Compassion Fatigue (Part II)

Please consider, that this is a continuation of a previous post, Compassion Fatigue (Part I).

So, we’ve established what it means to have “Compassion Fatigue”. We’ve discussed it’s symptoms. We talked about the difference between “Burnout” and “Stress”. Both are deadly. Not necessarily physically, but in our own lives and hearts and our availability to be used of God. Whether you Stress in a crisis and try to fix everything through over-engagement, or whether you Burnout and run from the pain and hurt you feel by disengagement, makes no difference. Both are a reaction to the pain you feel. Or to the pain you feel for others.

There is a high cost to compassion. It will reach out to help someone, while risking being stabbed in the back in the process. It’s vulnerable. It’s painful. It’s risky.  And it isn’t something we can just “get through or get over”. There’s always someone hurting. There is always someone who needs help. There’s always someone who needs Christ’s love. There’s always someone to show compassion to, making a difference. And escape from compassion is not an option. You cannot decide to not care. You haven’t been given the liberty to stop loving someone. Not, that is, if we are serious about obedience to Christ.

But, dear heart, I would like to encourage you. While pain in inevitable, and the high cost of care is certain, God has made a way of escape. It does not have to destroy you- unless you let it.

“…but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” (I Corinthians 10:13)

We are NEVER, let me repeat, NEVER alone in bearing sorrow. Whether that sorrow is our own, or someone else’s. Why? Because GOD IS FAITHFUL. “That ye may be able to bear it.” You might certainly feel like the person who is about to get drowned in the process of trying to rescue someone else…but you aren’t the one responsible. God is. He is holding the situation in the palm of His very capable hand. Does this negate the part we play? Certainly not. But it gives us the ability to actually play that part.

Here are a few KEY TOOLS to help keep you accountable:

  • Remember that joy is not the same thing as happiness or pleasure.  Life is hard. It isn’t always easy. It isn’t always pleasant. Dealing with other people’s hurts and sorrows, especially, is not a “flippant” or “lighthearted” thing. It’s okay to be serious. It’s okay to be down. It’s okay to need time alone to think, to process, to pray, to heal. Don’t let the opinion of others discourage you, either by disregarding what you feel or misunderstanding the rule it plays in your life.
  • Don’t take everything personally. It’s always helped me in my life, to remember that “hurting people, hurt people”. They just do. It isn’t always a personal attack…sometimes you are just the person closest to their shooting range. Forgive. Let go. Press on.
  • Limit your time spent around negative people or those who are always in pain. This is a hard one. Sometimes you simply can’t limit that time, because they are always there. In which case, God just gives more grace. But it’s helpful to be around those who will encourage you in Christ. The friends you can share your heart with. The people that are safe to talk to, to “vent” on if need be. Who do you know will tell you the truth, and will do it in love? Or who are you certain will inevitably point you to Jesus? Who will be faithful to pray for you? Get around that person. Make time for good fellowship. It’s important.
  • Make time for rest and refreshing. This is super important. Ecclesiastes 10:10 talks about an axe that is dull, and how not taking the time to stop and wet it, only requires then more strength than if he’d stopped to refresh it. This is true of us too. Get alone with God. Read His word. Pray. Write out what He’s showing you, what you are thinking, what is happening in your life, if necessary. Get your appropriate sleep. Everything seems more exhausting when you haven’t gotten enough sleep. Slow down if need be.
  • Pay attention to your own physical needs in diet and exercise. Maybe this one is obvious, but it’s often the first thing that is neglected. It falls to the back burner, but is certainly important for sanity, clear thoughts, and availability to be used of God. If you are dying premature because you didn’t take care of your health…how is that spiritual? Obviously, some sickness cannot be helped, and God uses it, but I heard it said once that, “It’s a sin to be sick, when you could have been well.” We are to glorify God in our bodies, which are God’s.
  • Learn to assess your life situations and prioritize accordingly. This one is challenging sometimes. Sometimes you are just pulled in too many directions…and you snap. I’ve done this too many times to count. Figure out what God expects from you- and do that. And let everything else fall to the side if need be. I know that is easier said than done…but life is too short to carry around everyone else’s expectations too. Paul said, “lay aside every weight and the sin that doth so easily beset us“. To “press toward the mark of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”
  • Seek to give all your burdens to Jesus. This one is the most helpful to me. It’s an amazing thing, when circumstances don’t change- but God changes you. He is ready to carry our burdens…if we’ll only tell Him what they are. He’s ready to give the victory…if we’ll ask Him for it. There isn’t anything too big for God. And there isn’t anything too small either. He cares, for us, about us, more than we do. He cares about the people we love, more than we do. He cares about the person you are trying to reach, more than you do. He’s a friend. He’s trustworthy. Tell it to Jesus!

