People don’t talk much about the emotional strain of providing constant empathy and support.
It’s something most of us experience, but we so rarely talk about it. Maybe we don’t want to draw attention to ourselves. Maybe we don’t want to admit it to ourselves. Maybe we just don’t know the words.
People talk a lot about ‘caregiver burnout.’ Compassion fatigue is a specific type of burnout. It’s a secondary traumatic stress disorder.
We’re so busy caring for someone else that we bottle up our emotions and neglect our own health. When we spend so much time worrying about someone else, it can hurt us.
People suffer from compassion fatigue because they care too much and are traumatized by other people’s suffering.
Compassion fatigue can lead to isolation, apathy, depression, anger, hopelessness, difficulty concentrating, insomnia, nightmares, compulsive behavior, and substance abuse. You’re constantly frustrated and you no longer find the sense of accomplishment caregiving used to give you.
Compassion fatigue robs your life of hope and meaning.
Compassion fatigue most commonly refers to healthcare professionals — the emotional strain suffered by doctors, nurses, therapists, and even veterinarians.
Few people think about the family caregivers, friends, and home health aides that face the same struggles, day in and day out. Live-in caregivers are at risk for extreme forms of compassion fatigue.
Cumulative trauma builds until it’s overwhelming. Exposure to constant suffering while dealing with constant physical demands wears at your soul. As it gets worse, you withdrawal from everything but caregiver. There isn’t time for anything else. But that just makes the compassion fatigue worse.
With the difficulty of accessing respite care, many 24/7 caregivers will find it impossible to avoid suffering from compassion fatigue. It’s simply not possible to eat healthy foods, get regular exercise, get necessary medical care, find time for personal interests, and pursue friendships when you’re an overwhelmed family caregiver or a professional caregiver struggling to make ends meet. However, even in the most challenging circumstances, caregivers can learn realistic ways to cope so they can keep going.
So many of us were taught to take care of others before taking care of ourselves. Over the long term, this can lead to crippling chronic stress.
By learning the causes and triggers of your caregiving PTSD, you can learn new coping methods, and over time you can heal from the trauma of extreme caregiver burnout.
You’ve heard of burnout, but may not have heard of compassion fatigue. As more family members become caregivers, more seem to be learning about this term.
You’re not just tired. You are running on empty. At its core, compassion fatigue makes you feel like giving up.
Stop doing this alone, join the conversation
No one wants to be an expert in compassion fatigue, but these caregivers have lived it. They share their experiences and the lessons they’ve learned.
Harriet Hodgson has been a freelance writer for 37+ years and is the author of 35 books. She has a BS from Wheelock College in Boston, MA and an MA from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN campus. Hodgson is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists and Minnesota Coalition for Death Education and Support. In addition, she is a Contributing Writer for the Caregiver Space website, Open to Hope Foundation website, and The Grief Toolbox website. She has appeared on more than 185 talk shows, including CBS Radio, and dozens of television stations, including CNN. A popular speaker, she has given presentation at caregiving, public health, Alzheimer’s, and bereavement conferences. Her work is cited in Who’s Who of American Women, World Who’s Who of Women, Contemporary Authors, and other directories. Harriet lives in Rochester, Minnesota with her husband, John.
Learn more about Harriet at HarrietHodgson.com.
Have you experienced compassion fatigue?
Share your story and help other caregivers. What caused you to feel compassion fatigue? How did you cope? Do you still struggle with it? We can all support each other through this.