Fostering and Compassion Fatigue

If we, as doers of compassion, long to run the race (and not just the quick sprint) we can’t rely on our own strength. WE CAN NOT POWER THROUGH. God didn’t make us that way (proven in our neurological and emotional make-up) nor does he ask us to. Jesus stopped, Jesus had to consider His body, His mind, His Spirit.

Compassion Fatigue

It is not easy to work with people who have been exposed to trauma. Many who do can become weary. This weariness has been officially labeled “Compassion Fatigue.” It is also sometimes referred to as secondary traumatic stress (STS).

Compassion fatigue is a condition characterized by emotional and physical exhaustion leading to a diminished ability to empathize or feel compassion for others, often described as the negative cost of caring.

Many professional and volunteer workers are at risk of experiencing compassion fatigue. These include clergy, teachers, social workers, nurses, police officers, child protection workers and many more.

Signs of Compassion Fatigue
  • Are your thoughts irrational? There are studies that have proven if you are not moving at a healthy pace your brain will not function properly. This disruption throws off the chemical balance of your thought processes. Which disrupts critical thinking, rational thinking, problem solving and short term memory.
  • Are you overwhelmed with guilt? People who work in the world of care can often feel like they ‘don’t do enough’.
  • Are you isolating? Burn out can prevent connection. This could be the result of secondary or Vicarious trauma.
    • Both STS & VT mirror PTSD. : Vicarious trauma (VT) and Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS) are frequently used interchangeably to refer to the indirect trauma that can occur when we are exposed to difficult or disturbing images and stories second-hand.
  • Is your body giving you signs? Tenseness, exhaustion, uncontrolled emotions ranging from anger to sadness. Listen to your body. Don’t ignore cues your body gives you, (longer term signs) sleeplessness, weight gain or weight loss or other health issues. *The check engine light comes on and we OFTEN ignore it.
  • Are you avoiding God? The ‘numbness’ that can be associated with Compassion Fatigue can affect our willingness to come before the Lord.
Practical Rhythms for working through Compassion Fatigue
  • Be gracious to yourself, it’s OK not to be ‘fine’.
  • Confess to God. CRY out to God. Lament.
  • Confess to others. Have accountability (Friend, Pastor, Spouse, Counselor, Mentor or Spiritual Director). Share that burden. We aren’t called to carry these loads alone. As Disciples of Christ we know this to be true. Set yourself up with accountability within relationships.
  • Honor the Sabbath.
  • Consider the Trinity of wellness: As image bearers we are created in the image of God. The trinity of wellness matches up with the trinity of God: Mind, Body and Spirit. (Author Beverly Kyer created the 3 R’s for quick reference)
    • Mind (Release): Be aware of clues and disruptions.“confess” acknowledge, let go, speak truth in grace and humility.
    • Body (Reboot): Don’t ignore clues your body gives you. Be intentional about sleeping, eating, exercising. Pause, breathe, allow for clarity, allow for reframing. This allows your body to sync back up with your mind.
    • Spirit (Recharge): as compassionate workers we can often get focused on what God is doing through us and no longer give the appropriate space for what God would do IN us.

Resources For Compassion Fatigue

  • Avoiding Burnout
  • Beyond Exhaustion, Creating Breathing Room as a Foster Parent: Sandra Stanley shares that the Foster Care road has been bumpy, filled with moments that have left their hearts both broken and encouraged. As foster parents, we come to this journey so hopeful, so ready to help and love, and yet when there is no margin— when the uncertainty overtakes you—it is easy to feel hopeless. Sandra offers hope in our conversation. We can create space in our lives so that we are not overtaken by this hopelessness. We can live and serve with joy.
  • Never Give Up Hope
  • The Adopting and Fostering Home: How to Avoid Compassion Fatigue: The children who enter into adoptive or foster homes are not the only ones who end up having to navigate trauma. Although adoptive and foster parents are the ones positioned to assist a child’s first-hand trauma, secondary trauma does exist and can become a challenge for parents. An informative chat with Katie Smith, a licensed clinical social worker and play therapist, Katie helps foster parents tackle the sometimes-overlooked matter of parents handling the trauma that emerges in their lives even as they parent.
  • The Gift and Necessity of Time Away with God: Dallas Willard once said, “If you don’t come away for a while, you will come apart after a while.” Ruth Haley Barton, author of Invitation to Retreat, joins Nathan to talk about the gift and necessity of retreat where we rest, unplug, and relinquish ourselves to God.

Deana Terrell for Foster the City