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Possible Causes of Compassion Fatigue

As caregivers, we are at risk of compassion fatigue any time we witness the marks of trauma in the lives of others in such a way that it overwhelms our ability to cope. This sense of being overwhelmed is subjective, meaning that what overwhelms one caregiver, may not necessarily overwhelm another. It is important to remember that witnessing trauma has the potential to ignite our own trauma history. When this happens, we are not only overwhelmed by what we hear, but also by our own unresolved trauma material.

Recognizing that traumatic stress is subjective, here are a few common situations that can lead to compassion fatigue:

  • Listening to stories of child abuse
  • Working with suicidal ideation
  • Interacting with the terminally ill
  • Responding with humanitarian aid in situations like disaster, poverty, or war
  • Caring for families with an injured or dying child
  • Providing support for survivors of rape
  • Working in the animal care community
  • Debriefing survivors of non-sexual physical aggression
  • Providing services for bereaved families
  • Counseling teens in educational environments

Although compassion fatigue can be the result of long term stress, caregivers need to understand that even one story that overwhelms our ability to make sense of the event, can lead to compassion fatigue symptoms. Recognizing the power of our own trauma history, learning to recognize compassion fatigue symptoms in ourselves and our coworkers, and diligently educating ourselves about compassion fatigue, are all valuable proactive steps to staying healthy and effective in our work with animals and people.

Read about a Personal Encounter with Compassion Fatigue

Photo Credit: Brenda Peters

Recognizing the power of our own trauma history, learning to recognize compassion fatigue symptoms in ourselves and our coworkers, and diligently educating ourselves about compassion fatigue, are all valuable proactive steps to staying healthy and effective in our work.

  

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