Do You Suffer from Compassion Fatigue?

Being too compassionate can fatigue us. This may leave us unable to control our mood.
Do You Suffer from Compassion Fatigue?

Last update: 02 September, 2020

Compassion is a quality that is beneficial to our personal relationships. In addition to putting ourselves in another person’s shoes, it lets us perceive and understand their emotions. However, too much compassion can lead us to suffer from a condition that psychologist Charles Figley defines as compassion fatigue.

Compassion fatigue can be dangerous and disabling if we don’t manage it properly. If you’re not able to detect compassion fatigue on time, it can cause secondhand trauma or turn into burnout syndrome.

Usually, compassion fatigue affects professionals dealing with patients or clients who are suffering, have some discomfort, or are in great pain. In particular, it affects psychologists, social workers, doctors, or nurses who take care of patients on a regular basis. Compassion and empathy are important skills that go hand in hand with a healthcare professional’s work. However, without the right tools, a by-product of compassion can end up becoming a serious problem.

Girl suffering from compassion fatigue.

Other people’s emotional pain

Although compassion fatigue affects people who are in the healthcare industry more often, it can also affect those who don’t have an at-risk profession. It happens when someone is too empathetic and cares too much about other people’s emotional pain.

Nevertheless, there’s a difference between understanding another person’s pain and feeling it. The latter happens to people who are too empathetic. It’s almost as if other people’s pain becomes their own. As a consequence, too much exposure to these people can cause compassion fatigue.

Some of the symptoms of compassion fatigue are emotional exhaustion and feeling lonely, confused, and urged to suppress or contain emotions.

Fortunately, as we’ve pointed out, there are certain tools that let us treat this condition and prevent it. Being aware of them is useful for several reasons. First, it helps us avoid being trapped by other people’s emotions. Second, it lets us keep a psychological distance to protect our well-being and regulate our mood.

“What another person feels vibrates in me. And when another person is suffering, the impact is evident.”

-José Carlos Bermejo-

Man sad from compassion fatigue.

Tools for compassion fatigue

Next, we’ll take a look at some of the tools we can use to fight compassion fatigue. These are especially useful if we have a job that requires being in contact with people who need help. Or it can also help if we’re highly empathetic and that causes intrusive thoughts, loss of energy, increased anxiety, somatization of negative emotions, or apathy.

  • Interacting with friends: It helps relieve emotional burdens. Exchanging opinions with friends can help us face our issues.
  • Family support: Talking with our family is a way to vent and retreat from certain work-related or personal problems.
  • Leisure activities: Sports or hobbies, such as gardening, give us time for ourselves.
  • Psychological therapy: It’s essential to use these tools, consult a specialist, and do therapeutic exercises that may help treat compassion fatigue.

Other tools are knowing how to disconnect and being informed and trained to be able to manage the fatigue that comes from being too empathetic. Now, it’s important to mention that we shouldn’t stop being compassionate. Rather, these tools should serve as strategies to safeguard our well-being.

“I do not ask the wounded person how he feels, I myself become the wounded person.”

-Walt Whitman-

Woman talking to psychologist about compassion fatigue.

Final thoughts

Compassion fatigue can make us feel guilty. In particular, we’re so mentally tired that we think we’ve lost our ability to empathize. However, this is just the result of being empathetic without knowing how to regulate and protect ourselves adequately.

We hope that the tools we’ve mentioned help you deal with the exhaustion of empathy and face other problems you may be experiencing. After all, each one is just a recommendation that we should put into practice more often. Consequently, you’ll begin to feel better.

In any case, if you think you’re suffering from compassion fatigue, don’t hesitate to ask for professional help. A psychologist can help you discover what works for you and will accompany you through the process. Thus, you’ll be able to continue being an empathetic person but have the necessary tools to protect your well-being.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Campos-Vidal, J. F., Cardona-Cardona, J., & Cuartero-Castañer, M. E. (2017). Afrontar el desgaste: cuidado y mecanismos paliativos de la fatiga por compasión. Alternativas. Cuadernos de Trabajo Social, (24).
  • Fernández-Pinto, I., López-Pérez, B., & Márquez, M. (2008). Empatía: Medidas, teorías y aplicaciones en revisión. Anales de Psicologia24(2), 284–298.
  • López, M. B., Filippetti, V. A., & Richaud, M. C. (2014). Empatía: Desde la percepción automática hasta los procesos controlados. Avances En Psicologia Latinoamericana32(1), 37–51.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.