traumatic experiences that are clients have experienced: abuse (sexual, mental, emotional, financial, drug), poverty, loss of loved ones, etc which has led them into drug abuse. I’ve been in this particular field for seven years and before that I worked five years in the HIV/AIDS field and while I am not on the front lines with face-to-face client contact, I do see the effects it has on those who do.

A lot, if not most, suffer from compassion fatigue from time to time. Sometimes, it will drive a person out of their chosen field forever, doing a 180 on their career path other times, it will make a person pause and take stock of what they really want to do in life.

It’s not easy.


For a therapist to hear day in and day out of their clients’ abuse is hard to take. How does one compartmentalize the horrors and struggles they hear? How can they not harden their hearts to other people’s troubles? How do they not get traumatized (or retraumatized) themselves?

I don’t know. I just don’t know how they do it. I applaud those who can and who are willing to do it.

Social services isn’t easy, on either side of the equation. Even from where I sit (in the background, natch) it’s difficult on me. I may not see clients, but I see therapists. I’ve even lent them a shoulder to cry on or a non judgmental ear to listen to.

Mother Theresa understood compassion fatigue. She required her nuns to take an entire year off every four to five years to heal from the effects of their caregiving work.

-The American Institute of Stress

So, what are the signs of compassion fatigue? They are:

  • irritability/apathy
  • physical/emotional exhaustion
  • headaches
  • sleep disturbances
  • difficulty concentrating
  • high rates of absenteeism at work
  • issues with teamwork
  • lack of flexibility
  • strong reluctance toward change
  • little to no future-forward vision

I’m sure this list doesn’t include everything that encompasses compassion fatigue.

These steps seems like common sense, but if you’re in the midst of of compassion fatigue, then you’re not necessarily thinking clearly. So, find someone to talk to, either a friend or another professional. Get up move and eat properly. This means not eating at your desk. Get to sleep on time. It’s been said that going to sleep and waking at the same time everyday is important. Not only for those going through compassion fatigue but everyone.

But above all, the most important step for treating compassion fatigue is to be kind to yourself. Just…be kind.

I know, I know. I’m preaching. I’m sorry.

Just go be kind.


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