The Price of Caring

15 Apr

A few weeks ago, I had a conversation or two with a friend who is a psychologist.  We were talking about how helping people is a great calling, but it takes a chunk out of you.  Especially if you are an introvert.  While extroverts actually gain energy being around others, introverts  expend energy to keep up with the social gymnastics of relating to others.  That is NOT a judgement against people, just a fact of introvert-ness (if that is really a word).

The price is higher when you care about others and watch them suffer.  When you sympathize with others, you relate to their pain and their struggles.  You can take on their challenges, and it takes a toll on you.  This is a fact of any and every profession that provides care for others.

I must stop right here and remind you that, while this is a distant cousin of the PTSD-related problems faced by soldiers and law enforcers, it is not quite the same.  The stakes are so much higher for those men and women that face danger and death every day for our safety.  Theirs is a more brutal reality.  The nature of life-and-death is much more near.  “Life and Death” is their reality EVERY DAY.

But, caring for others does its damage in other ways.  In small ways.  You hurt when they hurt.  When they face tragedy and heartbreak, you face it.  You feel it.  And when you multiply each small impact by the number of people in your world, the number about which you care, it takes small chunks out of your heart, your mind, and perhaps your soul.

Then, when you think you have managed the steady flow of tragedy, along comes a betrayal.  Or a tidbit of gossip.  Maybe it comes from someone on the fringe.  Maybe it comes from someone close to you.  And it takes another chunk out of you.

When you love big, you trust.  When the trust is broken, you cannot love “so big” anymore.  And you find it harder to trust.

Last week, I was talking to another friend who is a teacher.  A friend I have known for 20 years or more.  A teacher who is greatly loved and admired by her students.  And she was on the edge…  Her peers tell her she cares too much.  She doesn’t know how to do her job any other way, but it hurts.  The small chunks have become one big hole.  She and her colleagues are praying for Thursday to come quickly, so they can have a time to gather their thoughts, catch their breath, and heal a little before the push to the end of the school year.

A nurse introduced me to the name for this real syndrome:  Compassion Fatigue.  This nurse, who has worked in Hospice, managed cases, and done several other things in her career, told me Compassion Fatigue is unfortunately alive and well in her profession, in my profession, in teaching, in counseling…  Anyone who cares about others will pay a price.

So … if YOU are in a spot where you know this makes an impact on YOU, how do YOU cope??   How will YOU deal with Compassion Fatigue?

I hope and pray that you will find someone trustworthy and TALK TO THEM.  Not saying necessarily that you need to be in “counseling,” but find someone you can trust.  Someone who faces or has faced the same situations you face.  Talk to them.  Drink  coffee with them.  Trust them.  They can probably help.  You might be able to help them.

You and I, we can beat Compassion Fatigue.  But we must be intentional.  Take the first step.

Praying for you today!!!!

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