Compassion Fatigue-Thoughts on the importance of renewal.

Without having to turn to the pages of a Webster’s Dictionary, I think that we could all agree, in a general sense, that compassion is one’s ability to feel empathy for and understand another’s situation. What happens, though, when one starts to experience compassion fatigue, which is the state of being indifferent to another’s situation due to prolonged exposure and emotional commitment to others? As emotionally intelligent leaders, it is important that we first understand that compassion fatigue is a reality of taking care of others, and we need to be aware/in-tune with ourselves and with others in order to deal with and/or prevent its effects from affecting our relationships with others.

So what does compassion fatigue look like? It is often most recognizable in settings, wherein which the provider/leader/employee seems to be indifferent [to one degree or another] to another’s situation—as though they’ve forgotten that the reason for their employment is the person for whom they are providing care or some other service. Compassion fatigue can be expressed by the way that these people speak to others, by the way that they fail to conduct their business expeditiously, by the way that they, in general, carry themselves when conducting business for which compassion is a, if not the, primary motivator for doing the job (or perhaps a reasonable person could argue that it should be). These people, and others, may sense that something is amiss with their own feelings, attitudes, and behaviors, but may not necessarily know what it is or what to call it. Although there may be some extenuating circumstances and although there are exceptions to every rule, it seems a good bet that these folks are suffering from compassion fatigue.

Preventing and combating compassion fatigue require the same courses of action—much the same that treating and preventing shock are the same courses of action when studying first aid. The key to combating/preventing compassion fatigue is personal renewal, which consists of activating the parasympathetic nervous system (discussed in a previous post) by putting ourselves, or others, into a state of Positive Emotional Attractor, or PEA (also previously posted).

There are many different ways [too many to list] to activate the parasympathetic nervous system by being in a state of positive emotional attractor; the point of this post is to briefly discuss how doing this can help overcome compassion fatigue. How this combats compassion fatigue is that it increases feelings of positivity and hope, through exercises or activities that help people think about the future and dream about possibilities. It helps one to feel optimistic, focus on one’s strengths, feel excited about trying new things, and experimenting (as a generalized example). And, as a matter of combating compassion fatigue, regaining one’s ability to build and/or maintain resonant relationships with others. This is why leave/vacation management and work-life balance are so important. Leaders have the responsibility to ensure their employees are taking time (vacation) to renew themselves. Individuals have the responsibility of maintaining a work-life balance that fosters effectiveness in both. It is not easy, and even though much of this may seem to be common sense, it is not at all common practice…which would be ideal.

I am curious to know what your methods of combating/preventing compassion fatigue may be. What do you do to renew yourself so that you are able to maintain resonant relationships with others? What do you do to help others find their work-life balance so that they can prevent/combat compassion fatigue and maintain their relationships?

Thanks for reading!

Dr. Mark

About the Author:

Emotional Intelligence and Organizational Change Leader Mark gained his leadership experience by serving over 20 years as a member of the US Army. He served in a variety of executive leadership positions within multiple Department of Defense organizations, assessing employee performance, advancing positive social change, and using his knowledge of emotional intelligence to build resonant relationships with all members of the organization. Mark holds a Doctorate in Management-Leadership and Organizational Change from Walden University.

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