I recently made a “Personal Stress Prevention Plan” for myself. After writing out a list of the things in my life that constantly threaten to drown me, or the people that threaten to drown me, I needed a fall back system to keep me accountable. While God certainly gives us grace to handle “Compassion Fatigue”… it is helpful to understand yourself. To know your limits. To set boundaries and actually KEEP them. It has helped me and I would encourage anyone who is constantly battling Compassion Fatigue, whether you are emotionally tempted to Burnout or overwhelmed by Stress, to do the same. Here are a few things that I hope can serve as a somewhat helpful guideline. (Obviously, everyone’s own list would be personal to them.)

Lynea’s Game Plan

Take all my burdens to Jesus

Start going to bed earlier and getting up earlier

Limit my tea/coffee/caffeine intake

 (Limited) sugar

Make more time for devotions.

 Never forget to pray in the mornings.

Pray about everything I have/need to do

Pray specifically and fervently for specific people

Learn to say “NO”.

Walk everyday

Cast down imaginations and bring thoughts captive

Take time to step away and breathe in the fresh air when necessary

Remember to enjoy the simplicity of life sometimes

Make time to read good books

Be faithful to take care of my heath

Trust Jesus with everything

Compassion Fatigue (Part I)

Kind of an odd post title, huh? Let me explain. I recently had the opportunity to take an educational class entitled “Compassion Fatigue”. An amazing and incredibly complex subject compacted into one lesson. Compassion Fatigue is exactly what it sounds like. Physical, emotional, mental, and also spiritual fatigue and utter exhaustion that comes from helping other people. Basically, when helping someone else begins to hurt you. Compassion Fatigue, gradually impacts your own capability to experience joy, or to feel and care for others. Whether that is from simple caring, loving, physically helping, attempting to rescue, or actively reaching out as a strong stability and support to someone in need. All of which, IS EXHAUSTING. Real compassion of any sort, will wear you down. No getting around it. And no matter who you are, who you are reaching out to, or how you are actively involved, it will weigh on you in several different ways. In the next two posts, I’d like to talk about both the symptoms and natural reactions of Compassion Fatigue, as well as, how to deal with it. It will help construct you- or -it will destroy you.

So let’s get started. Firstly, I’ll touch on what can sometimes cause Compassion Fatigue. I don’t want to spend too much time on this, however, since each of us could probably present a whole list of our own personal different circumstances and situations that do. Here are just a few I thought of.

  • Ministries 
  • Personal Outreach
  • Evangelism
  • Abortion Abolition Work
  • Crisis Situations
  • Counseling
  • Witnessing
  • Hard Relationships
  • Reaching out to those you work with
  • Listening to someone else’s heart
  • Feeling someone else’s pain
  • Expectations from others
  • Expectations on others
  • Bearing with someone else’s sorrow
  • Difficult situations and circumstances
  • Trials and Burdens
  • Hurts
  • Sickness
  • Prayer and Fasting
  •  Crying
  • Suffering
  • Watching others Suffer
  • Loss
  • Sin 
  • Hardness of hearts
  • Love

If you have any or all of these above, at some point, you will most likely experience what is called “Compassion Fatigue”. And it’s okay. In fact, it’s a good thing. It’s just how we choose to deal with it that can be dangerous. It hurts to care. It is not a light thing to truly love someone. Jesus knew this more than anyone.

