Breaking the Silence and Stigma of Compassion Fatigue

My beautiful cat Major, my constant companion of 16 years passed away suddenly in his sleep three years go.  My grief for his passing was so overwhelming, it felt like someone had turned off the sun and everyday was an exercise in endurance.

Grief is a curious thing, for it unlocks doors that lead to unfinished business and suppressed pain. Our grief invites us to walk through this portal and heal what is wounded and neglected.  Amidst a series of seemingly unrelated events I came across the term “Compassion Fatigue” and saw myself very clearly in the mirror that was held before me.  Consequently, I gradually started to change how I worked, by including myself in the circle of compassion and tending to my needs. Self-care continues to be a work in progress and I thank Major, because, through his death I was awakened.

Compassion fatigue has been described as the cost of caring for people or animals in distress this includes the bearing of their suffering coupled with a desire to relieve it. (Figley, 2002) The literature has well and truly established that compassion fatigue goes hand in hand with the helping profession.  This is important information, in that it normalises the symptoms as a natural consequence of the work.

Unfortunately, however, this knowledge and how to protect oneself from developing compassion fatigue along with the many associated complications, is yet to reach many on the front line.  Consequently, numerous fantastic workers are suffering and needlessly leaving their jobs, taking years of industry knowledge and experience with them.  The future can be very different!

A consistent pattern has emerged in my awareness raising work and that is one of recognition. Participants are surprised and relieved that they are not alone, because their colleagues share a similar struggle. This understanding encourages courageous and authentic discussions, and the tyranny of isolation is broken. Consequently, creating a community of support and caring.

We are all in this together!  Let’s break the silence! There is hope! You are not alone!