Ok so you’re probably wondering “What the heck is Compassion Fatigue?” Not another new buzz word flying around to get us all worked into a frenzy! I must admit, that’s exactly what went through my mind, until I looked deeper and realised something quite profound as I’m sure many of my readers will….
Recently, a very dear friend Elles Lohuis ph.D sent me a video clip by a woman called Juliette Watt.
Juliet is a world renowned professional and inspirational speaker, with too many personal accolades to even begin listing. Anyway, Juliette played a huge part in treating rescued animals caught up in hurricane Katrina amongst numerous other achievements in her life.
Now according to Juliette, her mission is about making a massive impact and helping people create the life of their dreams.
In her own words:
“I want to help people who have lost themselves in who they’ve been for everyone else.”
To cut a long story short, the clip was about something called ‘compassion fatigue’ and it was sent when I was going through some pretty deep personal issues. I have to say, it really changed my way of thinking.
Compassion fatigue isn’t something I’d heard of before, but after listening to the talk I realised I’d been suffering from it for years, just as I’m sure some of you will have. So what exactly is compassion fatigue?
Well as I understand, compassion fatigue is the exhaustion we feel from constantly giving to others, whilst forgetting to give to ourselves. That’s the short version, and it really resonates with me personally.You see, like many of you I was raised to be courteous, to always put others first, be respectful at all times and turn the other cheek. So naturally, these wonderful values followed me into adulthood but the bit they missed out – how to replenish the mind and body after all that effort.
This is the bit we didn’t get taught and if you like, the bit we never realiased we needed to learn. After listening to Juliette’s talk, it inspired me to take a really deep analytical look at some of my own quite serious personal issues.
As an experienced meditator, meditation was the way I chose to really analyse myself, my thought processes & my behaviours but even with all this experience, what I discovered absolutely floored me. Putting that aside for a moment though, one thing I have discovered is I’m not the only one who’s been struggling for years with this, there are literally millions of us.
All through my life, people close to me have said, “You always seem to choose relationships with needy people” To a point, they aren’t wrong either. It’s true – I’m attracted to people who need help with their own lives, mental health, addiction – well anything really that takes the emphasis away from me. I’m like a vulnerability magnet, people with problems can spot me from a 1000 mile radius or so it seems. So in effect the accusations or observations are true, I spend loads of time helping them back into better health and lifestyle only to find they don’t need me so much afterwards.
The question is….where do we draw the line at acceptable & unacceptable vulnerability & need? After all – we all have these things don’t we? Even the most influential & famous people have vulnerabilities and needs so why are some considered acceptable and others not?
Now I’ve come to realise a very important thing since doing all this analyzing. The problem doesn’t lie with the people I attract or accept into my life, the issue lies with me and the fact all my energies are directed outwardly with none coming back to replenish myself.
Even a car needs petrol, oil & water to continue functioning well but we humans seem to think we’re invincible and then wonder why we get sick and diseased from all kinds of things. There’s nothing wrong with helping or guiding people to stand on their feet and get back on track – as long as we hand back the reins and power afterwards.
Just for a moment, consider these 2 scenarios and see if any resonate with you….
1 – You raise your children the best you can, holding down a full time job and juggling childcare just so they don’t want for anything. They have all the designer gear, they’re popular in school because they fit in and you do your best to make sure that continues. As they get older, they fall in with friends you’re not happy with but you take all necessary steps to make sure they’re safe. Mobile phones to call home, lots of credit on the phone, some cash in their pocket in case of emergencies etc. But they never really call and if you call they make it short. The cash goes on weed with their mates who all love you and wish their mum was like you. Then it’s phone calls from the police or they get arrested and it’salways someone else right? Your son/daughter is easily led they come from a good family – it couldn’t be their fault so you bail them out. By this time you’re on anti-depressants and your nerves are shot. You can’t focus on your work because you’re scared they’ll have their mates over or steal things so you cut your hours to keep an eye on things……….Any of this sound familiar? Now let’s look at another Scenareo.
2- You meet the love of your life, there’s nobody like them – absolutely perfect in every way. You get flattered on your appearance, breakfast in bed and everything’s rosy. The person you’re with isn’t from your country and so, they need help with language and letter writing, especially for legal stuff and you’re happy to help. You are a kind loving person and so are they, that’s why you fell in love. Then one day something strange happens…you realise months or years have gone by and your partner’s legal struggles are almost over but you are totally exhausted. They’re still grateful for all you’ve done and it’s made things so much easier but you want it to be absolutely perfectly finalised – then it is. Something inside you is still in rescue mode though, because that’s what you do – rescue people. So now it’s all sorted out you start to look for other ways to help this person move forward when all they want to do is run, jump, fly & explore their new sense of freedom. It doesn’t mean they love you any less but to you it’s a personal wound to the heart so you keep trying and now you’re exhausted physically & mentally and they don’t seem to care.
One plainly obvious fact in both scenareos – is the issue of not handing back the reigns. We continue to hold tight long after the urgency has gone and instead of accepting our role here may be over, we keep on disabling them. For me, doing Analytical meditation & looking deep within made me realise, something in me was missing. All those years giving, nurturing, loving and providing to everyone through my relationships, parenting & work choice were all directed outwardly and I had become pretty hollow in parts. Hollow because for some strange reason….and I really can’t explain it – I never valued myself highly enough or with as much deserving of compassion as I did everyone else and so, I didn’t fill the empty space with anything. It’s odd because nearly everyone I meet comments on what a lovely person they see in front of them so how come I never saw it? Feeling self fulfilled is vital to stop us repeating the same self distructive behaviours over and over.
Compassion fatigue is prevalent in our society today, especially (but not only) Western Society where more time is spent looking at mobile phones than having conversations, meeting targets than cooking family dinners & blaming others for the frustrations in our own lives. How ridiculous does that sound? It’s like making a cup of tea then deliberately knocking it over & blaming somebody else for allowing you to do it.
Only when we realise and admit the deficits in our own lives, can we stop blaming everyone else for our exhaustion. More importantly, it’s only after realising this can we stop creating our own condition Compassion Fatigue.
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