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Compassion Fatigue: What it is and How to Manage it? Part 2

As touched upon in part one of this blog post, it is more important than ever to show up for each other and ourselves during this intensely trying time period. Below, I will continue to discuss ways in which we can most effectively be there for those in need, while simultaneously combating compassion fatigue.

“When we feel compassion fatigue, it’s because our desire and ability to help are incompatible.” This frequently comes from setting unrealistic expectations for what it means to be a good friend or family member. Having a desire to help someone in a way that just isn’t possible to achieve while living your own life as well. When we set unrealistic expectations or desires for ourselves, it “can set up a negative loop if the guilt and shame of not being able to meet your own standards keeps you from doing anything at all – which only amplifies your feelings of self-loathing.” The end result of this thought process is you feeling bad about yourself not being able to help others.

In order to combat this thought process, it’s important to practice self-compassion and loving-kindness towards yourself. It may seem counterintuitive when your mindset is to focus on other people to then turn your focus on yourself. Practicing “personal acceptance, regardless if we succeed or fail… can help break this cycle of self-blame and help deploy your empathy for others.” 

Self-compassion shows up as accepting while we may not be able to solve a person’s problems, we can do something small to show that we care. It can also look like acknowledging you don’t have anything left to give today, taking care of yourself, and waking up the next day with the ability to show up more effectively and be more present. It’s not about the quantity of time spent, it’s about the quality of the time no matter how short or long that time may be. If you continue to struggle with showing yourself kindness, put your friend in your position and imagine the advice you’d give them on how to handle the situation. We often find it easier to show kindness to others than we do ourselves. Acknowledging this can serve as a reminder to show ourselves some self-compassion as well.

While we feel it’s important to help others when they’re needing support, doing this does not mean that we have to do this alone. When people are hurting, research shows they best benefit from the support of a community, not strictly an individual. This is not meant to make our efforts seem insignificant, it’s meant to put our role in perspective and motivate us to reach out to others as it will not only benefit the individual struggling, but it will benefit ourselves as well. “Researchers found that having the support of friends, family, and community helpers made a more significant difference than having just one professional’s help.” 

One day a friend can show up and offer a space to vent, another day a family member could deliver cookies and hugs, a member of the person’s faith community can join for a prayer or a meal. Each person in the struggling individual’s life has a unique way in which they can show up to support the person. No single individual can take on all roles because not all these roles are ours to fill. Handwritten letters, personalized phone calls, and thoughtful texts can all shift the way a person experiences their day. This goes for all individuals, not strictly individuals suffering. Online support groups can be incredibly helpful as well. Having a space with like-minded individuals struggling with similar things can be healing in a way many of us won’t be able to understand. And of course, meeting with a mental health professional is a great way to receive weekly (or more) help from someone experienced, unbiased, and strictly there to support you in whatever way is needed.

I believe Juli Fraga, Psychologist, said it best. “During this year of collective suffering, we need each other more than ever. Expressing empathy in small ways, while also extending kindness toward ourselves, can once again make helping other people feel like a joy, instead of a burden. And cultivating joy in your life can make any burden you’re carrying feel lighter, too.”

If you’ve found yourself struggling with compassion fatigue, it may be useful to try talking to a professional counselor. Contact Symmetry Counseling at 312-578-9990 to set up an appointment with one of our very skilled therapists today!

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