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How to Avoid Compassion Fatigue

Compassion Fatigue (CF) is a term I learned on my pursuit to become a Christian Counseling. It means the “the inability to let go of the thoughts, feelings and emotions necessary to helping others” long after the help has been administered (Lance, 2003). This term was taught to help Christian Counselors avoid the compassion trap. This trap can result in being preoccupied with the emotional distresses of others ultimately diminishing your effectiveness.

In this profession, you can’t help but to have compassion for those you are helping. You want them to do better, feel better, and make the right choices that will create a life of peace and freedom. As a counselor, it’s okay to be compassionate and caring for others but I've learned I needed a practical solution to safeguard me from being completely immersed into my client’s issues. That solution was learning to avoid CF.

When I think of CF I thought about how this term not only applies to my profession but to anyone who has a heart of compassion in helping others. Let’s take a look at the break down of each word. Compassion is “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.” Fatigue is tiredness and exhaustion. Simply put, CF is experiencing burnout from caring for the sufferings of others.

I’m sure we’ve all been there before. Some of you may be pouring out your heart to others who don’t think twice about replenishing your needs. While some of you are in philanthropic or charitable positions constantly giving of your resources and time but you find yourself in a constant state of emptiness and feeling unfulfilled. No matter what kind of giver you are, I want to provide you with a few symptoms to help you identify if you're experiencing CF:

  1. More irritable than usual.

  2. Becoming more cynical and negative.

  3. Feeling exhausted all the time.

  4. Don’t sleep or eat well.

  5. Don’t feel like your work is being rewarded.

  6. Feeling unfulfilled and disillusioned.

  7. Can’t wait until quitting time.

  8. Often feel hopeless like “who cares?” or “Why bother? It doesn’t really matter anyhow.”

  9. Psychosomatic issues more than usual such as: headaches or backaches.

  10. Not feeling enthusiastic about your work or giving to others.

(Symptoms taken from Compassion Fatigue Inventory by Dr. Roger Billica & Dr. Marlin Lance)

If you can identify with over 50% of these symptoms, then you are experiencing CF.

So now that you've identified if you're experiencing CF, what do you do “when caring hurts?” Here are a few tips for the giving hearts to help you manage or avoid Compassion Fatigue.

1. Set Boundaries.

It seems to be a lot easier to set physical boundaries because you can see it, but some of the most important boundaries we must learn to establish are internal. It means creating spiritual, emotional, and mental limits to prevent you from wearing the weariness of others. I’ve learned that setting boundaries takes time and we mostly learn through trial and error. However, the best way to set internal boundaries is to say “no.” Know your limitations.

Saying no also helps prevent a Messiah Complex which is positioning yourself to be someone’s personal Savior. Establishing healthy boundaries means we must learn to cast the cares of those we have the opportunity to help onto the Lord and not become their Messiah.

In 1 Peter 5:7 it reads “casting all your care upon Him, because He cares about you” (CSB). When your cares are the cares of others it’s okay to cast those cares upon Christ too. You’ve done your part by helping them, now let Christ do His part. When we continue to operate in the Messiah Complex we will not only experience CF, but we will be getting in the way of what God wants to do in that person’s life. Trust me, Christ will care for them and in turn He will replenish you inwardly for being obedient. Set those internal boundaries.

2. Rest

Resting is easier said than done for a heart that loves to help people because helping others is healthy. It actually increases dopamine levels in our bodies causing euphoric feelings also known as “helper’s high.” It actually feels good to help others. It makes us feel strong and vibrant when we give.

However, there comes a time when your body needs replenishment. Fatigue means “feeling of tiredness which is distinct from weakness, and has a gradual onset. Unlike weakness, fatigue can be alleviated by periods of rest.” Just because you’re taking a rest doesn’t mean it will diminish your effectiveness or your health. Furthermore, resting doesn’t label you as someone who is weak. With periods of rest you will be reenergized to get back out there in no time doing what you love! Resting will help you to avoid CF.

Additional Source: Read 1 Kings 19 to see how Elijah experienced CF and how God restored him with simple instructions to eat and rest.

3. Readjust Priorities.

If you’re constantly in a state of giving and experiencing symptoms of CF then it’s time to readjust your priorities. Ask yourself these questions, “can I delegate this task to someone else?” “Do I have to volunteer every time?” “Do I have to always position myself to be the ‘go to’ person?” Key words in all three questions are: delegate, every time, and always. Learn how to delegate some responsibilities to others who are just as passionate about your endeavors. Also, if you’re the one that’s constantly giving of yourself every time or you're always that ‘go to’ person, no wonder you are always in state of emptiness. Create some balance in your life by readjusting your

priorities. There’s nothing selfish about it.

I hope this information can serve as a valuable guide to help you avoid Compassion Fatigue. Remember, Christ who walked this earth was both fully God and fully man. Yet, He took many opportunities to go be alone and pray (Matthew 14:23). If you want to live more like Him learn how to set boundaries, rest, and readjust your priorities. "You can’t pour from an empty cup.”

Need help working through Compassion Fatigue? Book a FREE 15 Minute Consultation with Dr. E to learn more solutions.


Dr. Estrelita Bruce, Owner of A NEW ME: Transparently Abundantly


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