Bishop T.D. Jakes was preaching on television this morning, & I learned a term that was interesting to me- Compassion Exhaustion. He used the example of a married couple who has experienced a devastating event, then once it was over, divorced. He was discussing how we can swim through 500′ of water, then be afraid we’ll drown in the 2′ of water near shore because we are tired from swimming through that 500′ of water. This example made sense to me. I have felt that way for the last few years. I have experienced traumatic event after traumatic event in my life, yet nowadays when something not so traumatic happens, I feel overwhelmed.
When you have spent much of your life caring for others in some way, you easily can reach that point. Caring for the needs of others, either physical or emotional, is a lot of work! Doing it for an extended period of time will exhaust you. Maybe not always physically, but always emotionally.
Growing up with the parents I have, I learned early on that I was to take care of their emotions. When my parents argued, I was often brought into it. I remember when I was quite young, maybe 5 or so, my parents arguing in the living room where I was. My mother grabbed me, & took me into my room, slamming the door behind us. She sat on my bed holding me & crying. I knew I was supposed to make her feel better. Not that she said those words, but that was what I somehow knew she wanted. This type of thing happened over & over during my life- my mother would become upset & cry on my shoulder. My father, too. To this day, they still come to me with problems, even about their marriage. (this is called Emotional Incest, by the way- it’s a form of emotional abuse)
As a result. at my current age of 42, I have about no patience with either of my parents. I am no longer a good listener where they are concerned- instead, I get angry or I change the subject. When they ignore my protests, & continue to talk, I end up exhausted, anxious, very depressed, & often unable to sleep much that night. Unfortunately, this also leaves me easily frustrated with my husband or friends who want to talk to me about their problems. While I may not get angry with them or change the subject, I still end up exhausted, anxious, etc.
Does this sound like you too? I think it describes many children of abusive parents, in particular of narcissistic parents.
I have a few ways I can think of to combat this problem of Compassion Exhaustion. If you have this problem as well, maybe you can add to the list. If so, feel free to share your ideas in the comments section! I for one would love to hear your thoughts. 🙂
Here are some ways I battle Compassion Exhaustion:
- Pray. Talking to God is very, VERY helpful!
- Take breaks as needed. From people or activities.
- Participate in hobbies. I like to knit & crochet- they soothe me. Reading transports me into the story, where I can forget my troubles for a while.
- Spend time in nature. Nature is very restorative. It feels so good to me to spend time outside on a brisk autumn day, looking at the beautifully colored leaves, feeling the cool breeze blow through my hair..
- Watch fun movies.
- Listen to music.