Compassion Fatigue: Healing the Healer

Many of us find ourselves in a position of having to care for someone other than ourselves: our children, elderly parents, a sick or injured spouse or disabled family member. Some have careers as caregivers – doctors, nurses, therapists, psychologists, those working with the homeless – all noble professions that lend themselves to compassion fatigue, more commonly known as burn-out. I was a single mom of four beautiful children who consumed every waking hour of my life. While I thought, as many of us do, that my selflessness was an honorable trait, what I did not realize was how my constant attention to my children was causing me to neglect myself.

Compassion fatigue is insidious, often disguising itself as exhaustion, resentment, stress, feelings of apathy or emptiness, anxiety, and hopelessness. Lack of caring for ourselves, the absence of being recognized and appreciated for our self-sacrificing ways chips away at our emotional enthusiasm and drains us of our physical energy. One must be mindful of their circumstances and the emotions they are experiencing.

Whether you are in the beginning stages of burn-out or deeply immersed, consider taking the following steps:
1. Know how and when to say “no” to others. Do not offer an explanation. Simply state that you are unable to fulfill their request.
2. Let others know what you need in terms of assistance, recognition for your efforts, and so on. People are not mind-readers and cannot know specifically what you need.
3. If what you are seeking from others is not forthcoming (such as praise) give it to yourself. You deserve to be honored for what you do and self-praise is just as significant as that from others.
4. Set and enforce healthy boundaries.*Do not allow others to use, abuse or take advantage of you.
5. Make yourself a priority (the oxygen mask principle). If you do not care for yourself you will be useless to others.
6. Put everything into perspective. Unless an issue is one of life-or-death most can be addressed at a later date.
7. Reach out to all available resources – friends, family, support groups. Each are valuable in their own right.

Caring for others is noble indeed but we must remember to nurture ourselves as well. After all, we are equally as important.

For more information contact Loren Gelberg-Goff @
* Learn more about boundaries in The Secret Side of Anger available @

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