This is true for anyone working in the field of mental health, or crisis intervention, and it’s also true of advocates. I’ve seen it too many times:
“While compassion fatigue can happen when helpers are unable to replenish and restore emotionally and physically (Figley, 1982), vicarious trauma is the shift you experience mentally from compassion fatigue (Perlman and Saakvitne, 1995). This shift has been identified as the altering of your perceptions and feelings towards the world around you. An example of this is police officers who have a hard time seeing the good in the world after years of helping victims of crime. Or the crisis counselor whose faith in humanity begins to deteriorate after supporting people in crisis for many years. You could say that compassion fatigue is the precursor to vicarious trauma that has been going on for too long.”
Over the many years of having a website like this one, I’ve seen many, many online advocates for mental health, and especially for child abuse, come and go. There tends to be a pattern among too many of us. It starts out excited to help, to offer support, to research all we can and tell all the stories we can, and it goes on like that, typically for 3-6 months, there are social media shares, pleas to help make stories go viral, to raise money for this group, and that family over here, and petitions to sign, and walks to attend, and politicians to call, and on and on.
And then they’re gone. Just like that. Sadly, it’s become fairly easy to predict. And it’s not that these people don’t really mean it, or they were lying when they said they were going to do this, it’s that they simply burned out. They eventually suffer from compassion fatigue, because they are spending every free moment suffering vicarious trauma. There are only so many child abuse stories you can read, only so many people dealing with mental health crisis that you can try to help, only so many sad, sad stories of suicide or violent murder that you can read and share before it’s all just too much.
We all have our limits, and if you don’t set boundaries that allow you to have some sort of balance, you will burn out. You, and I, are not made to do nothing but this all day, every day. It doesn’t work, and it will leave us bitter about the world.
We all need other things to do, things that fill us up, that take care of our own mental health, that are just plain fun.
Without that, we are a compassion fatigue victim waiting to happen.
I’d suggest taking a look at the rest of this article so that you can avoid this.