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Compassion Fatigue Causes

Compassion Fatigue Causes

Have you heard of the term compassion fatigue? Compassion fatigue can be defined as lack of compassion or sympathy for the suffering of others due to constantly working as a caregiver. Let us take a look at the causes of compassion fatigue.
PsycholoGenie Staff
Sometimes while working in a position as a caregiver, doctor or counselor, a person witnesses traumas and sufferings of others, which over time overwhelms them. They begin to feel hopeless about the situation that their patients are in and equate them with their own hidden insecurities. By being in constant touch with sufferings or diseases of others, that on the whole remains unresolved, the sympathy of the person gradually diminishes. This is known as compassion fatigue which is also known as secondary traumatic stress disorder.

A person suffering from compassion fatigue show signs of hopelessness, anxiety, detachment from emotion, negative thought process and have problems in focusing. Additionally the person might feel guilt, loss of pleasure and an inability to shake off feelings of dread and over anxiety. Because of prolonged exposure to patients who have suffered some form of trauma, whether physical or mental, the caregiver or counselor experiences mental fatigue.

Symptoms of Compassion Fatigue

Some of the tell tale signs of compassion fatigue are listed below.
  • Lack of enjoyment in day-to-day activities
  • Not deriving any joy from things that used to excite the person earlier
  • Difficulty in concentrating in any task
  • Feelings of anxiety and perpetual fear
  • Feelings of irritability triggered by trivial things
  • Isolation from family and friends
  • Detachment from work and life
  • Inability to take big or small decisions
  • Lack of interest in work
  • Avoidance of certain situations and people at work
  • Unprovoked outbursts of anger
  • Constant feeling of dread and imagination of doom
Causes of Compassion Fatigue

People who are at the most risk of suffering from compassion fatigue are those that have to care for dependents; like social workers and nurses. Doctors, mental health workers, counselors and psychiatrists are also at a high risk of suffering from compassion fatigue. Although it is seen to affect people who work in a profession that requires them to be in touch with trauma victims, it is not limited to people who work in such a profession. Individuals who are expending a lot of care and emotional support to another person constantly, can become emotionally and mentally exhausted leading to compassion fatigue. Some common causes of compassion fatigue are listed below.
  • Interacting with and taking care of terminally ill patients day in and day out
  • Caring for a physically or mentally challenged child
  • Counseling grief-stricken families in times of grave environmental disasters
  • Counseling victims of sexual abuse
  • Working in a help line to support and encourage trauma victims
  • Working in close association with mentally challenged people
  • Providing support to people suffering from depression
Most people equate compassion fatigue to be triggered by working in a profession that needs one to deal with trauma victims. However, a person might suffer from compassion fatigue even while caring for his/her own family. Suppose a person has elderly parents who suffer from some terminal disease. Caring day in and day out for such a family member can become emotionally and physically exhausting to the point where the caregiver simply exists on auto pilot with a gradual decrease in feelings of sympathy for the patient. The person might suffer from detachment, emptiness and irritation at having to care for their elderly parent. The worst part is the feeling of guilt that a person goes through for feeling such lack of apathy for their own parent. The best way to get over it is to acknowledge the feelings that you are encountering and to recognize the signs of compassion fatigue.

Recognizing the symptoms of compassion fatigue and understanding its causes can help in a person's recovery. If you work in a care giving profession, it is important to strike a work life balance. If compassion fatigue is seriously affecting your work and daily life, seek medical assistance.