Compassion Fatigue: The Heartache of a Job That Requires All Heart

Anonymous asked a question:

I’m a medical social worker and quite new to the profession. For a long while I had thought that it was what I wanted to do in life. Now… I’m not quite sure. It’s exhausting and I’m not quite sure if it’s beneficial for my mental health in the long run… so many patients to see who need a lot of help but hospitals just want to hurry and discharge them. Part of me wonders if it’s worth it or is it better to just work an unemotional administrative job. Any advice? Prayer please

Hey dear friend, I’m sorry that you’re going through this. I also applaud you for choosing your profession. I work alongside many social workers (I’m a hospital chaplain) and y’all are seriously the best of the best.

A few things. If you haven’t done so already, I would consider seeking therapy. It helps. Anyone in the field of service and healing takes on so much, and it’s too much for any one person to hold. It requires processing.

I would find experienced people in your field and be in conversation with them. Process with them. Ask them how they did it and how they continue to do so.

Some hospitals are not like others. I’m fortunate to work at a really good one where the nurses and doctors really care. Your issue might be the place you’re working at.

You had also mentioned it might be better to work an “unemotional administrative job.” I can tell you right now, almost any job is emotional, including admin. It really depends on how your workplace helps you to deal with those things.

Which brings us to “compassion fatigue.” This is a very real issue. Some of us (like me) over-identify with our patients and tend to feel everything all the time. It’s not entirely a bad thing, but it can also be draining. Some of us (also me) have a bit of a savior-martyr-hero syndrome and really need to check our motives. We need safer boundaries and more spaces of rest. We’re likely to pour out so much as if this is “sacrifice,” when really it’s self-harm and it ends up harming everyone.

It’s helpful to know what your rhythms look like. It’s worth asking: When do you get most tired? Most hurt? What do you do for rest? What is your body telling you today? What are your heart and mind saying? How can it be changed for better today?

Two other important things.

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It’s Them Or It’s Me: But It’s Probably Me

I’m quick to blame others because 99% of the time, I’m right that they’re wrong. I have these really ironclad, airtight, foolproof reasons why I have to be right. There’s no way other people could have thoughts of their own. I’ve seen every angle, I’m being fair and honest, I see what they can’t, I’m telling both sides of the story as it really is.

They’re holding me down, man. They’re making my job harder. I could do much better if it weren’t for these rules and restrictions. Once I get my own thing going, I’ll do all the things they never let me do. Then they’ll see, you know. They’ll regret not tapping into my unrealized fount of pure raw wisdom.

I think like this all the time. It’s true that they are, in fact, holding me down. It’s true that I’m set aside and stepped on; there are better things being built on my back while I do the grunt work. It’s true these people could care less for my well-being. And yes, I’m right and they’re wrong.

But — I get the sneaking suspicion that maybe I use THEM as an excuse to do the bare minimum. I have a way of doing the easiest part of the work, of slipping away from manual duties, of checking out my brain when I feel this is “beneath me.” It’s pride. It’s selfishness. It’s all the things I’m not willing to say about myself, because it’s a horrifying realization I don’t know how to confront yet.

Maybe they are right about a few things, and I am wrong about many things. And my well-being shouldn’t be based on what’s happening around me, but on the actual opportunities given. We have a way of seeing how we’re held down instead of the places we could build up. Because more than fearing failure, many times I fear success. I am a coward not because I do little, but because I’m afraid of the unimaginable possibilities of real potential for greatness.

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Secular Vs. Spiritual: How Do I Glorify God At My Desk Job? Part 2

A four part series on connecting Christ with your career, and how he owns it.
1) Restorative2) Creative — 3) Narrative — 4) Connective

Is being a pastor or missionary the only “real work” for God?

The church has missed sorely on exhorting believers to faithful living in their careers, instead lifting “ministry” as a first class calling and degrading a full-time job as bottom-of-the-barrel drudgery. This sort of false divide creates unnecessary tension for those desiring to “work for God,” thinking we can only do so through seminary or your Church Membership class.

We do a great disservice to artists, doctors, musicians, writers, and all the sciences when we relegate them to a dustbin of irredeemable secular scraps.

Here will be four biblical principles derived from the Books of Nehemiah, Daniel, and other places that outline how our individual vocations honor God. The first was Restorative. The second is Creative. The others will be in upcoming posts.

Continue reading “Secular Vs. Spiritual: How Do I Glorify God At My Desk Job? Part 2”