Saturday, June 5, 2010

Dealing with Compassion Fatigue

The term compassion fatigue was one I first heard more than a decade ago. It is a term normally used to define a condition of caregivers who struggle to function in care giving environments that constantly present heart wrenching, emotional challenges. But it is now seen in those of us trying to affecting positive change in society and seeing little positive movement and coming to the realization that our mission, perceived as so vital, is elusive, if not impossible. This painful reality, coupled with first-hand knowledge of society's flagrant disregard for the safety and well being of the feeble and frail and helpless, takes its toll. Eventually, negative attitudes prevail. And what seems like chronic fatigue and indifference sets in. We shut down, turn out.

How many images can you see of oil-coated pelicans dying on a once pristine beach before you just shut some part of your mind off in an effort to save a modicum of your sanity? This shut off point comes earlier if you are dealing with personal issues that require you to care or even just function. We cannot all sit at our computers or in front of the television and cry over the horror.

Organizations dedicated to aid and rescue like the American Red Cross see it in their workers and provide counseling for them. They also try to rotate them so they don't have to show up for every disaster. And they know the third earthquake will get fewer donations of money than the first.

When did you start shutting down? After the Haiti Earthquake? Or the Chilean Earthquake? Or the one in Tibet? (Somewhere along there news began to more finely filter and we didn't get the whole story.) Or the 11 oil workers that died in the initial Deepwater Horizon explosion? Or the first oil killed pelican? I think they are up to over 300 in Louisiana alone.

They discovered after 9/11 that you can get post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from just watching the World Trade Centers collapse hundreds of times. And you can get compassion fatigue from being bombarded by images of situations you want desperately to change but feel helpless to do so. Both of these can trigger old issues you have not dealt with. Awareness is the first step toward relief.

It is especially important to normalize your life as much as possible with exercise and meditation and getting away from the televised and e-mailed  images for just a bit. And doing something! Even if it is just signing a petition or writing your congressman about reforms in off-shore leases and liability limits. (Yes, Virginia, there are legal limits to what BP's liability in this disaster are.) 

Remember accepting the presence of compassion fatigue is validation of the fact that you are a deeply caring individual. We need more of those in our world today to balance all the uncaring SOB's heading companies.

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