Empathy fatigue

Have you ever given so much energy to other people to the point that you have nothing left for yourself? That’s empathy fatigue, also called compassion fatigue and it’s a common ailment among caring friends and loved ones alike, as well as mental care professionals. You wear yourself out by trying to be there for others whenever they need you.

Last year I wrote a piece on selflessness and choosing to be there for people when they need you even when it costs you. That might appear to conflict with what I’m saying today but I can confidently say that these two ideas do mesh together. It is, for the most part, a good and noble thing to show love to your friends even if you have to make sacrifices to do it. But I neglected to mention this is a caveat – you should not try to do it alone. If you are doing everything under your own strength, then you will absolutely fall to compassion fatigue and it will drag you under. You need to rest physically and emotionally; for your own sake but also because you can hardly advise someone else when you can’t even  look after your own needs. But if you are taking care of yourself at the same time, you can continue to help them. If you are not relying on your own strength but find encouragement in the Lord, He will renew you and allow you to continue serving. Your friends and family can help you, spending time with pets or doing things you enjoy – these things renew your energy too. I have stayed up late into the night with people many times and felt the effects of that on my body, mind and heart. I have struggled with empathy fatigue in my life, wanting to help people but not even having the strength to carry myself, let alone support them. Then you are presented with an awful choice: ignore your needs to help them and get dragged under too, or tend to yourself with fear and feelings that you are deserting them. It’s a damaging position and neither option is really a good option.

The people you are caring for know this too, and it can cause guilt and shame for their helplessness. I know for certain that people have stayed up late with me to show that they care, and there can certainly be a feeling of burden on my end when I know they’re neglecting themselves for my sake. I can feel annoying when I reach out to my friends over and over for help, weak when I can’t fix everything myself and undeserving of the love they show me. Obviously more than any of these things I am absolutely grateful for the concern they show but those fears are still there. If you don’t look after yourself when helping others, you might reinforce that person’s feelings of shame for needing help in the first place.

Be wary of empathy and compassion fatigue. Keep your strength up and look after yourself while you care for others. Losing a little sleep isn’t a big deal at first. But when it becomes a big deal, don’t just tough it out and power through on your own. Call in the cavalry and take care of yourself.

Stay safe,


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