There is a side to compassion that we don’t often talk about – it’s compassion fatigue. This topic is hard to write about, but through this blog I have been vulnerable, so I am going to stay true to my purpose in blogging and keep it real.
My definition of compassion fatigue:
Being weary and fearful to the point of lessening my ability to respond to friends, family and humanity with empathy, love, tenderness, kindness and concern. Having no “white space” or capacity for others in need and maybe even walking away from or running from the people in my life who are hurting.
I honestly admit that I’m aware that there are days when I have compassion fatigue toward other people and I believe others, at times, may have it toward me.
Soon after my losses, many people were there for me with positive words and actions. I’ve definitely noticed over time that the phone calls, texts, cards, emails, coffee dates, invitations to meals have lessened.
I don’t think this lack of communication is because people don’t care – people are busy and I am a person who represents an unusual, significant loss. In my mind, the inner story I create is that others may perceive that it’s hard to take the time to have a meaningful conversation with me. So rather than appear flippant, he or she may stop reaching out – weeks and months go by without contact and then before you know it – the relationship may end.
So what’s the answer? A step in the right direction is to proactively think about the circumstance and relationship.
Here’s an analogy – living a life grieving is similar to living a life in poverty and hunger. For me personally, my two relational buckets, as daughter and mother-of-a-daughter, are now empty. This hunger, or lack of relational connection to people who I cherish, cannot be refilled; it’s empty. There’s a bottomless void in these buckets. These empty buckets are mine to carry.
You have your empty buckets to carry.
We see one another’s empty buckets and may think, “Wow, that bucket is deep. I don’t have capacity to fill that bucket – it’s scary dark in there. I’ve reached out and helped already, but I can’t personally fill his/her bucket. I don’t have time or energy. I’ve got my own stuff going on. The best thing I can do is avoid or lessen contact so I either don’t fall in that bucket or I’m not depleting my bucket trying to fill her/his bucket.”
So we stop calling, emailing and visiting.
I’ve heard parents who’ve lost children share how after their children died they sadly lost their very best, lifelong friends. I’m sure there is more than one reason that these endings happen, but there is a consistent theme of relationship endings after the death of a child.
How do we lessen compassion fatigue in our hearts?
I believe that we can lessen compassion fatigue by having a realistic perspective about the state of our two, “life perspective buckets” – the abundance bucket versus the scarcity bucket. The scarcity mindset says, “I have insufficient productive resources to fulfill other people’s wants and needs.” The abundant mindset says, “I have a plentiful amount of personal resources to share. I am wealthy spiritually and emotionally and will extend a consistent hand of care toward others who hurt.”
Mother Teresa is someone who had an abundant “life perspective bucket.” I recently saw the movie The Letters; her personal story intrigued me. I took the next step and read the book, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light. Her desire was to serve the poorest of the poor in Jesus’ name. She knew that the way to connect with the poor was to enter into their emotional, spiritual and physical poverty, not write them checks or create a plan for them to improve their lives. Mother Teresa selflessly emptied her physical resource bucket and loved the hurting people next to her – also with empty buckets.
In the world’s eyes her life was one of scarcity, yet she leaned into her love for God and others. God, in her, multiplied her ability to love abundantly. No one can deny her many small acts of kindness overflowed and became an ocean of abundant kindness with positive ripples around the world. Her legacy challenges me.
Photo: From Site Interesting Facts about Mother Teresa
I want learn about and grow in the depths of true compassion – compassion that never grows weary. Compassion without fear. Mother Teresa is an excellent role model in this area, don’t you think?