If you are caring for people who are suffering and have experienced trauma you are could be at risk to be vicariously traumatized. Being in ministry can have great rewards as you have the opportunity to affect others for all of eternity. At the same time, you cannot help being impacted by the grief and loss of those who you minister to. In a study of over 1,000 men and women in ministry the top five themes were: conflict, betrayal, hurt, exhaustion, and isolation. Since doing this research Dan Allender, has been sounding the alarm to pastors: “I want to shake you with kindness!” (Soul Shepherding article “Vicarious Trauma in Ministry”).
“We have not been directly exposed to the trauma scene, but we hear the story told with such intensity, or we hear similar stories so often, or we have the gift and curse of extreme empathy and we suffer. We feel the feelings of our clients. We experience their fears. We dream their dreams. Eventually, we lose a certain spark of optimism, humor and hope. We tire. We aren’t sick, but we aren’t ourselves.” ~ C. Figley, 1995
What is compassion fatigue? Also called “vicarious traumatization” or secondary traumatization (Figley, 1995), it is the emotional residue or strain of exposure to working with those suffering from the consequences of traumatic events. It differs from burn-out, but can co-exist. Compassion Fatigue can occur due to exposure to one case or it can be due to a “cumulative” level of trauma.
SYMPTOMS OF COMPASSION FATIGUE:
• Bottled up emotions
• Impulse to rescue anyone in need
• Isolation from others
• Depersonalization (symptoms disconnected from real causes)
• Sadness, apathy
• Lack of interest in self-care practices
• Recurring nightmares, or flashbacks
• Difficulty concentrating or mental tiredness
• Persistent physical ailments
• Being prone toward accidents
Developing a self-care plan:
1. Be aware of your personal state
2. Create joy in your life
3. Establish good boundaries
4. Seek help with a professional
If you, or someone you know, is experiencing compassion fatigue please don’t hesitate to contact us. We are here to help you.
Take the Compassion Fatigue Self-Test
(Download the test here)
Disclaimer: This article is intended as an educational resource only, and is not intended to be a replacement for treatment. For evaluation and treatment, please contact a qualified mental health professional.