Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The ABCD's of Compassion Fatigue ...

Hi everyone!

Despite having spent a number of years teaching compassion fatigue workshops, I'm always surprised to discover how many people believe that compassion fatigue is "a form of burnout" to be "cured" with relaxing bubble baths and hikes in the woods. So, in today's post, I'd like to spend a little time going back to the ABCD's, the basics of compassion fatigue:

A definition:  
Compassion fatigue is exactly what the words say it is:  fatigued compassion. It is the symptoms of posttraumatic stress, diminishing empathy and emotional disengagement that arise from helpers' exposure to others' suffering and trauma.
CF occurs when primary traumatic stress (the trauma we experience directly in our own lives) converges with secondary traumatic stress (the trauma we experience indirectly through knowing about trauma and suffering in others' lives) in the presence of burnout (the chronic stress of perceived workplace demands exceeding perceived resources).
Compassion fatigue is essentially a trauma issue, a normal and expectable response to caring for others in pain. It is a condition of people who care deeply about the suffering of others and who work hard to alleviate it. (You don't find compassion fatigue in people who don't care.)
Compassion fatigue lies at the far end of the stress continuum. If left unattended, can lead to physical and mental illnesses including clinical depression.
 Beware of these warning signs:
The warning signs of compassion fatigue include, but are not limited to:
  • loss of sense of humour 
  • emotional numbness
  • incivility / emotional reactivity (compulsive or impulsive reactions to perceived threats) 
  • difficulty relaxing 
  • difficulty separating work from personal life
  • lowered frustration tolerance / increased outbursts of anger or rage
  • dread of working with certain individuals
  • negative changes in worldview - tendency to see the world as an unsafe place and others as "victims" or "predators"
  • ineffective or self-destructive self-soothing behaviours (eg overuse of alcohol or other drugs, compulsive spending/exercising/eating etc)
  • hypervigilance (constantly scanning the environment, looking for danger to self or others)
  • decreased feelings of work competence
  • diminished sense of purpose/enjoyment in career
  • diminished functioning in nonprofessional areas of life (eg marriage, parenting etc)
  • silencing response (consciously or unconsciously preventing others from sharing painful information with you because you just can't bear to hear it anymore)
  • feeling depressed
  • loss of hope 
  Any one of these warning signs could indicate the presence of compassion fatigue.
Create coping skills:
Because compassion fatigue is a trauma issue, healing and resilience-building must focus on helping us cope with the intersection of primary traumatic stress, secondary traumatic stress and burnout, at home (family caregivers) and in our workplaces (helping professionals and volunteers). Empowering compassion fatigue resiliency skills can be developed in each of the following areas:
  • Self-regulation:  learning to intentionally control the activity and intensity of our fight/flight/freeze response while engaged in daily living.
  • Intentionality:  learning to respond intentionally (vs reacting compulsively or impulsively), in keeping with our personal values and beliefs, in response to perceived threats.
  • Maturing perceptions:  learning to shift the degree of perceived threat we see in the working environment.
  • Connection and support:  developing an environment or network where we feel supported, heard and cared about by colleagues.
  • Self-care and revitalization: becoming stronger and more mature so we are not diminished by witnessing and absorbing the pain of those for whom we care.

 Do something about CF resilience:
If you recognize yourself in these descriptions of compassion fatigue, NOW might be the time to do something about it. Why not JOIN US for the following workshop in Vancouver, BC to discover more and to build your own resilience plan:
  • Caring On Empty: Creative Tools for CF Resilience (For helping professionals and volunteers):  June 16th and Nov 8th, 2014 
 You can email me for a brochure and registration form at caregiverwellness@shaw.ca  

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