Keep the Love and Miracles Flowing by Recognizing and Overcoming Compassion Fatigue
That Which Gives Light Must Burn
Viktor Frankl once said, "That which gives light must burn."
This quote has two meanings for me.
The first is that if I want to give light to the world, I need to have a fire of compassion and love burning within me first.
The second is that if I don't give my fire enough fuel to keep it alive, it could deplete itself just like a campfire that eventually fades to embers and then disappears.
Living a life filled with love, charity, and compassion is a wonderful and noble thing, but quite frankly, it can be exhausting.
Have you ever had the experience of feeling like there was so much more you wanted to give, but you just plain didn't have the energy to give anymore?
You're not alone in this feeling. In fact, feelings of exhaustion and fatigue from dedicating your life to selfless service are quite common, but fortunately there are ways to combat this overwhelming exhaustion so that you can keep going.
Before, I continue writing any further, I want to make sure to give credit to Marette Monson (LCSW, MBA) who shared her ideas with me and inspired me to write this article.
Motivation to Combat Compassion Fatigue: Compassion Brings Miracles
While giving of yourself can be completely exhausting, the end results of your love and service will always make your efforts worth while.
I'm sure that you have already seen plenty of examples of how when love and compassion prevail, miracles follow, but for my purposes I'm going to remind you of a story from the New Testament when Christ chose to be compassionate and unbelievable miracles followed.
I hope that I won't be offending anyone by sharing a story from the Bible, but to me this is a perfect example of compassion and the miracles that can come from it. If you don't want to read this, feel free to skip it and move on to the next heading about how to recognize compassion fatigue.
In Matthew chapter 14, Jesus learns that John the baptist has been beheaded. John the baptist was Jesus' cousin, so it's probably safe to assume that this was unpleasant news for Jesus to receive.
Think of how you would be feeling if you were in Jesus' shoes and had just lost someone close to you, particularly in such a horrible way.
Jesus reacted in the way that many of us would. In verse 13 we see that Jesus left to a "desert place apart."
It appears that he wanted a little bit of time to himself to process things, but in the same verse we learn that when the people heard about his departure, they followed him.
At this point, he probably had every right to tell everybody to just leave him alone for a while, but instead he "was moved with compassion towards them and healed their sick."
He had compassion, and miraculous healing followed.
Later on his disciples told him that it was getting late and there was no food, suggesting that he send the people away.
This was the perfect excuse to get some time to himself, but instead he had compassion and performed another miracle by feeding the whole multitude of "about five thousand men beside women and children" with five loaves and two fish. He even had twelve baskets of food left over after everyone had their fill.
After that, Jesus sent his disciples and the multitude away,finally getting some time to himself. I'm sure he was pretty exhausted at this point, particularly because he still hadn't had a chance to take any time to process his beloved cousin's death.
At this point in the story, a storm arises and Jesus performs another miracle by walking out to his disciples on the water and comforting the storm.
Again, when Jesus acts with compassion, a miracle follows.
This story is a perfect example of how miracles can happen when we push through compassion fatigue and continue to love and serve, and who doesn't want to live a life full of miracles?.
An Act of Compassion Followed By a Miracle
While giving of yourself can be completely exhausting, the end results of your love and service will always make your efforts worth while. When we choose to push through that exhaustion and continue to diligently serve, amazing things start to happen.
How to Recognize Compassion Fatigue
Many of us suffer from burnout from time to time, but it turns out that burnout and compassion fatigue aren't actually the same thing.
Here are a few tips that I got from Marette Monson about how to recognize compassion fatigue:
- Rapid Onset-Compassion fatigue usually comes on quickly. You're moving along just fine, sharing your love and service with a smile on your face, and all of the sudden you feel like you just can't do it anymore. Burnout on the other hand is something that you can often feel coming on for quite some time.
- Pervasive In All Areas of Your Life-When you suffer from compassion fatigue you are so exhausted that it affects all areas of your life. In other words, you can't just go on a vacation to make it better. You don't have any energy to give to vacationing. Burnout on the other hand is usually associated with a specific area of your life. If you were suffering burnout from your job, you'd probably feel just fine on a vacation away from work. If you look at the meaning of the prefix "com" in compassion, the word literally means with passion. When you have compassion fatigue, it not surprisingly affects your level of passion in all areas of your life.
- Lingering Sense of Responsibility for Those Who Suffer- When you suffer compassion fatigue you still feel like you should be out loving and serving others. You want to keep going on with your activities as normal as opposed to dealing with burnout where you just want a break.
