Compassion Fatigue I and II

There are two kinds or dimensions of compassion fatigue. Critical Care Nurses may get the first kind. Homeless advocates often suffer this fatigue. Hospital and Hospice Chaplains are vulnerable to this kind of tired. This particular brand of burnout is experienced most identifiably by people who go to work every day and all day knowing that their rewards (and they are considerable) are going to have to come from the loving eyes of some very young child or very old person (and people in every age bracket of course) who recognizes this very caring person as one of the most important people they’ve ever known. A lot of hugs are received and given by the very lucky and blessed care-givers of the world. But sometimes that’s just not enough.

Bankers, lawyers and PGA golfers are burdened by a very different kind of compassion fatigue these days. Those of us not employed in the so-called “helping professions” may very well deal with this other dimension of compassion fatigue. Especially in this day and age with the proverbial “wars and rumors of wars” the ominous threat of global climate change, a totally dysfunctional nation’s capitol, and a seeming endless list of other very threatening prospects for our future we can find ourselves in the very uncomfortable space that Jimmy Carter called a pervasive but furtive anomie. That was 45 years ago. Back then it seemed Jimmy was being a bit histrionic but no more. Today many of us find it easier to try to ignore the negatives on the evening news and escape into another level of consciousness. That can work for awhile but it is, as the environmentalists would say, not sustainable. We can rise above it all for a while but, as my favorite everyman philosopher Lou Tice used to say: “That kills ya.” I think maybe Lou didn’t know that would become literally true in the second decade of the 21st century.

More on that later.


  1. Scott See says

    So if compassion fatigues, do benefits of the rewards also wane?

    • John Hickox says

      !”No. Those rewards do not wane, not unless we try to ignore the issue that required the compassion in the first place. But that’s not a good thing either because, as Lou Tice used to say: “That kills ya!”

  2. Scott See says

    Or is this learned helplessness? The story of dogs being shocked, unable to escape, haunts me ever since Psych 101. Sadly, I have become one of those dogs.

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