Tuesday, July 19, 2011

7 Steps to Conquer Compassion Fatigue

Christian Fatigue Syndrome.  Ministry Burnout.  Exhaustion at every level of our beings.  From being deeply present.  Serving non-stop.  Giving endlessly.  Pouring out ... til there's nothing left except the dregs at the bottom of the well. 


A sense of numbness slowly creeps into body, mind, and soul.  Joy, passion, zeal, and purpose fade to a distant memory.

In the Volume 18, No. 1 issue of Christian Counseling Today Magazine, counselor and consultant Eric Scalise observes, "Caregivers and ministry leaders are not only susceptible to increased levels of stress ... when combined with a call to love and serve others, the result is what is commonly referred to as compassion fatigue

Compassion fatigue can be understood as a comprehensive exhaustion that takes place over time when one is constantly in the 'giving' position and, as a result, loses his/her ability and motivation to experience joy, satisfaction, or feel and care for others. 

It is sometimes referred to as secondary or vicarious traumatic stress associated with the emotional residue related to the cause of caring.  The traumatic event or crisis did not happen to you directly, but you were close enough to those it did impact that its detrimental effects can still have a causal outcome."

Pastor.  Ministry Leader.  People Helper.  Counselor.

If you're emotionally/physically/mentally/spiritually depleted, you KNOW you've got to get out of that terrifying place.  These guidelines may be helpful as you begin to make choices that will re-fill your well:

Enthusiastic, energetic service can sometimes morph into a 24/7 deal where we mistakenly believe that we must be all things to all people at all times.  If that "messiah complex" has crept in, reflect on your initial calling and review your current job description.  Chances are you are going way over and above the demands of duty.

Boundryless people helpers seem unable to say "no."  Do we fear being unloved or unappreciated?  Have we become people pleasers?  Do we fear losing our position or sense of identity?  Begin to understand what drives and motivates you.  Fear is a harsh task-master.

Healthy people helpers pro-actively build a supportive team around them - a regularly scheduled gathering of other like-minded souls.  God can use that in-person, over the phone, or online group as a huge lifeline in our lives.  We need to be in community with others who will be present for us as we debrief, ask us the difficult questions, share helpful resources, laugh and cry with us, and offer much-needed prayer support.

Begin to re-create focused time with those you love.  Chances are they've been missing you.

Our society has created a culture where we are always on, always available.  For many, there has become an obsessive compulsiveness to our use of screens.  There is no rest for our minds, leaving us with no space just to be still.  It's time to recognize if this has become a problem.

Recognize the signs of stress in your body.  See the doctor for a complete checkup.  Take some vitamins.  Cut way back on grazing on that convenient junk food and begin to drink 6-8 glasses of water a day.  Get some additional sleep.  Get outdoors and begin to walk or bike or run.

Times of silence and solitude with God need to become prioritized appointments on our calendars.   The Lover of our souls is the One who's promised to fully restore us {Psalm 23}, and equips us to make decisions that will enable us to "make it our goal to please Him" {2 Corinthians 5:9}.

Running the marathon with you ~

- picture by Klaus M -


  1. You can lose yourself in His service, when serving others, but you also need to care for yourself first. If you're not on firm ground you can't rescue those drowning in the water. As a life guard, our very last option to rescue a drowning victim is to jump in to them, because we are not longer safe, and become at risk too...so by caring for your spiritual self, your physical self, emotional self, and mental self you are setting your self up for success!

  2. The picture of the lifeguard and the drowning victim is a powerful one!

    That's why the flight attendants always tell you to put on your own oxygen mask before you take care of others around you.

    We are wise to do what we need to do to keep ourselves from becoming at risk - spiritually, emotionally, physically.

    Thanks, Elizabeth, for your insight.

  3. These are all great suggestions! I feel that whenever possible, caregivers should make an effort to create a support network for the person they're caring for as well as for themselves. Hook them up with a small group from church, get them started with doctors, counselors, life coaches, etc. - you're both much better off if care can be shared amongst multiple people than when it all falls on the shoulders of one person. Just my personal experience. :0)

  4. Without a network, a community, a group ... whatever you want to call it, we are treading on dangerous ground! We become vulnerable, weak, and isolated.

    We weren't created to be alone ...

    Thanks, Jamie, for your wise perspective!

  5. Well, I'm almost a year late to this post, but just in case someone reads this later...I would add to this list to spend some time outdoors in nature if possible. Take a walk in the woods, find some ducks to feed, visit a botanical garden, sometimes even a drive in the country will do. I find time outside in creation to be incredibly healing and necessary for me if I've inched to close to burnout.

  6. You hit the nail on the head, Sandy! 'Get outdoors' has been added to the 'TAKE CARE OF YOUR BODY' section!

    I so appreciated your insights ... fresh air invigorates me, clears out the cobwebs, gives me a fresh perspective!


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