[rant/disc] Compassion burnout

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Post by nearly_takuan on Tue Jan 06, 2015 8:51 am

Sorry, Werel, gotta prove you wrong.

Two and a half thousand miles away, a past acquaintance's boyfriend left her and their son, and she decided to put her thoughts up on the social medias.

All things considered, she's apparently handling this pretty well. But when her thoughts go to the dark places, she thinks only about what she did wrong, where she failed, why she wasn't good enough. Different circumstance, but it sounds familiar. It can only be more intense for her.

So this is the part where I'm supposed to try to say something, anything, to help. Or at least offer sympathy. But I don't have the words. That's not true. I can't make the words. I don't feel sympathetic.

Instead I left some vapid token comment about being kind to herself. Yeah, what a novel idea. Easy as that. It's right up there with all the other comments that just say stay proud, you're special, you're valuable, good things are bound to happen to you some day because you're such a marvelous individual. She probably is a marvelous individual. She's also going to be sad for several consecutive months, all because somebody else in her life changed his fucking mind. And also because of that same somebody else, she's got a kid to look after, so wallowing isn't even an option.

But she doesn't need people to be angry at him. She needs people to be supportive of her.

Don't care. Got my own problems. Be kind to yourself, so I don't have to do it for you.

So...it was sounding like I might not be the only one feeling this way recently. Anyone else care to vent?
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Post by reboot on Tue Jan 06, 2015 12:10 pm

You are singing my song. My work burns out my compassion node pretty regularly. After doing our annual report which includes the most heart and gut wrenching stories we have because donors like to see them, I was totally tapped out for anyone who had not been tortured, raped, starved, beaten, trafficked, orphaned/widowed/left childless, or all of the above. A friend is currently going through a difficult period professionally and personally and my reserves just were not there. I feel bad and hope things turn around but I just could not muster up the compassion to be a good friend.

After a wee vacation I am hoping I can be a better friend.
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Post by Guest on Tue Jan 06, 2015 12:21 pm

This is the reason I think it's so important to have a broad network of support people. Sometimes, everyone needs to take time off from compassion, and that's okay. It's like the airplane metaphor: put on your own oxygen mask before helping others. Sometimes, I just need to reserve my emotional energy for dealing with my own stuff, or I have a few friends who need help, and I need to prioritize.

If you have a broad network, and one friend is having compassion burnout, you can turn to someone else for help.

If not... well, anecdote time. My mom's friend has exactly one friend: my mom. A few years ago, my grandmother died in the week between Christmas and New Year's Eve. My mother always has a difficult time that week. This year, her friend kept calling her to talk about personal problems, and my mom just had no energy to give support. As a result, her friend got more down and frantic, and felt abandoned. And now they are both much worse off than if her friend had turned somewhere else.

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Post by reboot on Tue Jan 06, 2015 12:31 pm

ElizaJane wrote:This is the reason I think it's so important to have a broad network of support people.  Sometimes, everyone needs to take time off from compassion, and that's okay.  It's like the airplane metaphor: put on your own oxygen mask before helping others.  Sometimes, I just need to reserve my emotional energy for dealing with my own stuff, or I have a few friends who need help, and I need to prioritize.

If you have a broad network, and one friend is having compassion burnout, you can turn to someone else for help.

If not... well, anecdote time.  My mom's friend has exactly one friend: my mom.  A few years ago, my grandmother died in the week between Christmas and New Year's Eve.  My mother always has a difficult time that week.  This year, her friend kept calling her to talk about personal problems, and my mom just had no energy to give support.  As a result, her friend got more down and frantic, and felt abandoned.  And now they are both much worse off than if her friend had turned somewhere else.

I have a friend from home like that. I am the sum total of her support network for a variety of reasons and sometimes I just can not be present for her because I am too drained. But if I am not there, she spins into a death spiral of depression and loneliness which makes me feel terrible but is something I can not fix. It is not going to change, though, because she is highly resistant to making new ties, is hostile to strangers from word one and is (frankly) a giant asshole. So she leans on me and sometimes I am not there :/
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Post by Caffeinated on Tue Jan 06, 2015 1:04 pm

I like one of the responses from Captain Awkward's blog about this kind of thing, that sometimes you can't be the listening ear/shoulder to cry on/main support person friend, and that's ok. Self-care matters, and letting someone else completely drain you isn't something anyone has any obligation to do. But the suggestion I found helpful was the idea of telling someone you can't be the one kind of support person right now, so can you be the fun distraction friend. Online and far away, that could look like posting a couple of the cute animal gifs (or whatever) that you've looked up for your own self-care reasons onto the friend's FB wall or something like that.
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Post by Enail on Tue Jan 06, 2015 1:39 pm

I like the phrase "don't set yourself on fire to keep someone else warm."

I've been pretty low on compassion recently with a particular friend who's going through a rough time, because what he's going through is extremely similar to a major problem I've been dealing with for quite some time now, except that his problem is probably short-term while mine is most likely permanent and his associated loss of income still puts him at 2-3 times my reduced income, at minimum. And a bunch of other things. Plus he keeps forgetting that I'm dealing with all of that stuff too and saying incredibly insensitive things suggesting that some of the hardest things I've been dealing with about my situation are actually desirable; it's unintentional on his part, but it shows such an incredible lack of thought for what's going on with me. It makes it rather hard to want to offer him help or sympathy that I didn't ask of him in almost the exact situation.

I've never before wanted to tell someone with depression to just get over it and stop making everything about you before, but I've been really tempted with him (don't worry, I know how shitty that would be and I would never actually do it) and have had to pull back way more than I usually would in a situation like this.
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Post by celette482 on Tue Jan 06, 2015 1:59 pm

It's tough especially when you are in a relationship with a depressed person. Because depression can be incredibly self-centered. It consumes you and your attention and aggrandizes all your problems and leaves no room for other people. And it can turn you into an emotional vampire and will try to also suck your relationships dry.

And if you're the non-depressed person, you've got this problem that you can't solve and the more you pour in the bigger the hole gets and also you've got your own problems because everyone does, but your primary support network is tied up entirely....

The most compassionate thing you can do for a person is sometimes to just cut off the endless supply. Because if you get sucked dry too, then you'll just get hurt and hurt them and then everyone's hurt and miserable and the world ends.
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Post by Werel on Tue Jan 06, 2015 9:04 pm

Nah, takuan, I don't think anybody is capable of keeping the compassion switch on all the time. Having it on even part of the time still gets props from me. Razz

Enail wrote:I like the phrase "don't set yourself on fire to keep someone else warm."

That's a great phrase. I used to have a real bad habit of setting myself on fire, and wish someone had told me that.

Enail wrote:it's unintentional on his part, but it shows such an incredible lack of thought for what's going on with me. It makes it rather hard to want to offer him help or sympathy that I didn't ask of him in almost the exact situation.

I struggle with that same thing: showing sympathy to people who are having a problem I've had, but didn't ask them (or anyone) for help with. It sounds ass-backwards, but I often have a harder time feeling compassion for people experiencing problems that I share. It's harder to see their suffering from the outside, instead of getting mad at them and myself for being too "weak" to get past the thing we're both struggling with. Like it's somehow their fault that I haven't overcome that specific issue myself (not rational, I know!). Compassion burnout seems to come on a lot faster when I'm dealing with people very similar to me.

Also, expectation/obligation kills compassion in me faster than anything else. If it's my responsibility to handle somebody's problem (or they think it's my responsibility), my patience tank runs dry pretty damn fast. If somebody's very clear that they don't expect or demand anything from me, that I don't owe them a crying shoulder but that it would be welcome if I felt like giving it, I can sustain a lot more compassion-effort for them in the long term. I've been burned enough by people who think I owe them 100% of my spare time and energy.
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Post by Conreezy on Wed Jan 07, 2015 12:48 am

My work burns out my compassion node pretty regularly.

I know the feeling. I hit the wall hard, and after 9 months away, I'm only now starting to feel ready to get back in the game. I got a job in a local ED, where I have much less responsibility and better hours. It's highlighting just how cynical and burned-out I was in the fire service.

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Post by Guest on Wed Jan 07, 2015 1:18 am

I find it very hard, I think anyway, to seek out help, sympathy or compassion for myself day to day. Seems it's impacted on my ability to give it.

That said, talking specifically about burnout, the last few years have been harsh when it comes to emotional stress. I often have to shy away in situations where compassion has to be shown to be polite lately because I don't have the energy to even fake it.

Of course, like most I'd imagine, certain circumstances are always worth sacrificing that energy for and being the helping hand someone needs. Doesn't make it easy though.

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Post by InkAndComb on Wed Jan 07, 2015 1:39 am

This is exactly what I'm struggling with now.  I DO feel tapped out! I'd never thought of it like that either; my 'caring cup' is usually overflowing (part of why I want to go into the profession I'm in), but especially when people who are dehydrated/thirst for compassion and NEED it, going to people who might just need a SIP, it feels like I don't have enough to give/don't WANT to give it.

Er, hope that illustrated how I'm feeling succinctly.  It's especially difficult with people in my age group with complaints that have usually been around since 18 (I'm in a lot of situations where I'm the oldest by 6 years, in the college-area type location, so this is a huge life experience differential for many in regards to making friends); part of me is tempted to react like "Haven't we all dealt with this already?", even if dealing with it before doesn't necessarily make it easier on bad days (such as dealing with rejection, or anxiety towards public spaces, etc), and even if certain people haven't encountered it yet ("what do you mean you've never been broken up with, what's happening here")
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Post by reboot on Wed Jan 07, 2015 1:43 am

Conreezy wrote:
My work burns out my compassion node pretty regularly.

I know the feeling.  I hit the wall hard, and after 9 months away, I'm only now starting to feel ready to get back in the game.  I got a job in a local ED, where I have much less responsibility and better hours.  It's highlighting just how cynical and burned-out I was in the fire service.

I seem to be on a quarterly burnout cycle with work and somehow keep recharging enough. But I know I have a very thick callus over my reactions, sometimes so thick I freak myself out with my dispassion. But if I care all the time on an individual level with all my cases I will crack and become ineffective.

Then something triggers some bad memories and I realize it is all there, just buried so that I can keep functioning. Sometimes the triggers are welcome after the episode passes because it let's me release. I had one on my vacation when I smelled something that took me back to DRC. In the moment it was horrible, but afterwards there was a tension release.
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Post by Conreezy on Wed Jan 07, 2015 2:04 am

But I know I have a very thick callus over my reactions, sometimes so thick I freak myself out with my dispassion.  But if I care all the time on an individual level with all my cases I will crack and become ineffective.

That's exactly my mindset, too. I'm not sure there's any other way to go about business.  The times that I have cracked didn't leave me feeling any better afterwards, that's for sure.    

But, goodness, it can lead to some bad behavior when the people you want to help become the enemy.

In the moment it was horrible, but afterwards there was a tension release.

That sucks.  I'm looking for less unpleasant ways to release old tensions, too.

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