Weary Hearts

Posted: Thursday, September 10, 2009



Now that we’ve walked through the flames of burnout, we arrive at the frozen wasteland of compassion fatigue. Whereas the wick of burnout is lit by WHERE we work, compassion fatigue is more a reality of the work we DO. You can escape burnout by changing employers, or finding a better fit for your work ethic and values. You cannot outrun compassion fatigue; it will follow you wherever you go. In other words, from the perspective of a healthcare worker, burnout results from stresses that arise from the clinician’s interaction with the work environment, while compassion fatigue evolves specifically from the relationship between the clinician and the patient (Kearney et. al., 2009).

It is believed that in relation to compassion fatigue, the only way out…is through (Carol Pearson).

The veterinary oncologist Greg Ogilvie calls compassion fatigue the “hurt of the heart.” By definition, compassion is a deep awareness of the suffering of another, coupled with the wish to relieve it. Fatigue is the mental weariness resulting from exertion that is associated with attending to the emotional and physical pain of others (Figley & Roop, 2006).

The causes of compassion fatigue include:

  • Placing needs of others before your own
  • Unresolved past trauma and pain
  • Lack of healthy life coping skills
  • Lack of self awareness that limits growth
  • Giving care to others under stress
  • Lack of personal boundaries
  • Inability to communicate needs

While these causes arise during the work we do in veterinary medicine, they are just as likely to arise within us or as a result of our private or home life. It seems fitting, then, that compassion fatigue causes symptoms to appear both at work and at home.

The symptoms of compassion fatigue include:

  • Bottled-up emotions
  • Impulse to rescue anyone (or thing) in need
  • Isolation from others
  • Sadness and apathy
  • Needs to voice excessive complaints about management and co-workers
  • Lack of interest in self-care practices
  • Reoccurring nightmare and flashbacks
  • Persistent physical ailments
  • Difficulty concentrating, mentally tired
  • Prone to accidents

Symptoms that follow you home after you clock out at the end of your shift include:

  • Withdrawn
  • Decreased interest in intimacy
  • Mistrust
  • Isolation from friends
  • Impact on parenting
  • Projection of anger or blame
  • Intolerance

Awareness is key to addressing compassion fatigue. Then we have to make a focused effort to take care of ourselves, so we have the strength and heart to help others. Compassion fatigue would not be an issue if we weren’t compassionate people, so we must learn to turn that love inward as well.

Now that we’ve walked through the flames of burnout, we arrive at the frozen wasteland of compassion fatigue. Whereas the wick of burnout is lit by WHERE we work, compassion fatigue is more a reality of the work we DO. Now that we’ve walked through the flames of burnout, we arrive at the frozen wasteland of compassion fatigue. Whereas the wick of burnout is lit by WHERE we work, compassion fatigue is more a reality of the work we DO. compassion fatigue, burnout, stress

09/02/2009 - Dowsing the Flames of Burnout

08/26/2009 - Agree to Disagree

08/19/2009 - It’s Lonely at the Top

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