I have always been a highly sensitive and empathetic person, which I’ve found to be both a blessing and curse. If I watch videos of someone getting hurt I will invariably feel pain and be upset the rest of the day. This heightened sense of sensitivity wasn’t always seen as an asset but rather a hindrance in my life. It seemed more like a nuisance to be burdened by external suffering when my own emotional make up was so acute to begin with.
However, I have found that one of the great benefits that comes from this gift is the ability to connect with people in ways that maybe others can’t; I understand other people’s emotional and physical pain in a way that allows me to share important moments with them. I see now how blessed I am to be able to have this ability. It has given me greater compassion for people everywhere and a deeper connection to those around me.
This gift, however, reaches a point where it no longer functions as a gift but a burden.
We live in a world where the traumas, shootings, deaths, and natural disasters of one country can become the disasters of all. In these past few weeks I’ve dealt with Hurricane Irma, the after math of the devastation of Puerto Rico and the terrible mass shootings in Las Vegas. I’m also highly aware of suffering happening across the world from Myanmar, Syria, Libya, and India. My deep empathy coupled with the realization that I can’t do anything about the suffering of the entire world had left me with compassion fatigue.
Compassion fatigue or trauma fatigue is defined as, “indifference to charitable appeals on behalf of those who are suffering, experienced as a result of the frequency or number of such appeals” and is characterized by a lessening of overall compassion for people or the situation that they are experience. I knew that was me.
The truth was that I felt completely drained in my life, I couldn’t cry anymore or express how heartbroken I was again and again when traumatic experiences were happening all around. It’s bewildering to feel nothing when confronted with something that you know rationally should shake you.
I didn’t want to become the woman who felt numb and disconnected from the world; I wanted to be, and continue to want to be, the woman with an open heart for the needs of those suffering and in pain.
Megan Madden of Verily wrote a fantastic article for Verily going over what compassion or Trauma fatigue is and a few tips that I read as I was trying to get a handle with what was going on with me. Definitely check it out if you have the time, it’s well worth it and full of valuable information.
In learning and understanding what this is, by doing my own research and reflection, I had to learn to manage this experience for my own personal well being. In doing that I have found some really helpful ways to overcome compassion fatigue and get a better handle on my own mental health. The following information is what worked for me, I am not a doctor or psychologist, please speak to a healthcare professional if you believe you need more advice or guidance.
Here are five really easy ways to overcome compassion fatigue
1. Take some time away from social media, news, and magazines
We are bombarded day in and day out by the terrible news from our country, our citizens, and people all around the world. There’s no wonder, then, that we experience this deep sense of apathy towards the suffering of others. This disconnection not only will disconnect you from the rest the world but will disconnect you from yourself.
Having deep compassion is part of being human is something that needs to be cultivated. However, If you find that constantly having the news on, or constantly reading articles of global catastrophe is only bringing you more and more angst it’s wise to turn it off. We don’t want to re-traumatize ourselves over and over and over again by the same situation. Especially situations that we cannot directly do anything about.
This sense of helplessness contributes to our feelings of apathy and will only deepen our fatigue. Sometimes the best thing to do for you and for everyone else is to just turn off the TV and put away your phone.
2. Reconnect to things that bring you joy
In experiencing compassion fatigue not only do we lose compassion towards people in dangerous situations but also to our closest friends and family. This, in fact, makes it more difficult to overcome because those closest to us usually can help us overcome these struggles.
In order to reconnect with ourselves we need to find joy once again. Joy enables us to share connection with others and re-aligns our hearts. This could be done in a variety of ways. You can turn on your favorite comedy,spend some time with the people closest to you, or make a delicious meal. Whatever reminds you of who you are and your goals and values is a good start.
3. Realize that this sense of apathy is not real
One of the things that I found most troubling about compassion fatigue is that it messed with my sense of identity. I’ve always felt so connected to others and when I started feeling not only apathy towards them but disgusted and irritated, I realized that it wasn’t who I really am.
I came to realize that the reason why I was feeling this way was out of a sense of self-preservation. We, as human beings, can’t always go around feeling such heightened emotions. Not only is this not wise it’s also detrimental to our health.
When I realized that this apathy was a psychological defense to protect myself from emotional trauma, it was much easier to manage. I was able to feel better about the fact that I was feeling this apathy. I realize that this was something to overcome but was not a mark of my identity. I know I’m not an apathetic person and I know that I care deeply, this is just a symptom of my deep feelings.
4. Try to help (even in little ways)
Sometimes the best way to fight compassion fatigue is to help a little bit at a time. Even giving five dollars to people in need even sending a little bit of food or connecting to others and sharing their stories will reunite us to what we know is important. It doesn’t matter how small.
Start in making a step in reconnecting to the love that you have for the rest of mankind. Sometimes just writing a letter in thanks is enough to restart your heart.
Of course, this may not be enough but to the goal is to be in a spiritual/emotional/psychological place where you can continue in regaining your empathy and compassion.
5. Give it all to God
The truth is that we can’t fix the world. We can’t deal with every little ache and pain of every single person. There will be people starving, there will be people in extreme poverty, there will be people who have to deal with natural disasters, there will be those that commit terrible injustices but that doesn’t mean we can’t help.
At the end of the day we do need to send our “thoughts and prayers”, as we are quick to state on social media” but more importantly we need to put our trust in God.
In reality, this world is not perfect and will never be perfect. Our only hope in overcoming this is in realizing that it is God who will take care of all things.
I have Faith that He is coming back. I have Faith that he will dry every tear. I have Faith that there will be goodness in the world. When I rely on Him and focus on Him, He can take al the burdens of the world and keep me heart open to the needs of His people. I only have to Trust Him.
I hope that these tips are valuable and helpful for you. I know that it’s always something that I have to fight against.
What are some ways that you found to reconnect yourself after witnessing so many people go through so much pain and suffering?