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Compassion Fatigue. What is it?

Well, there are many synonyms: blocked care, vicarious trauma, secondary trauma, burn out...


You know when you are on a plane listening to the safety announcement and the flight attendant says, ‘if the oxygen masks drop down put yours on first before helping anyone else’ well, it’s that.


Essentially, none of us can continue to pour from an empty cup. Self care/self protection can feel self indulgent. However, if we do not care for ourselves how can we expect to care for others.


Please exercise caution when referring to wikipedia. However, on this occasion it seems pretty accurate.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compassion_fatigue


When we have responsibility for others and especially for those who are vulnerable, whether in our professional lives or in our personal lives, we too become vulnerable. We might find ourselves slipping to the back of the queue, repeatedly. ‘So and so has it far worse than us, how can we possibly justify doing x, y or z for ourselves’.


And here we have the cycle of vulnerability - the vulnerable caring for the vulnerable.


This isn’t an ideal situation in a professional setting. It is even more problematic in our homes.


Those of us with responsibility for caring for family members are at high risk here as are foster carers and adopters.Why? Because we sometimes go months on end without a day off, an unbroken night’s sleep or even five minutes to ourselves.


What does compassion fatigue look like?


Well, the wikipedia .entry pretty much covers it. It’s when we are so tired and find ourselves spread so thin that we don’t really recognise ourselves. Maybe we no longer have the time, energy or interest in activities, friends, stuff we used to enjoy and value.


In short, we are emotionally, mentally, physically exhausted - burnt out. We might find ourselves on a very short fuse. Over reacting or maybe under reacting - passive, unresponsive.


When we find ourselves feeling indifferent to the needs of others, overwhelmed, uncaring we must be really terrible people, right? Or exhausted, burnt out, people?


When compassion fatigue becomes truly toxic we might find ourselves neglecting or abusing those in our care.


Asking for support is, inevitably, stigmatising. We will fear being judged as weak or unable to cope. What if we take the super brave step of reaching out and asking for support only to find there is none available. Support is patchy at best. We do not meet the threshold. We are not yet in crisis enough.


If we possibly can, reach out to a friend or a family member who we trust. They needn’t be a professional they just need to make a decent coffee, tea is also acceptable, and they need to be able to listen without judging.


Shop around. There are some incredible organisations that are able to provide free or subsidised services, counselling, etc...GPs might be able to signpost to support. GPs might be able to grant the magic 6 sessions of counselling. None of it is ideal but might be a useful place to start. There are lots of communities on line. Social media always comes with a health warning but used wisely it can be a force for good.


It is vital to remember that we are human beings doing our best with the resources available to us. Lets try and show ourselves the same care we show to others. It isn’t selfish to care for ourselves and protect ourselves. We will be in a far better position to support and care for others if we can figure out how to care for ourselves too.

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