Compassion Fatigue affects a broad range of health care professionals as well as others who provide a myriad of listening and support services.  This condition occurs when professionals, family, friends, or caregivers are continually exposed to extreme emotional circumstances wither directly or indirectly, in an attempt to treat or support those they serve.

Because the effects of compassion fatigue are cumulative, caregivers may be unaware of this syndrome’s ability to rob them of their energy, vitality, and resiliency.  The pervasiveness of this phenomenon places those in the helping/serving professions at high-risk of sacrificing their own physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being on the altars of compassion.

The term Compassion Fatigue differs from the term Burnout in that it concentrates on the transfer of emotions from the primary source to a secondary one.   Whereas burnout that physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion is caused by a depletion of the ability to cope with one’s environment.

Examples of Compassion Fatigue Burnout Symptoms

Cognitive

Lowered concentration, decreased self-esteem, apathy, rigidity, disorientation, perfectionism, minimization, preoccupation with trauma, thoughts of self-harm or harm to others

Emotional

Powerlessness, anxiety, guilt, anger/rage, survivor guilt, shutdown, numbness, fear, helplessness, sadness, depression, emotional rollercoaster, depleted, overly sensitive

Behavioral

Impatient, irritable, withdrawn, moody, regression, sleep disturbance, nightmares, appetite changes, hypervigilance, elevated startle response, accident proneness, losing things

Spiritual

Questioning the meaning of life, loss of purpose, lack of peace, pervasive hopelessness, anger at God, questioning long held convictions/beliefs, loss of faith, increasing skepticism about religion

Personal Relations

Withdrawal, decreased interest in intimacy or sex, mistrust, isolation from others, over-protection as a parent, projection of anger or blame, intolerance, loneliness, increased interpersonal conflicts

Somatic

Shock, sweating, rapid heartbeat, breathing difficulties, aches and pains, dizziness, increased number and intensity of medical problems, other somatic complaints, impaired immune system

Work Performance

Low morale, low motivation, avoiding tasks, obsession about details, apathy, negativity, lack of appreciation, detachment, poor work commitments, staff conflicts, absenteeism, exhaustion, irritability, withdrawal from colleagues

Any of these symptoms could be signaling the onset or presence of compassion Fatigue.  If you think you may suffer from Compassion Fatigue you can take and online Compassion Fatigue Test that will help you determine if you need help.

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