CNS photo/Paul Haring
By Drew Dillingham
Catholic News Service
(Fourteenth in a series)
ROME — To have compassion means to suffer with another. It is a trait we as Christians seek to live out every day. Many of us labor, personally and professionally, to carry out Jesus’ call to provide compassionate support to others. In our society, for example, mothers, fathers, priests, nuns, doctors, psychologists, nurses, social workers, teachers and many others dedicate their lives to helping others. In this way, many of us are fulfilling our vocations to love God and to love one another as ourselves.
Too often, however, we forget that in order to love one another, we must also love and take care of ourselves. Sometimes we spend so much time helping others carry their crosses that we forget we also are carrying our own. Spending time to help others, with no consideration of our own spiritual, physical and mental needs can lead to “compassion fatigue.” This is what my classmates and I learned at the Pontifical Gregorian University on Wednesday as we wrap up our studies on safeguarding minors. While we looked at this issue in terms of child protection and victim assistance, compassion fatigue can affect anyone whose role includes helping others on a consistent basis.
Dominican Sister Catherine Marie talks with a patient at a facility in Hawthorne, N.Y., in 2011. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)
According to Charles Figley, an expert in psychology and mental health:
“Compassion fatigue has been described as the ‘cost of caring’ for others in emotional and physical pain. It is characterized by deep physical and emotional exhaustion and a pronounced change in the helper’s ability to feel empathy for their patients, their loved ones and their co-workers. It is marked by increased cynicism at work, a loss of enjoyment … and eventually can transform into depression, secondary traumatic stress and stress-related illnesses. The most insidious aspect of compassion fatigue is that it attacks the very core of what brought us into this work (to help): our empathy and compassion for others.”
One of the biggest obstacles to identifying and treating compassion fatigue is our struggle to recognize that the experiences, emotions and feelings of those we help can affect us negatively. As someone who enjoys reading stoic philosophy, I often find myself falling into that trap. For example, in Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, (Read More)