Creating Balance: How to Deal with Compassion Fatigue

Man staring off into the distance

You have always been the one held responsible and were never allowed to make a mistake like anyone else in your family. You do what your suppose to do by going to work, paying your bills, and then sending money to your family. Without that money, you believe that your family will not be able to have the houses that they have, the education that they are attaining, or the lifestyle that they enjoy. Without the money you send back home, a younger generation of family members may not even be able to marry “the right” person.

On top of that, you are caring for your family here. You drive your children to school. As a spouse, you are a loving and supportive spouse. You have the older family members that live in the US at home because you just don’t believe that a nursing home is right your for family. You already know about homemaker services that can assist you in caring for your family but feel guilty thinking that a stranger will be taking care of those you love.

At work, you are an active leader and take the time to mentor the younger and less experienced professionals at your job. You have very little time for friends and when you do have that time, you are the constant advisor to their sob stories of trists that have gone array or how their boss just doesn’t understand them.

You are everyone to everyone else that there is nothing left for you. It’s exhausting.

Loss of Self

You are always saying that you are tired. The only question you get asked in return is if you are taking your vitamins. If only they knew how much was really on your plate. The few times you have randomly talked about yourself, the response is “that must be stressful” or “that’s a lot.”

The funny thing is that you don’t feel the stress until someone else verbalizes it. You know that you need to take care of yourself. The doctor is telling you too. You’re overweight or your blood pressure is a little high but you could get it into range with diet and exercise. If only you had time for yourself.

What do you do?

What is Compassion Fatigue?

Compassion fatigue is when someone becomes burned out from giving so much whether it be at work, at home, or both. When someone has compassion fatigue, it affects their quality of life greatly. It’s the loss of balance in one’s life when helping people becomes of greater significance than taking care of yourself.

According to the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project, some of the symptoms are isolation, emotional outbursts, increased illness, substance abuse, and sadness,

Compassion fatigue occurs with low to nonexistent boundaries. It’s feeling obligated to take care of others and to care for oneself is a selfish act. This feeling that it is selfish is simply untrue. Again, you have to take care of yourself first before you can take care of anyone else.

How to Manage It?

It will take time and consistency to feel more like yourself again. You will need to take time to reflect on what you want from life. Reflect on what values you have to help you live the lifestyle you want. Our values are not always the same as our parents. If our values are causing us pain, should that be something we value in the first place?


So, you know you’re in a bad place or at least a place that you don’t feel good about being in. You know you are burned out by all the giving even though you may not necessarily want to give up being in a helping profession.

The next step for you is to educate yourself not just on compassion fatigue but on your patterns. How did you become a caretaker, to begin with? Was it from learning by example of a parent? Were you forced into that role as a child to help take care of a sick parent or to help cover for a family member with substance abuse issues? Was it just expected of you because of your gender to be in that role? Is that gender role viable now in your current context?

These are just a few questions to ask yourself. We learn a lot about our role as individuals within our families and what our family would define as a “good” person. However, how things were done in the past is not usually viable in the present day. This does not mean that you are a “bad” person or that you’re turning your back on your culture and traditions. This means that you need to interpret what you learned in the past to fit the present context.

Setting Boundaries

Boundaries are so essential in pretty much every aspect of our lives. Once you know from your reflection and education how you need to regain self that will mean that you will need to set new boundaries. This may upset some people. Don’t be afraid. Know in your heart that you are doing not just the right thing for you but for those you love.

If you cannot show up to work or for your family in a way that is authentic (not robotic) and truly be present with those you care for, would that be truly caring for someone else in the first place? Intention is key.

Kindness to Yourself

Be kind to yourself and understand that you cannot be everyone to everyone else and be no one to yourself. There is no such thing as perfection. In mental health, when we talk about parenting specifically the mother there is the concept of the “good enough” mother. Good enough is a Mom that provides care and love for her children. A good enough mother is not neglectful but understands the need to set healthy boundaries and care for herself. The good-enough mother is not being selfish, she is being smart and strategic. She knows that her energy is not limitless and that she cannot be in multiple places at the same time.

So with this, be the good enough caregiver. Because striving to be the “perfect” caregiver is slowly killing you. In fact, it is taking you away from those you love. Which then contradicts your efforts of caregiving at all.

Ask for Help

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You are not the only person that can provide quality care in this world. So think about the tasks that you are willing to delegate. Make a list of everything you do. Ask yourself honestly does it really need to me be to do this or can I delegate it to someone else?

Delegation does not mean that you are skirting your responsibilities. It is an act of strategy to keep balance in your life. The excuse that no one can do things how you is only creating a toxic barrier between you and the life that you want. Accept imperfection. If the person that you delegate something to completes it with an 80% wellness rate then that’s a win.

Remember, you are still there for those you love, this is just you being a better you for them.

And By the Way!

My name is Tara. I am a therapist who provides online counseling services in the state of Illinois. This blog post is not therapy and it should not be used as a substitute for therapy. If you would like to talk more, you can schedule a free 15-minute consultation, click here!

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