Compassion fatigue, caregiver fatigue, secondary traumatization, vicarious traumatization…all descriptions of what happens when we care too much, when we give our all to taking care of our loved ones, it even happens to medical professionals. What is compassion fatigue? Well, as a caregiver – whether as a medical professional or as a person caring for a loved one – do you now find yourself:
• Having trouble concentrating?
• Letting self-care and personal hygiene slide?
• Feeling like you’re bottling up emotions?
• Always feeling tired – both mentally and physically?
• Blaming others?
• Starting to use alcohol or drugs to cope with feelings of sadness, depression?
• Feeling apathetic towards the people you’re caring for, activities you used to enjoy, family and friends?
• Isolating yourself from others because you don’t feel like you can cope with it all?
These are all signs of secondary traumatization. This is not caregiver burnout, but they both can exist at the same time. Compassion fatigue is more insidious and pervasive than burnout. “Compassion fatigue is caused by empathy. It is the natural consequence of stress resulting from caring for and helping traumatized or suffering people.” You lose hope and meaning and turn to other activities to escape these feelings.
Compassion fatigue has many myths surrounding it which cause our caregivers and medical professions to lose their sense of well-being and takes a mental, emotional, and physical toll in their everyday life.
One of the largest myths is that compassion fatigue means you are flawed as both a person and a caregiver. This couldn’t be further from the truth. It is because you care too much that this has happened. This may be when scaling back a bit on responsibilities is the best thing. As a caregiver of a loved one with a life-limiting illness, having a hospice organization come in and help you will lead to better care for your loved one.
Another myth is that your needs come second to the person you are caring for. This selflessness can sustain you in the beginning, but you are human and feelings of resentment (which are completely normal) will start to bubble up. Taking a break, getting others to help you, or even simply stepping out to catch a quick breath.
Though you still care for your loved one, this does not mean you are not feeling caregiver fatigue. The more compassion you feel, “the greater the risk that [you] will experience emotional saturation or compassion fatigue.” Stepping back can help you relieve the stress. Once again, do not be afraid to ask for help. Most caregivers will not ask for help in fear that it makes them look incompetent. In reality, your family and friends would love to lend a hand. It would help you and also give them a chance to make peace with what’s occurring.
Compassion fatigue is sneaky and creeps up on you quickly and without warning. Getting help is necessary. If you need more information on respite care and other services we offer, please contact us at 480-426-0255.