Are You Suffering From Compassion Fatigue?
By Andrew Downing
This last year has been painful in many ways, so it is important for leaders to remember that when people are suffering, they need compassion. Compassion is an amazing human trait. It unites us. Seeing someone suffering makes us want to help because it forces us to confront our own frailties and vulnerabilities, which allows us to respond to pain with patience, understanding, and kindness. And that compassionate response is a bonding experience. That’s why leaders that show compassion bring people together and why unity is one of the most important goals of great leadership.
Compassion is beautiful! It brings out the best in all of us. But compassion is also very taxing. So as we head into 2021, leaders should take a moment to reflect on how they are doing. Compassion fatigue is real. We all have limits. When we’re constantly engulfed in tragedy and the traumatic experiences of others, we can suffer from secondary stress experiences, and the side effects can affect our health and our relationships.
This does not mean we need to be less compassionate. Compassion is a necessary component in our society, especially for leaders. Without compassionate leadership, those facing challenges can feel abandoned, resulting in disengagement and disenfranchisement. But when we are constantly diving deep into the suffering of others, there are consequences. Compassion fatigue erodes our ability to empathize and can lead to stress, exhaustion, tension, irritability, and detachment. So the most important thing you can do is pay attention to your emotions and your personal interactions. Be wary. If you are constantly worried about others and start to feel burned out, don’t ignore it. Don’t try to be tough and push through it, because it will affect your relationships and your ability to lead. That’s what you want to avoid.
There’s a lot going on in the world. As a leader, you need to be compassionate, but you also need to manage your self-care and prioritize your mental health. Part of a leader’s responsibility is accepting that you can’t be emotionally invested all the time. You have to prioritize your well-being, and often that means learning to say no. You do not have the capacity to deeply care about everything and everyone indefinitely. You’re a leader, not a machine. So if you’re feeling emotionally fatigued, find a safe and responsible way to de-stress and relax. Plan downtime. Make time for a night with friends or family, even if it’s on a video-chat. Find someone you trust and talk about what you are feeling. It’s okay to take time off. It’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay to get support.