Support for Helping Professionals
“The expectation that we can be immersed in suffering and loss daily and not be touched by it is as unrealistic as expecting to be able to walk through water without getting wet.”
-Naomi Rachel Remen
You are a human being who compassionately supports other human beings who have experienced immense suffering. In your role, you provide care using whatever specialized skill set you have developed. You regularly work with individuals during moments of their life that will always be remembered as the worst or most painful for them. Or, you hear the retelling of these experiences. Given your advanced education and training, some workplaces, friends and family members underestimate how you are naturally impacted by this work.
Small stressors can often be diffused by talking with a trusted friend, going for a walk, or engaging in an activity you enjoy. However, continuous exposure to the suffering of others can overwhelm your system, interfering with your capacity to cope. Compassion Fatigue refers to the profound emotional and physical erosion that takes place when helpers are unable to refuel and regenerate. As you can see from the information below, the development of compassion fatigue is a cumulative process that can worsen over time.
Compassion Fatigue Trajectory
Phase 1: The Eager Beaver
You’re enthusiastic, committed, and involved
If there’s a problem, you’ve got a solution
Working late, no problem
Phase 2: Getting Irritable
You begin to cut corners and start making mistakes
Your sense of humour has become uncomfortably dark
You begin to avoid patient/client contact and become distracted when they speak with you
You begin distancing yourself from others and avoid conversations
Phase 3: Withdrawal
Your interactions with patients/clients have become a blur and are irritating to you
You neglect yourself, co-workers, patients/clients, and family
People may have made complaints about your attitude
You are beyond tired and are holding a lot of pain and sadness
Phase 4: The Zombie Phase
You're operating on autopilot and have disconnected from your thoughts and feelings
You have lost compassion for other people
You cannot find a sense of meaning or see your value
Phase 5: Your Breaking Point
Your mind and body are completely overwhelmed
You have begun to develop physical illnesses or mental health concerns
You go on stress or medical leave
You decide to leave your profession
You’re Human Too
It’s important to remember that you’re not a robot doing this work. You are a human being, who like other human beings, has had a range of life experiences. If you have experienced trauma that hasn’t been fully processed, these experiences will likely be triggered while caring for others. If you were the caretaker for family members growing up, it may feel like a daunting task to put boundaries around the care you provide. Similarly, it can be challenging to recognize the impact this work has on you if you grew up in a home that discouraged emotional expression. Recognizing how your personal history both supports and challenges you in your professional role can be beneficial.
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