Compassion Fatigue: Five things you can do

It can be so difficult to recognise and acknowledge the signs of compassion fatigue. Here are five things you can do if this is where you find yourself today.

In the first article of this series, we outlined what compassion fatigue is and, more importantly, how it can feel and the symptoms and signs to look out for. But what if what we have described is exactly how you’re feeling right now?

There is hope. Keep reading.

But first things first: why don’t we talk about compassion fatigue?

We know that being in compassion fatigue can lead to blocked care, but it can be so difficult to recognise and acknowledge that we’re in that place. So, why is it that no one talks about it? Why is it so hard to share?

For many people, their answer is connected to their fear in how people will respond. Will there be judgement? Will professionals react harshly and therefore ‘add’ to the challenge? These questions are compounded by a sense of shame stemming from the idea that they ‘should’ have been able to manage.

For Christians this can be amplified further. “This must be happening because I didn’t pray or believe enough.” “Why would God allow this to continue even though I’ve prayed lots?” “Did you really call me to this God?”. And then of course, there are the ‘helpful’ suggestions from other Christians which can be more discouraging than anything else (Job in the Bible experienced this with his ‘friends’ when walking through some awful circumstances)!

The promise of the Bible is not that we will not experience any suffering as followers of Jesus. In fact, the opposite is true (John 16: 33). Instead, the promise is His presence; whatever we walk through, even in the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23). He will never leave us or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31: 8).

Even in the place of exhaustion you are in right now, His presence is a promise.

So, here are five things that you could do if this is where you find yourself today.

1. Tell someone

    We are made in the image of a relational God (Genesis 1). None of us were created to do life on our own. Throughout the Bible there are countless examples of God bringing people together, restoring relationships and commanding us to care for one another. He is the God who places the lonely in families (Psalm 68), and His plan for His people is to live in relationship with one another, celebrating together and also weeping together (1 Corinthians).

    Being isolated and alone, whether in good times or bad, is not how we were designed to live.

    Is there someone you could share with honestly about how you feel, who would listen with empathy and then help you take steps forward? Whoever this person might be – let them in.

    2. Prioritise YOU

      Have you ever been on a flight and seen the leaflets outlining emergency procedures? If you’re travelling with a child, the instruction is always to put your own oxygen mask on first before helping the child. This can feel counterintuitive, but the truth is, unless you’re doing OK, you cannot help anyone else effectively.

      So how do you do that?

      Fill up your bucket in whatever way you want to, doing things that give you life.

      You might need to start with some small and simple acts of self-care and build up to the bigger things that might take up more time and preparation. Whatever it is, prioritise things that bring you joy. This includes being kind to yourself. Accept how you feel and have empathy for yourself, just as you would do for others.

      3. Pray and get others praying!

        So often we see prayer as an add-on to the other stuff that truly makes a difference. Or we worry about being a burden if we ask others to pray for us.

        Prayer is an act of faith, where we step past our current experience and trust in what God says and who He is. When we ask others to pray, we give them the opportunity to grow their faith alongside ours.

        4. Engage professionals

          It’s easy to feel anxious about sharing what you’re feeling with social workers or other professionals that you’re connected to, but actually that’s part of the reason they’re there – to support and equip us as we raise our children.

          Whether it’s a post-adoption team, your own social worker or perhaps another professional who’s alongside you, consider reaching out for professional support. This might be for you personally, or it could be additional support for your children that would relieve some of the pressure on you.

          5. Remember the why

            Why did you decide to grow your family through fostering or adoption? What’s your story of how you felt called or led to it? Do you remember how you felt the first time you saw your child or children, the ones living with you now or others who have been in your care before?

            In the chaos and challenge of everyday life, it’s easy to forget why we do what we do. And when we remember, it may not change our immediate circumstances, but it can help change our perspective, and that can be transformational.

            Our children are precious, created by God, full of potential and promise and we get the privilege of being part of their lives. When we remember, it becomes easier to commit to the journey through compassion fatigue so we can give our children all they need and deserve.

            Building healthy rhythms

            If you’re not in compassion fatigue right now, but you’re caring for children who have had a difficult start in life, here are three things that you could build into the rhythms of your life that may help keep you in a sustained place of health.

            Who are your people?

            Keep building with them, dare to continue taking them on your family’s journey and experiences, and talk with them about compassion fatigue (perhaps send them these articles as a start!). Perhaps you could invite them to look for signs of compassion fatigue, and talk about what they could do to support you both now and in the future?

            Keep filling up your cup

            If we commit to doing this, especially when it’s costly and difficult, it will build strength and health in us that will enable us to parent our children consistently, with love, compassion and strength.

            Walk with Jesus

            The closer we are to Him, the more open to His voice and leading we will be, whether we’re on a mountaintop or in a valley. Above all else, keep pursuing Him.

            In the final article of this series, we’ll look at how you can get alongside those in your world who are experiencing compassion fatigue, and how you can be part of helping them move forward into a place of flourishing.

            Other articles in this series

            Compassion Fatigue: The symptoms and the cause

            Compassion Fatigue: The symptoms and the cause

            Compassion fatigue can affect people from all walks of life. But what is it, and why does it happen to us?

            Read more

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