Compassion Fatigue

Is it possible to care too much for others? Compassion Fatigue is the emotional strain that your heart feels when you’re constantly taking care of other people. Do you find yourself in the listener role often? Do you often hear emotionally charged stories from friends, family members, customers, or clients?

Compassion Fatigue happens when you constantly give more emotional support than you receive. Nurses, Teachers, Physicians, First Responders and Therapists often feel a heaviness in their heart from the countless intense stories that they hear every week. But you need not be a professional caregiver to experience this type of emotional fatigue. It can happen to anyone.

As a Healer, my experience of Compassion Fatigue is that my heart gets dry when I see too many people in a week. My first sign of this fatigue is that I get uncharacteristically grumpy. Next my normal filters begin to wane and I find myself venting at unplanned moments. In this depleted state, my heart feels heavy because it’s full of strong emotions that are leftover from hearing about the struggles of other people. My venting is feels like my heart is regurgitating all the heavy stories that I’ve heard from others. It wants to get them out of my body.

The cure to Compassion Fatigue begins with making your self care a priority. In other words, you need to love and care for your own heart as much as you love and care for the hearts of others. Having a personal ritual can help enormously.

At the end of each week, I have a personal ritual that I do to release any heaviness in my heart that I picked up from other people. I first bathe in the ocean to cleanse away any residue energy that I may have picked up. In the Hawaiian language, they call this Au Au Kai, (cleansing in the ocean). I make a wish to cleanse my heart and release any emotional burdens that I may be carrying. Then I let out a big exhale and allow the release to begin.

I know when the release has begun when I see the faces or or hear the names of people who I’ve interacted with that week surfacing in my mind. Next I express anything I am feeling to the ocean out loud. Whether I feel confused, hurt, angry, jealous, sad, or anxious, I just say why I am feeling that way. By letting myself express these things in an uncensored way, the heavy energy goes into the ocean. For me, saying them aloud makes it more powerful, but you can also do this inside your head if there are people around. Then, I make a wish for the person that I am releasing as a way of surrendering my responsibility to help them further. It’s healthy to let go of people when you are no longer actively helping them because it allows you to refuel yourself before the next time you will help them.

The next part of the ritual is the inhale of fresh energy. This is where I let the beauty of my surroundings, that fresh, tropical mana (life force), to flow into my body. I don’t just breathe through my nose and mouth. I also soak up the sun through my skin and feel the ocean mist go into my chest. It is the Celebration of my own life that allows me to re-energize myself. The Exhale creates the space for gratitude for my life and the Inhale refills my heart.

I understand that you might not currently live in the tropics and are probably not on a personal retreat in Hawaii as you read this article. So this practice will need to be adapted for home use. My Challenge to you this week is to write down all the people who you have emotionally supported this week on a piece of paper. Then when you are alone in a confidential space, vent to those people by speaking out loud to them or write them a short letter (don’t send them the letter because this activity is purely for your own emotional release.) See how you feel after you express how you feel. If you can’t be by the ocean, then you can do it in front of candles. When you are done with writing things down, you can burn the paper in a fire safe cooking pot or fireplace to complete the release.

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