Compassion Fatigue is sometimes defined as: “a condition resulting from being so busy serving people you begin to grow weary and become numb to the pain of those you’re serving.”
For anyone who works with people, which is pretty much everyone, compassion fatigue can happen easily and unexpected. Can I be honest for a minute here. I have had compassion fatigue recently and it caught me off guard. I woke up each day and really didn’t want to do anything. I would force myself to go and do my “job”, but my heart wasn’t in it. My life is one of loving, caring, helping and serving people. I was confused as to why something that had always been so natural for me was no longer my joy or passion. And it wasn’t until I knew what was happening to me that I started the path of being able to snap out of it.
In his book “Servolution,” Dino Rizzo makes this observation, “In our excitement to reach as many people as possible, we risk forgetting that each one of them is an individual. Each of them matters to God, and each has feelings; they hurt, they cry, and they have hopes and expectations – just like all of us do. Compassion fatigue is the kind of problem that sneaks up on you in times when a need is overwhelming and the response requires continual investment of large amounts of energy. And when you add the emotional toll this type of need can take, it can be easy to lose sight of the value of the individual.”
When you pour everything you are into other people, sometimes you can forget to leave anything in it for you. Now, I want to stop here for just a second to clarify something. Whenever we talk about doing things for others and getting worn out, it can sometimes come across sounding very self-righteous. This is not what I am referring to or alluding to. Anytime we serve self-righteously, it is not from God but rather a selfish motive. The kind of serving I am talking about is helping people out of our true nature of love for ALL of God’s children.
But I must admit I have experienced burnout from serving people selfishly, so I look good, and I truly believe that God burns you out on purpose, as to say, “this isn’t about you Justin!”
But you can also get burned out from sincerely serving others and pouring your whole life into them (with no selfish gain). And when this happens it can mess with you and it can mess with your ministry/life of caring for others.
Here are a few of my thoughts on how to deal with compassion fatigue:
1. Remember that your life is not yours! You belong to God. He has desires for your life and He has desires for those around you. He loves you and He loves those around you.
2. Remember the grace God has shown you! Jesus lived a life like us, died for us and works through us.
3. Remember that each person is unique! They each have unique feelings, worries, thoughts. Don’t worry about the masses but concentrate on the one.
4. Remember to take time for yourself! It is not wrong to need some personal alone time. It is not wrong to need a break. Don’t feel guilty about taking time for yourself. In the long run it will help you be a better servant to those around you.
5. Remember you are not alone! For those of us who are Christ-Followers we have been given the promise of the Holy Spirit and the promise of Jesus “never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.” We have the power of Jesus working in us and through us. We also have each other. We don’t have to carry burdens all by ourselves. We have others who share in this journey of life. Use them, confide in them, trust them.
So remember, compassion fatigue can come at anytime. Most likely it will come. But you can prevent or recover from it by relying on God and on each other, remembering it is not about you, but rather about the life we have in Christ Jesus and the freedom we share as children of God.