This month here at Onward, our habit of focus is compassion. This is also one of my foundational core values that guide by life as well so it is a topic that I read, listen, and watch a lot about. We know that we need compassion to help cultivate our resilience, but can there be too much of a good thing here? Welcome compassion fatigue.
As explained by Elena Aguilar in Onward: Empathy is a powerful building block for compassion, but when our distress over what we witness takes center stage, the emotional experience becomes known as empathetic distress. Empathetic distress erodes our happiness; causes us to feel overwhelmed, exhausted, and depleted; and can lead to burnout. Empathetic distress is made worse when we don’t acknowledge our painful feelings and when we believe that expressing emotions at work is not acceptable. Empathetic distress can lead to what’s called compassion fatigue, the feeling of being less motivated and less able to alleviate suffering.
So knowing this, I love what this hospital in Memphis has done. They created a compassion fatigue room for their hospital staff to go to and recharge. I spent a lot of time in hospitals last year with a sick nephew and I was always so impressed with the hospital staff and how they carried themselves. It reminded me of all the people in school settings that can often feel this same empathetic distress. Wouldn’t it be great if our schools could create a compassion fatigue room for their staffs too!