An Encouraging Word — Compassion fatigue

Father J. Ronald Knott

Father J. Ronald Knott

Moses’ hands, however, grew tired; so they took a rock and put it under him, and he sat on it. Exodus 17: 12

“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” is a line from the 1939 film “Gone with the Wind” starring Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh. The line is spoken by Rhett Butler as his last words to Scarlett O’Hara. After more than a decade of fruitlessly seeking her love — as covered over nearly four hours of film — he no longer cares what happens to her. He’s “finished” with her.

This quotation was voted the number one movie line of all time by the American Film Institute in 2005, no doubt because we have all felt his frustration when our ability to “care” runs out! It is known in many care-giving circles as “compassion fatigue.” Doctors, parents, teachers, social workers, priests, women religious and counselors are all susceptible.

If you fall in these categories, you undoubtedly have experienced the feeling that you have nothing left to give, that you are running on empty and that you would just like to run to some secret hiding place.

Studies confirm that caregivers in general “play host to high levels of compassion fatigue,” according to Day in, day out, these people struggle to function in care-giving environments that constantly present heart wrenching, emotional challenges. This painful reality “takes its toll on everyone from full time employees to part time volunteers. Eventually, negative attitudes prevail,” the site said.

“Compassion fatigue symptoms are normal displays of chronic stress resulting from the care-giving work we do because of the profession we chose” or from the obligation we feel from circumstances, such as the care of elderly parents or sick children, according to the site.

Some have suggested that people who are attracted to care giving often enter the field with a strong identification with helpless, suffering, or traumatized people or animals. It is common for such people to come from a tradition of “other-directed care giving,” having been taught from an early age to care for the needs of others before caring for their own needs, according to the website.

“If you sense that you are suffering from compassion fatigue, chances are excellent that you are. Your path to wellness begins with one small step: awareness,” the site said. also noted that resources are available to help you recognize the causes and symptoms of compassion fatigue.

“Healing begins by employing such simple practices as substantial breaks at regular intervals, exercise, healthy eating habits, enjoyable social activities, journaling and restful sleep,” it said. Internet articles and support groups are also useful, it said.

“Accepting the presence of compassion fatigue in your life only serves to validate” the wonderful fact that you are a deeply caring individual, the site said. Compassion fatigue is often just a matter of “too much of a good thing.’’ It may just be a sign that “authentic, ongoing self-care” could be missing.

Somewhere along your healing path, the truth of balance will present itself. You don’t have to quit caring because it is “possible to practice healthy, ongoing self-care while successfully continuing to care for others.”

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