Compassion Fatigue

Also called “secondary traumatic stress disorder” or “the cost of caring”, compassion fatigue (CF) is an advanced form of burnout characterized by deep physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion. Developing slowly over time, it is a quiet and slow erosion of your ability to feel and care for others caused by the overtaxation of your empathy, your energy, and your ministrations. Common among healthcare and human services professionals who work with the traumatized or chronically ill, CF is the result of a daily onslaught of the pain and trauma of others. It can wash away every ounce of your compassion, your energy, and your sympathy, leaving you a hollow shell filled only with guilt and. Whether you’re caring for a friend or family member with a terminal illness or you’re a trained medical or human services professional, compassion fatigue is one of the deadliest adversaries any caregiver can face.

Compassion fatigue is not just a “fluffy” term for burnout. It depletes not only your mind and your body, but the very core of who you are as a human being—the seat of your emotions, your soul. Often appearing as disdain for the frailty of humanity, this psychological foe can lead an otherwise caring and compassionate person to become cynical and jaded, convinced that all human beings are hellbent on destroying without remedy.

Most caregivers dealing with the effects of this black hole called compassion fatigue usually resort to doing what they’ve always done: Work harder and give more until they are completely tapped out. While this will only cause you to slip further into the vortex of CF, arming yourself with a bit of knowledge and making a commitment to adjusting your lifestyle, there is a way out.

If you or someone you know is suffering from CF, be sure to watch our video on “Compassion Fatigue” to learn how you can take a stand against this deadly foe.

Angela Magnotti Andrews is a freelance writer who has co-written several courses for, including “Compassion Fatigue”, “Hand Hygiene: Life & Death is in Your Hands”, and “Pain: Friend or Foe”.