In order to raise your voice for others, you have to take care of yourself first. That’s where self care comes in. If you like this tip, be sure to sign up for the Raise Your Voice newsletter to receive your copy of The Revolution Starts with Me! self care zine for more tips and self care resources.
If you work in social services (or, as we like to call it, “the helping professions”), volunteer to help out underserved communities, are a caregiver to a loved one, or deal with humans on a daily basis, you may experience what’s known as compassion fatigue. According to Dr. Lou Kavar, compassion fatigue is a condition that involves a gradual lessening of compassion when you are tasked with caring for someone on a routine basis without taking time out for yourself. Often referred to as “burn-out”, compassion fatigue can affect your physical, psychological, and spiritual health.
We run the risk of developing compassion fatigue when we choose to do everything on our own without asking for help, when we aren’t able to say NO to a request on our time, and when we are exposed to the traumatic sharing of life experiences that others (including clients) share with us.
This last piece is particularly important because, in our interactions with the world, we constantly seek ways to relate and to empathize. Relation and empathy is what connects us with others. It exposes us to human conditions we may not be exposed to in our own lives.
As a social worker, I’ve had many incidences in which I’ve taken the stories of my clients home with me. Hours later, I would still dwell on what I could have done differently, or how the trauma of sharing her/his story affected both myself and my clients. Even as an activist, I have become weighed down with the demands of the communities I’m advocating for. It’s always a great feeling when you’re able to connect with a client, community member, student, peer, or family member’s plight, but it can often come at the cost of becoming overwhelmed with their life circumstances.
There’s nothing wrong with caring for others. The key is in developing a balance between showing compassion for others while also showing that same level of compassion for ourselves. Here are some ways to work through compassion fatigue: