Today was a challenging day in my professional life. I felt like I just got hit with one person or situation after another who needed my help, my compassion, direction or just an ear to listen. At the end of the day, I left feeling really spent and very fatigued.
Anyone who works in the areas of caregiving, the medical field, ministry, social work, first responders or military, just to name a few, are tasked on a daily basis to give to others selflessly and often times, it’s one person after another with little or no break in between. Today was just like that for me from even before my work day started until well after it ended.
Compassion fatigue can sometimes be called vicarious trauma or “secondary trauma” and can be a result of being repeatedly exposed to others who are experiencing trauma. It can cause a decrease in the ability to empathize, a reduced ability to practice self-care, and very often, a sense of guilt that we aren’t able to provide the same level of empathy that we used to.
For many of us, we can recognize these symptoms and take a some time away, sometimes a few minutes to walk around the block in the sunshine or even a few days to really decompress and remove ourselves from the traumatic environment. Compassion fatigue is different from burnout because burnout won’t go away with self care. People who are burned out need an extensive time away or a complete change of environment to feel better. Essentially, burnout comes from where you work, and compassion fatigue comes from the work you do.
As codependents who often have a narcissist in our lives that serves an important role, we are exposed to trauma, often on a daily basis but the difference is, the trauma of living with a narcissist or sociopath often takes place in what is supposed to be our safe spaces, our homes. We often find ourselves never at peace in our supposed sanctuaries. We are often walking on egg shells, making sure the person is taken care of, has what he/she needs and often have to think two or three steps ahead to prevent an outburst or conflict because the other person isn’t happy, or receiving the attention they are convinced they deserve.
Sound familiar to anyone in your life? I remember being so shocked at how unexpectedly relieved I was when my marriage imploded. I felt like I could finally exhale a breath I hadn’t realized I was holding. In the early months I really missed him. Pining for what should have been, mourning a future that I thought we would have.
Then SCRREEEEEEECH! Hang on a second. One day I really evaluated what I was missing. What I discovered was that I wasn’t really missing him, I was missing a partner. Not him, just a helper. Not the drama, just someone to take out the trash and kill the big bugs. Not his drinking, or his constant need for reassurance or his inflexibility when it came to anything interfering with his beer schedule, I missed someone to unstop the toilet. That isn’t missing a husband, that’s missing a Personal Assistant.
That was a turning point. That was the first step to Single & Selfish. Taking care of others is exhausting, but taking care of others both at work and at home is impossible to maintain in the long run. There has to be a breaking point. Hell, there has to be a BREAK!
So when I came home tonight, after having a challenging day in my professional life, I came home to a genuine sanctuary. I walked the dog, told the kid I wasn’t cooking and we can provide for ourselves. I threw some laundry in the washer because I’m weird like that and love doing laundry, it’s practically instant gratification. There was no TV on, and I let the silence continue because that’s what I wanted tonight, and I sat down to write.
Now here I am at the end of today’s blog and I am feeling utterly relaxed and peaceful. I don’t even need a glass of wine anymore to help me wind down. I’m already there once my fingers get to typing and my mind gets to spinning a message. This is the first time in my adult life that I’ve genuinely wanted to come home because I knew I would find nothing but peace.
I will take, day in and day out, 365/24/7.