Mary thought for months that there was something wrong with her. She felt hopeless and didn’t feel the empathy for her daughter that she once did. When her daughter didn’t come home at night, instead of feeling panic, Mary felt nothing. She must be a terrible mother! Who doesn’t worry about their child, especially when their child has an addiction problem? She also didn’t notice that she was no longer caring for herself the way that she used to, but then she starting picking up on the comments from friends and family. Her mother asked her when her last trip to the salon was, and her best friend made a joke about her “trendy holey jeans”. What Mary doesn’t know is that she’s not a terrible mother; she’s suffering from compassion fatigue. First observed in trauma nurses, compassion fatigue is the feeling of helplessness or hopelessness that can overwhelm a person who provides care for someone else. Colleen Breen, the author of Making Changes: A Guidebook for Managing Life’s Challenges, defines compassion fatigue as a “soul sadness.” She says that caregivers, whether it be family, friends, or healthcare professionals forget to take care of themselves, because they become so overwhelmed by the needs of others. They become spiritually, mentally, and physically bankrupt.
Those who are most empathetic notice a profound decrease in their empathy once compassion fatigue has set in. This condition is well-known in the circle of health care providers, but it also affects the millions of people who take care of an addict, be it a friend or family member. The chronic stress of our daily lives can compound the feeling of not being able to connect with others, or not feeling like we care as much as we should. In our local area, some of those who are on the front lines helping those affected by the opioid epidemic are experiencing compassion fatigue for the first time. Some had never heard the term before, and many who have given up hope may wonder if there is something wrong with them. There is not. Compassion fatigue is very real, and there are ways to cope with it.
How To Prevent Compassion Fatigue
Educating yourself about compassion fatigue is the first step in fighting it. It’s important to recognize the symptoms. Each person experiences compassion fatigue in a different way, but some of the symptoms can include:
- Physical or Mental Exhaustion
- An overall lack of caring, for one’s self and for others
- Hypersensitivity or complete insensitivity
Preventing compassion fatigue is do-able. It’s important to focus on yourself as much as you focus on others. It’s easy for the parent or family member of a drug addict to forget themselves entirely in an effort to help their loved one in every way, but doing so only leads to burnout. Here are some ways to prevent and cope with compassion fatigue.
Make sure to take care of yourself as well as you take care of others. Eat a well-balanced diet, exercise, and try to get enough sleep. Remember, you can’t effectively take care of someone else when you yourself are suffering.
Remember that you are your own person, and you have your own emotional health to worry about as well as the health of your loved one. Set boundaries with your addicted loved one and remain consistent with those boundaries. Often times, it’s through boundaries and consequences that someone will actually open up to the idea of seeking treatment; it often leads to their “rock bottom.” Remember: It’s possible to remain supportive and empathetic without taking on someone else’s pain.
Do What Makes You Happy.
Think back to the hobbies and activities you enjoyed before the addict in your life began to take over. Start doing some of those things again. Focusing on your own happiness isn’t selfish. The happier you are, the better you’re able to help someone else.
Keep A Journal
Writing down your thoughts and feelings is an excellent way to deal with stress, and can help you to identify patterns and triggers. If you find yourself at a loss for words, look up some daily journal prompts or do a devotional journal. Sometimes being given a topic to write about can help us reflect in ways that we might not think of on our own.
Take A Break.
It’s important to take some time out for yourself and recharge your batteries. Even if it’s just 15 minutes, take that time and spend it alone. Try not to think too much about your problems. Take a short walk, take in the scenery, listen to the birds or the people walking by. Let your mind wander and try not to focus on anything negative.
Learn to Say No.
Often times those affected by compassion fatigue are run down because they do too much for others. Learn to differentiate what is essential for you to do, and what you can let go. Caring for an addict or alcoholic and trying to make everyone else happy at the same time is a recipe for disaster. Many times, the only way someone with an addiction problem learns, is by hearing the word no. You don’t have to help everyone. Focus on doing only what you absolutely must, and what makes you happy. This is a time to be gentle with yourself.
There is no shame in it. Talk with a therapist, or counselor. Join a group especially for those who have a loved one struggling with addiction. The Clearbrook Family Educational Program provides help to those who have a family member that is chemically dependent and offers group therapy and education surrounding the disease of addiction. You’ll be able to talk to others that are also struggling, and learn how to take care of yourself.
Contact Clearbrook Today
If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse, help is available. For more than 40 years, Clearbrook Treatment Centers has been providing effective drug and alcohol therapy to the afflicted individual. Additionally, we believe strongly in treating and educating the entire family unit, for sustained and lasting recovery. Yes, the addict or alcoholic truly suffers through the cycle of addiction, but drug abuse also takes a large toll on family members and friends. If you’d like to learn more about Clearbrook and the Clearbrook Family Educational Program, please contact our Admissions Specialists today.