“I’m actually afraid to tell you what I have to say, because I’m so afraid you will tell me that I was just not meant to be a trauma coach.”
Those were words from one of my interns this week. But I’ve heard it from thousands of people through the years. The only difference was what they fill in their blank with for their line of work.
They would say that I was just not meant to be a luxury real estate agent. Or a …
Caretaker for a sick or disabled loved one
And many more.
I hear it from every profession that serves people who work helping other people in stressful situations.
Sometimes they don’t say they’re afraid they weren’t meant for what they loved to do. Instead, sometimes they said they had lost all of their energy. Sometimes they said that they were feeling overwhelmed. Sometimes they said they felt like they needed a very long break.
At the same time, I could see their passion for what they did.
What all these people … with all of these symptoms … have in common is a condition we refer to as “compassion fatigue.”
What is compassion fatigue?
Compassion fatigue is a term used to describe the physical, emotional, and psychological impact of helping others, particularly those dealing with high levels of stress or sometimes, trauma.
Compassion fatigue has many symptoms. If you are in a helping profession, serving others, and have three or more of these, you could be suffering from compassion fatigue:
- Physical weakness
- Sleep disruption
- Stomach/ gastro issues
- Feeling close to tears in a variety of situations where tears aren’t common for you
- Feeling numbed out or dissociated
- Irritable and/or agitated
- Disconnected from friends and loved ones
- Questioning your sense of purpose
- Desire to “run away” or “disappear”
- Sense of severe loneliness
- Unusual distraction
- Struggle with linear thinking
- Diminished self confidence
- Doubting your ability to help others
- Hopelessness unusual to you
This means you are in compassion fatigue, not that there is something wrong with you. And it is totally understandable.
As I shared with my intern, I would also like to assure you, that you are not in the wrong profession, and there is nothing wrong with you.
I shared with her these three things that she could do to relieve the compassion fatigue. If you relate to this, I wanted you to have the information as well.
1. Get the specific support you need.
Having regular support is one of the greatest ways to relieve compassion fatigue. A place where people understand where you are and can help you with the support you need.
Especially when you’re working with tough cases.
For example, my intern shared that she would rush home after her work and walk into her home feeling like she had been run over by a mac truck. She would do her best to force a smile as her husband began babbling about sports, about how his boss took another day off, and how the toilet in the kids’ bathroom was stopped up.
She said: “I know he doesn’t know. I know he doesn’t get it. I’ve asked for time to debrief when I come in. But he forgets. I just wish I had a way to check in with someone who knows what these days are like for me and could help me press reset.”
I totally understood. She needed specific support, and he didn’t know how to give it.
It’s the reason I created my Coaches SPA (Summit for Accountability & Partnership). I call it a SPA because I know how to support people with compassion fatigue. But mostly, I hope to offer the support that will prevent it.
Let me be very clear what I mean about this specific support by sharing people I have supported just in the past few weeks.
- A hairstylist working with a beautiful teenager who is losing her hair due to the stress in her home.
- A12-step sponsor whose sponsoree had experienced a relapse, and was facing voluntary murder charges as a result of driving while intoxicated.
- A pastor, who had a youth pastor who had sexually assaulted teenagers.
- A luxury real estate broker who was working diligently to find a family a home near the hospital where their child was suffering with cancer when the child died suddenly.
- A trauma coach, who had just done a process with a teenager who witnessed her father murder her mother. He had shot the teenager too, but she had survived.
When we are in these kinds of situations, we need a place to go where people understand that this wasn’t just a hard moment, but that it has affected us dramatically.
We need feedback, we need input, we need deep understanding, support, and validation.
Early on in my counseling career, I knew I needed this kind of support. But I had no idea where to find it. I tried a support group or two, and finally created one of my own. There were six of us that met together for well over 20 years. We called ourselves “fristers“… Because we were more than friends, but not quite sisters.
Looking back on my career, I knew how important that group was to me. Because I see so many people needing it, I’ve recently created a group called the Coaches SPA to serve that purpose.
Find your support! But please find it before you need it!
2. Have a safe place to debrief your experiences.
One of the most powerful things to help us with compassion fatigue is to find a place to debrief your experiences of working with people in deep stress and/or trauma.
Some people find a coach or therapist for this. Some find a mentor. Some find a colleague, and others try to go it alone.
In a debrief, it’s important to talk about what you’ve heard or experienced, but most importantly, how it affected you.
Recently, I was working with a man who landed an incredible opportunity as chief of communications for a large corporation.
He came to talk to me about how overwhelmed he was, and how, after seeing himself surrounded by “giants in the industry”, he was feeling in adequate.
I asked him to tell me what his experiences of being around the giants brought up in him? After hearing him talk about how they had more years of experience than him, how they had more accolades, awards, and letters behind their names… And several other things of that nature, I asked him: “Do you think you are struggling with imposter syndrome?”
As if a bright light had been turned on in the darkness, he got it. We talked through all of his accomplishments, which lead him to where he was, and he was able to go back into the situation, much more comfortably and confident.
Sometimes it’s just that simple. To have someone help us debrief what we’re experiencing. And it definitely prevents and provides great soothing oil for any compassion fatigue.
That’s the power of a group like the Coaches SPA. You are welcome there! But wherever it is … find your place!
3. Have a place to go when you are triggered.
One of the things that instigates and intensifies compassion fatigue is being triggered.
Let me define triggered:
Triggers are experiences or some stimuli that bring up a deeply stressful and/or traumatic event in some way. It may be in the form of a difficult memory, or overwhelming feelings that flood you from out of no where. The triggering may cause reactions that make no sense to others, or even to you.
No matter what good boundaries you may have, and no matter how confident you feel about what you do… There are times that we all get triggered unexpectedly.
Having a place to go and have someone walk us through being triggered is so important. Because when we are triggered again and again, it takes its toll on us. We begin to feel exhausted all the time and live with a sense of dread. That dread that one more thing piled on us will crush us.
That’s classic compassion fatigue.
This week, I had a counselor share with me how she totally dissociated when her client began sharing about her sexual abuse. She knew she was triggered not only because she was struggling to stay present, but because she was trembling and could not keep her Apple pencil still in her hand. She was horrified.
Inside the SPA (online), I assured her that we all get triggered at times. I walked her through her feelings about her own trauma, and she was able to do her next session with her client without dissociating or trembling. She knew the dangers of compassion fatigue and was grateful to have a place to process her triggering.
Whether it be a coach, a mentor, or a colleague … find your place to process when you get triggered. Remember, it’s a great preventer and/or soothing oil to compassion fatigue.
One of the reasons I am so passionate about this is that I am a big supporter of people who work in stressful situations, or with trauma. We all need to stay healthy and whole to carry out our missions of helping and/or serving others. Compassion fatigue can take all of us out of the line of duty.
But if we get the specific support we need, have a place to debrief, and a safe place to go when we are triggered, we can avoid and/or heal compassion fatigue!
I love this quote, although I don’t know where it originated. But you need to know this:
“Compassion fatigue is not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of empathy!”
I hope you will find your place to prevent and/or heal compassion fatigue. Because we all need you!
And .. If you would like more info on the Coaches SPA, you may find it here: https://bit.ly/CoachesSPA