When Compassion Fatigue Hits, Deal with Your Own Emotions


The Dalai Lama is credited with bringing the word “compassion” center stage. There is no doubt that putting yourself in someone else’s shoes is the direct path to feeling less judgmental and more loving.

There is no population where compassion is most visible than with health care providers… and mothers. Unfortunately, compassion fatigue is also prevalent. Attitude Reconstruction contends that compassion burnout is due to people having unexpressed emotions about all of the interactions, all of the heartbreak, fears, and frustrations that come with witnessing and serving the vulnerable.

I think the signs of compassion fatigue are clear: we no longer feel the empathy, enthusiasm, and gratitude of serving. Maybe our thoughts go negative, maybe our communications are abrupt, maybe we’re continually tired, or maybe we get sick. These are all signs that it’s time to take a break and deal with our own emotions.

If we realize that sadness, anger, and fear are just pure sensations in the body (emotion = E + motion), then we can give ourselves permission to express those emotions physically and constructively. With just a bit of crying (sadness), stomping or pounding (anger), or shivering (fear) the emotion will move out of our bodies and we’ll be washed clean. It doesn’t take long and it works miracles.

The most important thing is that while emoting physically, we keep our thoughts and words constructive. Find a safe place and while emoting just make sounds or if you say or thinking things, make it “I just feel sad. It’s okay to cry.” or OOOWWW I feel sooo angry.” Own the emotions while expressing the natural energy, and it will pass.

Crying, pounding, and shivering can be done while on the job or almost anywhere. We just need to excuse ourselves and go to the bathroom, or outside, or to our car and just naturally express what we are feeling in our bodies.

Honoring our emotions should become part of our daily hygiene. It’s the perfect way to let go of what’s getting us down, so we can enjoy our work, our family, friends, and world. When we know we’re not at our best, just a few minutes of emoting will get us back on the express train to compassion.

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