Compassion fatigue is a little discussed phenomenon. It happens when someone continually puts other people’s needs first while ignoring their own, & eventually burns out. It can happen with caregivers, people in helping professions such as nursing or teachers, & also with adult children of narcissists.
Adult children of narcissists learn early in life to ignore their own needs & put their parents’ needs ahead of their own. Their parents demand it & doing so means the child has less of a chance of facing a narcissistic rage, so it becomes a means of survival. Sadly, this sets in place a pattern of behavior that often lasts into adulthood. A lifetime of ignoring your own needs for the needs of others can take a toll, both physically & mentally.
Some signs of compassion fatigue are as follows:
- Being irritable. Anyone who is tired can be irritable. But, when you are beyond tired, irritability is pretty much a given. Little things that normally wouldn’t bother you suddenly can seem like a huge crisis.
- Anxiety is also common. Being too tired can make a person feel “off.” When that person is off, anxiety is more likely to happen, especially if the person in question already has issues with anxiety.
- Lacking motivation. How can a person be motivated when they are exhausted & sick of doing for everyone else?
- Trouble with sleeping can happen too. Have you ever heard the phrase “too tired to sleep”? It does happen. You may find yourself unable to sleep when normally you don’t have that problem. You also may wake up frequently during the night or have unusual dreams or nightmares that disrupt your sleep.
- Depression is also a common problem. Some people are very sensitive to others, so when they need our help often, we can get depressed. We feel badly for them because they can’t do things on their own, or the problems they tell us about make us sad for them.
- A big red flag to compassion fatigue is feeling numb. When you hear of someone having a serious problem, you simply feel nothing. You just don’t care, even if the person with the problem is someone you love dearly. This numbness can happen when you have cared too much for too long.
- Headaches can happen as well. If you never had migraines, they may start. At the very least, chances are your head may ache on a regular basis even if you never suffered with frequent headaches before
If you can relate to any of these signs, then it’s time for you to take a break. You need time to reevaluate your situation as well as to relax.
If at all possible, take some time to yourself & pray. Tell God how you feel, ask Him to show you what to do in your situation & then listen to what He tells you to do. He may not tell you obviously by saying, “Thus sayeth the Lord”. It may be much more subtle such as you suddenly getting the urge to resume a hobby you once enjoyed or spending time with your closest friend that you haven’t seen in a few months. Whatever you feel you should do, then do it! It WILL help you!
Also do things that help you feel nurtured & comforted. Indulge in herbal teas, buy yourself that new CD you’ve been wanting or snuggle up in a soft blanket & watch Netflix all day. Little things like that can have a surprisingly positive affect on your emotional state.
Take a break if at all possible & do it frequently. Everyone needs breaks & there is no shame in it. And, while you take that break, refuse to think at all about what is causing this compassion fatigue.
If you’re a caregiver, arrange for help. Tell your family you need help a couple of days per week or whatever you need. If they refuse to help, look into professional in home care. Contact your local Department Of Aging or Social Services. They may be able to help you or at least point you in the right direction. Local churches also may be of some assistance, whether or not you’re a member. Also, don’t forget the library. Libraries are truly a wealth of information. My local library has a lot of very helpful pamphlets right inside the front door, & many of them pertain to caregiving.
Balance is the key to avoiding compassion fatigue. It may feel strange & hard at first, but you need to set reasonable boundaries. You have the right to say no sometimes & to set limits on what you do for others. After all, if you don’t take care of yourself, how can you help others?