What is compassion fatigue? Compassion fatigue vs. burnout
Have you ever felt emotionally exhausted?
Maybe you had a long day at work getting yelled at by your boss, or your significant other has been giving you a rough time. We’ve all been in the doghouse, right?
Emotional exhaustion is an upsetting experience, and it can occur for more reasons than you might think. For instance, did you know that you can end up feeling overwhelmed by emotional situations, even if they don’t affect you at all?
Compassion fatigue is a psychological concept that’s just as common among us men as it is in women. Essentially, when you’re suffering from compassion fatigue, you’re dealing with the side effects of being exposed to too much pain and trauma.
Today, we’re going to introduce the bleeding hearts in our community to the symptoms of compassion fatigue, and how it compares to other emotional and psychological issues, like burnout.
Learning how to recognise and overcome this kind of exhaustion once and for all could help you to become a stronger, more emotionally mature person.
What is compassion fatigue?
Let’s start simple.
What is compassion fatigue – and why would it affect you?
The official compassion fatigue definition used to indicate that this condition was an issue mainly for healthcare professionals and psychologists. If you’re a child psychologist in a position where you’re constantly hearing tales of abused youngsters, then you’re likely to suffer from compassion fatigue.
Healthcare professionals selflessly expose themselves to situations where they’re hearing about and even seeing unspeakable pain and suffering. Experiencing so much pain – even second-hand – is hard for our emotional and mental health.
However, it’s not just nurses, doctors, and other medical professionals that experience the symptoms of compassion fatigue. Countless men and women just like you can end up feeling compassion fatigue, caused by exposure to a difficult job, or the media.
The American Bar Association suggests that lawyers (as evil as they’re portrayed to be), frequently experience compassion fatigue. That’s because these individuals are asked to visit accident scenes, view evidence that’s usually graphic, and deal with painful reports.
We’re living in a world where you can see pictures of people in pain as you scroll through Instagram, and where horrific videos are constantly shared on Facebook and YouTube.
We can stream endless shows about serial killers, watch unlimited documentaries online, and access an infinite amount of news. We’re all inundated with access to information about the unimaginable suffering of millions. It’s exhausting.
The following factors could put you at higher risk of compassion fatigue symptoms:
Working in a job that exposes you to evidence of other people suffering (nurse, doctor, police officer, firefighter, therapist, social worker, etc).
Watching a lot of documentaries and news reports.
Providing therapeutic service to someone who’s depressed or mentally ill.
Dealing with other people going through grief or bereavement.
The symptoms of compassion fatigue
So, what does compassion fatigue do to us as human beings?
Should we be actively trying to feel less compassion towards our fellow man?
Of course not. We should be actively trying to maintain our compassion – while protecting our emotions too.
According to the University of Rochester medical centre and University of Michigan, empathy among students has declined by up to 40% since the 1970s. We’re exposed to so much crap every day that we’re becoming numb to the suffering of the people around us.
Some people barely feel a twinge when they see people crying on the news today. You might have a momentary feeling of discomfort when you see a viral video about abuse on your news feed, but you’ll probably forget about it again within the next hour.
This sense of emptiness is one of the most common symptoms of compassion fatigue.
Compassion is going extinct.
The last thing we need is for people who are good at showing compassion to lose that gift.
Yes, sharing feelings is a good thing, guys.
Being aware of the common compassion fatigue symptoms you might experience can help you to avoid the problem and defend yourself against further repercussions.
Symptoms of compassion fatigue include:
Depersonalization (losing your sense of self).
Chronic physical and emotional exhaustion.
Desire to isolate yourself.
Weight loss or loss of appetite.
Feelings of self-contempt.
Irritability and anger.
Insomnia and problems with sleeping.
Inability to feel happiness or satisfaction.
Compassion fatigue vs. burnout: The basics
At first glance, the compassion fatigue definition that we’ve given above – complete with symptoms of exhaustion and numbness – might look like something else.
Compassion fatigue is frequently confused with burnout. However, the two concepts are slightly different.
When you’re suffering from burnout, you’re usually dealing with a problem that has been emerging over time. Usually, you’ve overworked yourself or exposed yourself to too many difficult situations.
Eventually, you feel as though you can’t cope with whatever is burning you out anymore.
Burnout is a cumulative process defined by withdrawal and exhaustion. Usually, the causes are institutional stress (hating your job) and increased workload.
Compassion fatigue is a lot less predictable.
You can suddenly wake up one morning with the symptoms of compassion fatigue, after having no sign that it was approaching before.
Compassion fatigue also doesn’t have to have anything to do with extra work – you could be doing the same things every day, and you suddenly start to suffer emotionally.
For some people, compassion fatigue can also be a precursor of other problems.
For instance, if you’re feeling withdrawn and start hating yourself because of what you see on the news every day, you might have a higher chance of suffering from depression.
You might also suffer from loneliness, or an inability to connect in your relationships.
In a professional environment, an inability to manage the symptoms of compassion fatigue could even lead to ethical and legal conflicts.
For instance, therapists need to show empathy and compassion in their work, but they also need to stay reasonably detached for legal reasons.
Do you have compassion fatigue?
It can be hard to know for certain whether you’re suffering from compassion fatigue.
Symptoms like general exhaustion and emotional vulnerability are pretty vague. You could feel similar side-effects to compassion fatigue after a long night partying, just because you didn’t get enough sleep.
The good news (kind of), is that you can examine your own compassion fatigue symptoms and figure out whether you’re experiencing this problem or not.
The test has even been translated into 17 different languages, so people all around the world can take it.
Although the questionnaire was designed for the original compassion fatigue definition at first – focusing on carers and helpers, it has been updated. Now the survey can offer important feedback about life stress, burnout and fatigue for anyone who helps others.
If you think that you’re experiencing compassion fatigue symptoms because of the media that you’re exposed to every day, you can always perform a different test. Try changing what you watch and staying away for social media for a week. See how you feel by the time the 7 days are over.
You might be surprised by the impact.
What to do with your compassion fatigue definition
Guys, we all have emotions – no matter how much we try to pretend otherwise.
The tough thing for us men is that we often feel as though we’re expected to ignore the way that we feel and push emotions aside. This can increase our chances of compassion fatigue because it means that we don’t fully process the things that we’re exposed to.
The good news? If you score high on the compassion fatigue scale, there’s still hope.
Compassion fatigue isn’t a terminal condition. You don’t have to live your life feeling angry or overwhelmed all of the time.
Instead, you can speak to a professional and start thinking about the elements of self-care that could help you to overcome compassion fatigue.
Simple things, like accepting yourself and your limitations, or giving yourself a break from emotional situations when you need one, can make a huge difference.
Just because you’re a machine at the gym, doesn’t mean that you have to go into robot mode in other parts of your life.
Tune in to some of our other articles for tips on how to overcome and avoid compassion fatigue, as well as insights on how to manage stress, burnout, and anxiety.
Stay tuned for more health and fitness advice from Blitz’d!