We’ve all heard of Battle Fatigue, now more commonly known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and now considered not limited to veterans of war only, but today I heard a new term: Compassion Fatigue.
Since I’m pretty much always exhausted, I decided to research this and see if I could add it to my list of neuroses.
Sure enough, I believe I can!
Similarly to PTSD, one might develop Compassion Fatigue by continued and prolonged exposure to suffering, loss of life, and emotional upheaval. Typically, it was seen mostly in care workers such as: physicians, nurses, emergency workers, and social workers. However, with the prevalence of more home care required for our elderly or disabled citizens, with the lack of appropriate in-patient hospitals for mental health cases, and with the need for more and more volunteer trauma workers, society is now seeing more and more Compassion Fatigue in the average person.
But, I learned, it is also now being seen in the front lines of animal rescue and anti-animal cruelty!
And it makes total sense, peeps!
When you care, when your heart is so big and so full of compassion for others (whether humans or non-humans) it’s traumatizing to constantly see the abuse and cruelty bestowed upon them. It’s painful to know it’s never ending, that the day after one animal is saved, there is another to take its place, and another, and another, and another, ad infinitum. It results in one’s physical and mental deterioration over time. And that makes for a very fatigued person. Exhausted in every aspect of one’s being, which can also lead to actual physical illnesses due to a compromised immune system.
So here are some symptoms of Compassion Fatigue:
- Feeling overwhelmed, hopeless, helpless or powerless when hearing of others’ suffering
- Feelings of anger, irritability, sadness and anxiety
- Feeling detached from our surroundings or from our physical or emotional experience
- Feeling emotionally, psychologically or physically exhausted, burnt out or numb
- Physical symptoms such as nausea, dizziness, headaches
- Reduced empathy
- Feeling hypersensitive or insensitive to stories we hear
- Limited tolerance for stress
- Self-isolation and withdrawal
- Relationship conflict
- Feeling less efficient or productive at work
- Reduced pleasure in activities we used to enjoy
- Difficulty sleeping and nightmares
- Difficulty concentrating, focusing or making decisions
- Self-medicating and increase in substance use.
Taken individually or in small cluster groups, someone might not realize they are dealing with this illness. I mean, one might attribute it simply to overwork or not enough sleep. We’ve all had those times, it doesn’t mean it’s a trauma fatigue. But when one is working in a caregiving capacity, perhaps these feelings should be given more in depth scrutiny – just in case.
Animal advocates and rescuers deal on the daily, not just with sick and maimed animals which is bad enough, but also with the non-compassionate mindset of the “great unwashed masses” who do not ascribe to more humane considerations. We are exposed, on the daily, to people who simply don’t care that male baby chicks are ground alive because there is no use for them; that sheep are punched and pummeled to subdue them when they are shaved for their wool; when pigs are kicked, punched and poked with sharp instruments to herd them into the gas chambers prior to slaughter; that chickens are kept in small crates with multiple other hens, no room to move as they grow into over-sized, hormone ridden adults for our plates.
Those of us enlightened in the ways of factory farms and wild animals in captivity deal with not only the animals’ treatment but the attitudes of others who choose to ignore the facts so they can enjoy their rare steak at a bbq. We are insulted, demeaned, ridiculed, and laughed at for our beliefs by many of these folks in our life. We are unfriended on social media because people just don’t want to know the truth. (Yes many people are sickened by the images, and rightly so, but they choose to look away and continue living in the same way despite knowing the truth. This is called Cognitive Dissonance) Some peoples’ own family members treat them horribly at family gatherings, just because they eat differently.
But we stand our ground. No matter how tired we are, how saddened by the violent images we see, how exhausted by the demonstrations and vigils at slaughterhouses. We keep going because it’s for the animals. It’s for life. It’s for all our lives.
But next time you feel all annoyed and judgy about someone choosing not to eat meat at a bbq or asking for soy milk at a coffee shop, remember, these are the same people who fight for the better treatment of your dogs and cats, animals we ALL accept as pets and as family members. Maybe think about the stress and upset they take on in a day for the betterment of all living beings in the world – including humans. Maybe put the judgment hat away and be glad someone is fighting for those who can’t speak for themselves.