- You still love your neighbor/friend/spouse/family member-If you still feel a deep love for the person that is suffering, what you are dealing with is compassion fatigue, not burn out.
If you still feel a deep love for the person that is suffering, what you are dealing with is compassion fatigue, not burn out.
How to Combat Compassion Fatigue
The only thing that can really deplete compassion is caring, but of course we want to keep caring. We already discussed that caring, love, service, and compassion bring miracles, and we definitely want to keep all of those things coming in abundance.
That means that we need some tools to help us overcome compassion fatigue. Luckily, Marette Monson was kind enough to share some of her tools with me and has given me permission to share them with you.
The two main tools she shared for combating compassion fatigue are:
- Change your perception
- Develop Resilience
I will discuss these two tools in more detail in the next two sections of this article.
Change Your Perception
There are a few perception changes that you can make that will make a huge difference in your battle against compassion fatigue.
- Choice vs. Demand-Instead of feeling like you have so much demanded of you, change your perception to a more empowering one where you recognize that you choose the things that you are going to take on and do. Your actions and the results you see in your life come from choices that you make. It is really empowering to recognize that you can choose and take charge of your time and actions. What a blessing it is that you have the time and ability to choose to serve in so many ways!
- The Outcome of Your Service Is Not Your Business; the Quality Is-It is easy to get discouraged when our service doesn't yield the results that we desire, but in reality, we have no reason to worry about those results. We should feel good that we did the best we could and then not worry about the rest.
- You are Entitled to Nothing Beyond the Opportunity to Practice the Principles of Compassion-Many people get discouraged, because they feel like they are entitled to a lot of things. They think they are entitled to praise, attention, or other rewards for their actions. It's like when my students at school assume that I owe them a piece of candy if they behave well. Since when were we entitled to always get a little treat whenever we do something good? In truth we aren't entitled to many things, and when we release that sense of entitlement we can find greater joy and gratitude in life instead of feeling disappointed by lack of extrinsic rewards.
- Life Is Going to Present You With More Opportunities to Serve Than You Can Handle-You're human and I'm human. We're all amazing people, but when it comes down to it, not one of us can fix all the problems in the world. When you realize that doing your own part is good enough, that will do a lot to help you combat compassion fatigue.
- Live With a Sense of Purpose-Instead of thinking about what you have to do, think about why you want to do those things. It's amazing what a good strong why can do to help you to push through the most difficult obstacles.
Resilience is the tendency to cope with stress naturally or through the help of others.
That means that self care is important. It also means that sometimes you are going to have to rely on other people to help you keep your bucket full.
So many people who love to serve have a very difficult time accepting service from others. Sometimes service from others can make a big difference when you are on the verge of compassion fatigue.
Just like you need to put on your own oxygen mask on the plane before assisting those around you, it is important for you to make sure that your own basic needs are met if you are going to be able to effectively serve others.
Are you making sure that you get a good night's sleep? Are you eating healthy meals? Are you taking time to eat those healthy meals often enough or are you too busy serving to stop and have a bite to eat?
Are you doing the types of activities that recharge you when your batteries are running low?
You know what activities recharge you the best. Whether your recharge comes from a run around the neighborhood or a hot bubble bath, make sure you are getting those recharging activities in on a regular basis so that you don't feel completely depleted when it's time to serve those around you.
How to Recharge a Low Compassion Battery
The tools listed above are great for combating compassion fatigue, but what if you feel like the compassion is not only fatigued, but completely gone?
Here are two more tips to keep the compassion flowing freely.
- Pray for Charity-Again, I know that not everyone who reads this will believe in prayer, but if you do believe in prayer, this is my number one tip. In the Book of Mormon, there is a long description of the benefits of charity followed by the exhortation that we should "pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love." (Moroni 7:45-48) I truly believe that if we ask for charity in sincere prayer, we will receive it.
- Surround Yourself With the Examples of Other Compassionate People-Have you ever noticed that when you are around a truly inspiring person, you feel more motivated to go out and do inspiring things yourself? This is very much the case when it comes to recharging the compassion batteries. We learn compassion from the people we spend our time with. If you want your children to develop compassion, show them compassion. If you want to develop compassion, spend time with compassionate people. The video below is a great example of how we can learn compassion from those around us.
We Learn Compassion From Those Around Us
Let the Love and Miracles Flow
Now that you have the tools you need to recognize and combat compassion fatigue, go out into the world and make a difference. Don't underestimate your ability to have an amazing influence for good in the world.
You don't have to be a perfect person to see miracles come through your compassion. All you have to do is let the love and compassion flow, and the miracles will come.
Do you believe your acts of compassion can lead to miracles?
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