Compassion Fatigue – Do you have it?

What is compassion fatigue and why is it important to identify this in ourselves?

Compassion fatigue is a component of vicarious trauma, that being the indirect trauma that can occur when we are exposed to difficult or disturbing images and stories second-hand. Essentially it is when people who hear, work with or are exposed to another’s trauma, start to become traumatized themselves from these interactions.

The impacts of compassion fatigue:

Burn out and compassion fatigue are the 2 biggest components of a concept called vicarious trauma.

Burnout is a state of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion that is caused by too much stress. Compassion fatigue is similar, it being the exhaustion of your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing as a result of helping others through stress or trauma.

Those experiencing it have an all-encompassing feeling that affects their physical, emotional, social, psychological and spiritual health and wellbeing. Like burnout, it sneaks up unexpectedly and can hit out of nowhere, especially when unaware.

Vicarious trauma can have a huge impact on our lives. Signs and symptoms may present themselves as:

  • Having difficult talking about their feelings  
  • Free floating anger and/or irritation 
  • Startle effect/ being jumpy  
  • Over-eating or under-eating  
  • Difficult falling asleep and/or staying asleep  
  • Losing sleep over clients  
  • Worried that they are not doing enough for their clients 
  • Diminished joy towards things they once enjoyed  
  • Feeling trapped by their work  
  • Diminished feelings of satisfaction and personal accomplishment  
  • Dealing with intrusive thoughts of clients with especially severe trauma histories  
  • Feelings of hopelessness associated with their work/clients  
  • Blaming others  
  • Dreaming about their clients/ their clients’ trauma experiences 

For Methods to help prevent and recover from Compassion Fatigue, click here.

The aim of this blog is to inform others of Vicarious Trauma and its impact. If you have any concerns after reading this article, seek the advice of your healthcare professional.