There are generally two reactions that come from someone experiencing Compassion Fatigue. Imagine with me for a moment… that you are in a rowboat. But not just any old rowboat… a sinking rowboat. Your boat (your life) has come to a crisis point. There is a leak, if not many, in your boat. You are surely, as you are quickly, sinking. You are going to drown if you don’t do something. There is land not to far off. What do you do? What would YOU do?

If you are anything like my sister, you would naturally row harder. Give it all you’ve got -plus some. If that doesn’t work, you’d probably grab a few more ores than you could even reasonably manage and chaotically scramble to save the boat and all who are inside. You might even endeavor to hand buckets to those around you (especially those who are “in the same boat”!) and expect them to do the same things that you are doing. Save the boat!

This is what I’d like to call the “FIXERS“. They try to “fix” everyone and everything. Loss is not acceptable. Patch it. Make it better. Get through. How do they react? STRESS.

To say the least, my sister and I differ greatly in personality. We are opposite, in almost everything…which has proven to be quite comical at times. So, if you are anything like me, you wouldn’t row harder. No, instead, you would grab the closest life preserver and jump ship. The boat is sinking… Why waste your energy? Why try for nothing? Why care? Just let it sink and swim for shore. You might be surprised and confused when others, in the same boat as you, don’t follow your lead. But you certainly aren’t going to be talked into going back. It’s a lost cause. Just get out while you still can.

This is what I’d like to call the “RUNNERS“. Don’t look back. Don’t waste your time. Put it all behind you and move on. How do they react? BURN OUT.

Which one are you? If you don’t already know, maybe this will help you.

BURNOUT vs. STRESS


Burnout
is a defense mechanism characterized by disengagement.

Stress, on the other hand, is characterized by over-engagement.

In Burnout, the emotions become blunted.

In Stress, the emotions become over-active.

In Burnout, the emotional damage is primary.

In Stress, the physical damage is primary.

The exhaustion of Burnout affects both motivation and drive.

The exhaustion of Stress affects physical energy.


Burnout produces demoralization.

Stress produces disintegration.

Burnout can best be understood as a loss of ideals and hope.

Stress can best be understood as a loss of fuel and energy.

Burnout produces a sense of helplessness and hopelessness.

Stress produces a sense of urgency and hyperactivity.

Burnout produces paranoia, depersonalization, and detachment.

Stress produces panic, phobia, and anxiety.

Burnout may never kill you, but your long life may not seem worth living.

Stress may kill you prematurely and you won’t have enough time to finish what you started.

COMPASSION:

What about compassion? Compassion comes from the Latin word, compat, which means, “to suffer with“. It has been defined as: “feeling of deep sympathy or sorrow for another who is stricken by sufferings or misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate pain or remove its cause.”

As Christians, we are more familiar with compassion. Compassion is found all throughout the Bible. Jesus Christ was compassionate. And we are likewise commanded to be compassionate also.

Jude 1:22 says, “And of some have compassion, making a difference:

I John 3:17- “But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?

But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.” (Luke 10: 33-34)

Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing.” (I Peter 3:8-9)

Obviously, having compassion isn’t the problem with “Compassion Fatigue”. The solution isn’t just to stop caring. In Galatians 6:2, we are told to “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.” We are suppose to bear one another’s burdens. We are suppose to have compassion. We are suppose to care. We are suppose to reach out to those in need. Fatigue is simply part of that process. I think about how Jesus, Himself, had to go away to a place alone and pray. The problem isn’t other people’s burdens. The problem comes with what WE CHOOSE TO DO with those burdens.

Sure, it’d be nice if no one had problems! If people weren’t hurting, and in the process, hurting each other. If there wasn’t sin! If souls already knew Jesus! But this isn’t our reality. And it’s okay. Jesus has a plan through it. He says that, His yoke is easy. That His burden is light.

To be continued….