|Part 1 of a 2 Part Series on Compassion Fatigue.|
Compassion fatigue, which is often referred to as ‘secondary traumatic stress,’ is something that not only affects foster carers but parents and those within the care community. It is defined by professionals as emotional and physical exhaustion leading to a diminished ability to empathise or feel compassion for others.
At the heart of compassion fatigue is empathy. It’s a strong word that conveys relatability to others but used in a negative way and it can devastate others. Using terms like, ‘lacking empathy,’ can leave you thinking that you are emotionless but I believe that it is down to personal and professional interruption. Empathy is about being able to sense other people’s emotions but that isn’t a one size fits all term.
In fostering and parenthood empathy is about;
taking account of the other persons concerns,
helping the person make decisions
and sharing areas of your life with them.
I was once told that I lacked empathy by a social worker. This was because I refused to tell my foster child that my mum had just died. I didn’t feel like it was the right time and I was certainly not in the best place to deal with the behaviours that would be triggered by this news due to the child having past trauma.
Even if someone says you are not empathic it doesn’t mean that you aren’t safe, loving and gentle. It likely means that something is happening in which you have to operate outside someone else interpretation of the word.
What where the signs?
In my experience with compassion fatigue I felt panicked, tired all the time, low and didn’t enjoy the things I usually loved. I gained weight, dropped hobbies and my eating became erratic, I didn’t enjoy prolonged hugging or touching, I felt hopeless and that I was an embarrassment. I clung to routine like a life line and made sure I was consistent in tending to all the children’s needs whilst completing chores and fulfilling responsibilities.
We still had movie nights and family outings and I still was available for dilemma talks and hugs when issues came about. I was still functioning and doing a good job, but I knew that there would come a time where my determination and stamina would run out.
My compassion fatigue wasn’t the result of one big event like my mother’s death. It came after years of working with complex children and having a houseful of hurt individuals who are learning how to live in a home, and with people, who are not their birth family.
It came from years of having equally hurt parents who see you as someone who wanted to keep their children.
Parents who often would feel triggered and would compare their own parenting styles and values to yours and not often favourably.
Parents who would lash out in deep and dark ways and cause you to see the world a little differently.
It came from working with children that couldn’t sleep to those that couldn’t help but hurt themselves to cope.
It came from working with children that were told by their birth families to act up so they could come home which just wasn't true.
It came from circumstances that involved vulnerable child who didn't ask to be in these circumstances or situations.
My fatigue came after years of spending myself on others and as resources became harder to get the pressure became more and more. Respite became unavailable, expertise became clichés and parenting became more and more lonely.
But I survived and figured out a way to continue to foster, be a mum and be myself. You can read the rest of my story next week in Part 2- The 3 Things I Did to Survive.
I hope that I have encouraged you today. If you would like to share your story or contact me please feel free to private message me on our Facebook page, or on Instagram. You can also email me using firstname.lastname@example.org address. Be sure to check out our next article here on 'The Encouragers Life.'
Article written by Jacqueline Bingham