Friday, January 30, 2015

The Issue of Compassion Fatigue

Friday, January 30, 2015

"Caring too much can hurt" - Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project homepage

While recently attending an outpatient treatment program at Abbott Northwestern Hospital I decided to look up the issue of compassion fatigue.  I think it's very true that caring too much can indeed hurt.  When we get enmeshed in the pain of other people's lives we can end up emerging from the enmeshment feeling drained and demoralized.

I discovered the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project while briefly delving into this topic. According to the project's website compassion fatigue symptoms can be seen as "normal displays of chronic stress resulting from the care giving work we choose to do."  Perhaps even more interesting is the contention of traumatologist Eric Gentry that "people who are attracted to care giving often enter the field already compassion fatigued."  Some people may take an interest in "other-directed care giving" because "these are people who were taught at an early age to care for the needs of others before caring for their own needs."  I can certainly see myself in this population of people.  I experienced such early conditioning.  I grew up in a family of people who are good at being martyrs.  They take care of other people at the expense of their own needs.

Unlearning an obsessive adherence to the martyr archetype can require some real discipline. A brief summary of potential indicators of a martyr can be found here.  Of the indicators listed I can most easily see within myself the first one, namely "invoking the shadow in order to control".  I once strongly believed that my commitment to graduate school would bring me rewards worthy of the time and energy I put into the endeavor.  When this didn't happen within the timeline I had originally imagined was reasonable to expect it to happen within resentment grew within me.

I see clearly that my own 'case' of compassion fatigue began early in my development.  It began in the summer of 1982 when I was returned to the custody of my father after he was nearly murdered by his own spouse.  I lost my trust in my father after this horrific conclusion to his second marriage.  And then I was expected to pretend that my capacity to trust was not deeply undermined by my father's immense mistake and subsequent deceit.  My wounding became a source of my feelings of alienation and betrayal.  In essence I was expected to lie about how I felt about being abused.  I was expected to tolerate abuse and deceit as somehow not being immensely unhealthy.  I was asked to pretend.  I was asked to pretend I was not deeply hurt.  And I felt immense resentment due to the dysfunction I was expected to tolerate.

I became very good at ignoring how I truly felt.  My adolescence and early adulthood were marked by an unconscious pattern of frequently putting the needs of others ahead of my own needs.  It is no wonder I eventually found myself at the end of a long road whose terminus was alienation, sadness and a feeling of immense emptiness which outwardly also manifested as a loss of motivation to keep participating in the world.

I want to participate in the world in some way.  But I need to participate on terms that are healthy and in alignment with my current and future needs.  I will no longer participate in ways that only enhance my previously strong feelings of alienation, sadness and frustration.

It's clear I need to continue to redesign my life.

I began thoroughly redesigning my life some nineteen months ago. I made a number of significant changes at that time.  I have remained dedicated to continuing new healthy behaviors.  I intend to continue to pay close attention to how I am feeling each and every day.  By attending to my needs I feel confident that I will become healthier over time.

This blog has served me well as a creative and therapeutic outlet.  I intend to continue writing.  What form my blog will assume as time passes is not something I can clearly see at the moment.  But somehow my journey of writing is enabling me to knit my deep wounds together.

Today I will be reminding myself of what I am grateful for.

What are you grateful for?

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