Putting the Passion Back into Compassion

Compassion Fatigue (कम – Passion)

Compassion fatigue was first noted in professional caregivers; nurses who saw numerous violent injuries and circumstances started becoming callous towards their patients. This phenomenon raised a lot of eyebrows and was then studied in great depth by an eminent professor in the field of Traumatology Charles Figley. In his seminal publication in 1995, Compassion fatigue: Coping with secondary traumatic stress disorder in those who treat the traumatized, Figley called this the “cost of caring” for others who are undergoing physical or emotional suffering. This impact is most often experienced by medical health professionals and family caregivers. Compassion fatigue leads to desensitize reactions to patient stories and situations, along with a fall in the quality of the care they provide, which increases the chances of medical mistakes and a general air of discontent.

This is not as far-fetched a concept as one might think as I am sure you’ve seen it play out in a number of everyday scenarios. A helper, who is frustrated with the care receiver, acts rash and insensitive, ready to snap at a moment’s notice. Alternatively, a woman taking care of her bedridden mother-in-law, constantly complaining about the help she needs and belittling the suffering that goes on; it’s not that she doesn’t care about her mother in law and it’s not malice that’s in her heart, it’s just sheer exhaustion and frustration, it’s the compassion fatigue which has set in. This feeling is natural, how can one pour a glass of water from an empty jug? Often, compassion fatigue can make you feel like you’re running on empty, like you’re disconnecting from those around you, losing touch with your own humanity.

In Juliette Watt’s TED talk, she shares her experience of having a controlling mother who would throw her weight around and pushed Juliette further and further into burnout. So much so, that when she got the news of her mother’s death, she was numb to it, so desensitized, she felt nothing. Juliette reveals that the single best way to deal with this situation is to prioritize, ask yourself one, a single question with a single word answer.

Who is the most important person in your life?

Answer: You!!

I can already hear the gasps, the bewildered look on your face, but the answer is not selfish, it’s not putting other people down, it’s vital. How can you take care of others, when you can’t take care of yourself? When you are in the business of caring or doing it out of love, ‘Compassion Fatigue’ is an occupational risk. When you are combating it, the first step is to prioritize yourself, to take care of yourself, create an environment most suited for your growth. Then and only then, will you truly be able to improve the quality of your caregiving, to give your fullest to your loved one.

 Self-care is one of the most critical weapons you have in this battle against compassion fatigue. It may sound indulgent, but when it comes down to it, caregivers often feel guilty when they dedicate time to taking care of themselves, making them feel that they are abdicating their responsibility or acting selfishly. While this is far from the truth, it’s often what happens. A sure shot way to see that you follow through on your self-care regime is by building accountability. It is recommended that you involve friends, family, or an instructor in your self-care regime so that you can be held answerable for your presence and participation.

A great way to ensure that you are exercising self-care is by enrolling in a hobby class of your own interest. Classes and workshops are a fantastic way to get out of your house, for a healthy change in setting, which helps refresh your mind. Due to the flexibility of most classes, they are easy to incorporate in one’s daily routine, ensuring that you use your free time to truly de-stress yourself. Moreover, since you’ve made a commitment to the instructor or teacher, you are more likely to be regular and shell out time for it, this ensures that you stick to your regime and gives you a well-deserved break from caregiving. Involving yourself in activities of interest increases one’s sense of productivity and is an effective stress buster; while reducing stress levels, it also gives you the emotional space to be a better caregiver.

As a caregiver, you are ready to be at your loved one’s beck and call, prepared to assist them in any way you can, selflessly. What if I told you that caregiving does not have to be selfless, that you do not have to give every piece of yourself up for the loved one, to be a good caregiver? What if I told you that setting boundaries is the best way to provide care, healthily and avoiding compassion fatigue? Boundaries can simply be the fact that for an hour every morning, you will be reading undisturbed or the fact that you won’t be able to run this very elaborate errand. Another thing that goes hand in hand with the boundaries is delegation and accepting the help provided. You do not have superhuman capabilities and are juggling a lot of things in the air, so delegating chores or accepting help from other members of the family or community isn’t such a bad idea after all. Most of the time people do want to help; you probably just need to ask.

You know yourself best, and you are the only one who has a clear insight into your own life; this makes solutions and tips that you find on the internet very generic. So, it’s very important for you to find out what you truly need in your life and what works best for you, in your given situation. Make a list of the 5 most critical, yet realistic things you need, whether it be changes you need to make or things you want to learn or start, and start slowly working towards it. Sometimes to get a clear perspective on things, you need a third person’s opinion, and it’s recommended that this person be a trusted friend, counselor, therapist or a mental health advisor, who will help ensure that compassion fatigue doesn’t get the best of you.

The trials and triumphs of caregiving have their own consequences on one’s state of mind, and being around your loved one who is facing hardships could compound the adverse effects on your mental health. However, the hardships of caregiving and the consequences of compassion fatigue can, with the right guidance and sincere efforts, be controlled and managed. If you are experiencing some of the harsh side effects of compassion fatigue, such as depression, anxiety, and insomnia, it is advisable that you pay a mental health advisor a visit, talk to a fellow caregiver, go to a support group. Caregiving can be a beautiful experience, as long as you remember that you are the most important person in your life.

If you can relate to this article, please share it with others who care for someone. The feeling of understanding, not being alone and access to support is what keeps caregivers going.

About the Author

Angel SharmaAngel Sharma - biography - compassion fatigue - Caregiver Saathi 3

“I’m a curious soul. I love learning, gathering knowledge and gaining new experiences. My very limited time on earth has taught me to express myself, and indulge in as many discussions with wildly different people, as I possibly can. Which is why I try to be as easy to approach as humanly possible.
Apart from reading, writing, and socializing, I have a deep-rooted passion for animals. And I believe caring for animals is what really connects me to the caregiving community because I believe caregiving does not stop at and with humans.

As a student, I’m still exploring new avenues and can’t wait to explore the caregiving space, and share my experience, knowledge, and stories!”

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