This is the second article in a three-part series from our Director of Counseling Services on loss which addresses how to deal with the emotional impacts of loss through grief, compassion fatigue, and finding life in death.
Within a short period of about four weeks, I've been impacted in some way by about 10 deaths. Each life lost has a story. Each life has family members, loved ones and friends who are grieving and dealing with the reality death brings.
God gifted me with a great capacity for empathy. Rarely does a situation come across my path that I do not try to imagine myself in another person's shoes. Though God can use empathic individuals to minister to and walk alongside those who are hurting, it can be imperative for the tender-hearted to learn how to guard the heart as well.
I noticed I started feeling "blah," had difficulty concentrating and my mind wandered. I didn't seem to have energy or motivation. I was very introspective and though surrounded by coworkers, felt very much in my own solemn world.
I searched for answers and updates by checking the news and social media. The more I searched for answers and understanding, trying to make sense of the senseless tragedies I had been impacted by, I drifted further into introspection and solemnness. I also started to have less patience with my spouse and those in my immediate circles.
At first, I didn't recognize these things for what they were – partly my own grieving process for the losses, but also the hint of something more – compassion fatigue. As I sat with a colleague one afternoon at work to "debrief" in a sense and share experiences regarding the losses, I realized the things I was feeling and experiencing were early symptoms of compassion fatigue. This realization helped me to take steps to guard my heart.
I made a conscious effort to stop scouring the internet and social media outlets for information. I made a point to take breaks, walk around, chat and laugh with friend and coworkers. I allowed myself to empathize, but not linger too long in their shoes, imagining the anguish others must be going through. Amidst all these tangible things, I prayed and clung to scripture for strength, renewal and joy.
Anyone in ministry and certainly those in helping professions or roles can be susceptible to compassion fatigue. If you are in one of these roles or find yourself to have a great capacity for empathy, take some time to learn about compassion fatigue and how to prevent or manage it. If you love, care for, and support someone in a ministry or helping role, also educate yourself and be understanding of your loved ones need to guard their heart. Here's a great clip on compassion fatigue to get you started.
Other articles in this series: