This post, written by Kate Wiebe, originally was published on July 18, 2016, on our previous website.
While the idea of compassion fatigue can conjure up an image of an empty tank, as though we can just 'run out' of compassion like a care might run out of gas, there's also an opportunity to think of compassion as a renewable resource, to borrow a phrase from Institute Advisor Jessica Carle. An individual caregiver might struggle with compassion fatigue, but when compassion is enacted in community, the loneliness of the caregiving burden can be addressed more effectively.
Compassion literally means to suffer with mourners or survivors. As compassion-givers work alongside compassionate colleagues, rather than in isolation, they share burdens and multiply healthy impacts that counter debilitating effects of trauma. They create and expand relief and buoy spirits.
Moreover, when compassion-givers honor mourners and survivors, they discover and witness to the expertise of those who are suffering rather than only the expertise of those offering care. By recognizing mourners and survivors as experts in their unique experience of trauma and healing, and sharing best practices with one another rather than doling out prescriptions, compassion-givers also receive nourishing kindness and compassion.
Along with being part of a community of care, Carle has noted how practicing self-compassion while offering compassion to those who are mourning or surviving trauma acts like an antidote to fatigue.
Self-compassion goes beyond self-care; it encourages us to show kindness to ourselves, rather than judgment, and to connect with the reality that all humans are limited and imperfect. These efforts can help us remain in the crucial relationships of support that will sustain us in our caregiving efforts.
As more and more faith leaders today are practicing forms of compassion, including nonviolent protest of institutionalized harm, building community after violence, and creating new forms of community care, pacing and bolstering themselves with practices of self-compassion and community will increase resiliency and counter fatigue.
Here are some examples of a few more best practices:
What else have you been finding to be helpful in and around your congregation? Share in the comments below.
Expanding understanding and best practices for leadership and congregational care.