7 Signs You May Be Suffering from Compassion Fatigue


By: Colleen Arnold, MD

Most of us have heard of burnout. It’s the uncomfortable sense that your job isn’t rewarding or enjoyable anymore; you dread going in to work and find yourself annoyed and irritated once you get there. For people in health care settings or those who take care of loved ones, burnout can also lead to compassion fatigue.

Compassion fatigue causes us to feel uncaring and unmoved by other people’s troubles and is similar in many ways to PTSD. It is the result of seeing suffering repeatedly and becoming emotionally exhausted by it. Some degree of emotional distance is appropriate; after all, if we become paralyzed with sadness, we won’t be able to take care of anyone. However, there is a balance between healthy detachment and appropriate compassion.

If you can relate to these statements, it might be time for you to address your situation.

There is a balance between healthy detachment and appropriate compassion.

Colleen Arnold, MD
  1. Do you feel numb when exposed to bad news? Or the opposite, do you feel weepy at small things like TV commercials or magazine pictures?

  2. Are your relationships suffering because you feel like people ask too much of you?

  3. Do you sometimes look the other way when someone needs help because you’re too busy to stop?

  4. Do you feel trapped in simple situations? (“I can’t take another second in this sickroom!”)

  5. Do you blame others for their suffering? (“He had a stroke because he smokes like a chimney” or “She got Covid 19 because she didn’t wear a mask”).

  6. Do you often feel like your symptoms are worse than the patient’s? (“You think your back hurts? Mine is killing me!”).

  7. Is your “to-do” list is never done, no matter how late or how hard you work? (This could be true; but it could also be that you’re simply not working effectively or efficiently, due to being overwhelmed).

Do any of these statements sound familiar to you? If so, it could be a sign you are suffering from compassion fatigue. Although your situation may seem insurmountable, there are steps you can take to refresh yourself and regain perspective. For example, ask a friend to walk and talk. Or, read the Caregivers Prayer to remind you of the difference you are making. For more ideas to combat the effects of burnout while caregiving, consider the tips in the post, 8 Ways to Recover from Compassion Fatigue.

For more ideas, check out our archives on Self-Care.

About the author: Colleen Arnold is a family physician, a widow, and a mother of three young adult daughters. She enjoys hanging out with family, writing, reading, and walking. You can read her blog at ColleenArnold.org.

This post was adapted from an article written by Dr. Arnold for the Augusta Health LIFE Employee Wellness Facebook page, and is used with permission.

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