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Recognizing and Managing Compassion Fatigue

Compassion Fatigue (Figley, CR, 1995) is the natural consequence of stress resulting from caring and helping traumatized people or animals. The outward signs we experience are displays of stress, resulting from providing care to others. Compassion Fatigue is the name that has been attached to these symptoms so that we have a way of identifying it in ourselves and in others. Once identified, we are able to take action to manage the distress this disorder is causing in our lives.

Compassion Fatigue is a set of symptoms, not a disease. 

- Symptoms vary in each individual and can include: Bottled-up emotions 

- Impulse to rescue anyone in need 

- Substance Abuse 

- Isolation from others, sadness, apathy 

- Voices excessive complaints about management/colleagues 

- Lack of interest or inability to engage in self-care practices 

- Recurring nightmares or flashbacks 

- Persistent physical ailments and exaggerated sense of responsibility 

- Difficulties concentrating and mentally tired, prone to accidents

What are the Causes in the Individual? 

- Placing the needs of others before our own needs – often called “other-directedness” 

- Unresolved past trauma and pain 

- Lack of healthy coping skills in professional and personal lives 

- Overdeveloped sense of responsibility 

- Giving care to others under stress or with burnout 

- Lack of personal boundaries and inability to communicate need

The Best Way to Lower Compassion Fatigue Levels?

The best way to counteract the symptoms of Compassion Fatigue is to raise your level of Compassion Satisfaction. What is Compassion Satisfaction? “ Compassion Satisfaction is the pleasure we derive from the caregiving work we do.” Dr. Beth Hudnall Stamm -Professor, Institute of Rural Health Idaho State University

"Compassion Satisfaction is… Pleasure and satisfaction derived from working in helping, caregiving systems."

Satisfaction may be related to:

- Providing care

- The organization

- Work with colleagues

- Work with children/teenagers

- Making a difference

How Can Family Members Manage Compassion Fatigue Symptoms? 

- Develop an Awareness and Practice Authentic, Sustainable Self-Care Daily. 

- Seek Support, Assistance and/or Professional Help, if necessary. 

- Design a Self-Help Plan/*DOT. 

- Utilize the Self-Assessment & ProQOL Self-Test regularly.

To learn more:

*DOT meaning: “Do One Thing”. Seek support and share with others, “Fill up, Empty out” and remember to only talk about the emotion and not the story as to not traumatize others. “I just experienced something that made me feel….”

Self-Tests to Determine Levels of Compassion Fatigue

Professional Quality of Life Self-Test (ProQOL)

A 30 question self-test measuring Compassion Satisfaction, Burnout and Secondary Traumatic Stress levels Devised by Dr. Beth Hudnall Stamm

Compassion Fatigue Self-Test: An Assessment A 40 question test Devised by Dennis Portnoy, SF-based therapist

Available on:

Author and lecturer Leo Buscaglia, Ph.D. once talked about a contest he was asked to judge. The purpose of the contest was to find the most caring child. The winner was a 4 year old boy whose next door neighbor was an elderly gentleman who had recently lost his wife. Upon seeing the man cry, the little boy went to the gentleman’s yard, climbed onto his lap, and just sat there. When his mother asked him what he said to the neighbor, the little boy said: Nothing. I just helped him cry.

To learn more:,

By Susie Baker, Program Specialist I/Parent Partner

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