Compassion Fatigue and You

Default photo used for Compassion Fatigue and You

On October 29, 2010, Gluckstein Personal Injury Lawyers LLP held the 5th Annual Toronto Compassion Fatigue Seminar. The two wonderful and brilliant speakers were Dr. Gabor Mate, M.D., physician, author, seminar leader and public speaker and Francoise Mathieu, certified mental health counsellor and compassion fatigue specialist.

The day was dedicated to examining the ever increasing rise of compassion fatigue and its causes.

Compassion Fatigue is One Way Compassion...

We examined why this form of burnout and exhaustion is affecting not only those in the health care professions such as social workers, nurses, doctors, but also how it can affect parents, children, even lawyers, spouses, and in essence, anyone who cares.

Why does Caring cause Fatigue?

We are depleting our own supply of care. We are spending our care on others. Care has become a one way street; a funnel and the funnel is always draining. The reality is that compassion is a natural state and is positive when it is reciprocal.

Childhood, Implicit Memory & Core Beliefs...

One of the focal points of the seminar was how one's early childhood can affect one's world views. It was mentioned that the stress of the parent can exhaust the stress mechanisms of the child. It seems logical enough that the emotional state of the parent would affect the well being of the child, even to a profound extent. So, we begin life with this concern of emotional well-being and we are brought up to be concerned with the emotional well-being of others.

Dr. Mate discussed the concept of implicit memory at length. We have no clear memories before the age of 18 months, but we do have something called "implicit memory". This speaks to the mind and body connection. Your subconscious "remembers" what happens to you in that period of time. You are remembering something without being aware that you are remembering it. It is an automatic or an unconscious form of memory. It is the story behind the story and it is used to explain core beliefs. We seem to follow our core beliefs as guidelines for how to live our lives. But, sometimes these core beliefs are what cause us to become addicted to stress and become workaholics.

Addiction by definition, comes from the word 'Addictus', having to do with slavery, and means any kind of behaviour that brings you temporary relief and pleasures but in the long term causes pain and problems....Sound familiar??? But we thrive on positive feedback and the world seems to reward you for your hard work! What the world values you for is very often what makes you sick!!!

Francoise Mathieu discussed how Compassion Fatigue happens to people who do a good job! The work we do skews the way we see the world, it is a natural consequence. Our compulsive concerns with the emotional well-beings of others puts us at risk for illness...Hence the saying, "Why do the good always die young?". We feel compelled to have a rather rigid sense of identity, sense of duty and responsibility to our roles instead of to the self. This rigidity is a major risk factor for illness and breakdown of the immune system. We fear the repercussions of "not being there" for someone, of disapproval, of disappointment and this can lead to depression and illness. Francoise Mathieu offered the following protective tips:

1. Working Part Time, even 4 days a week is highly protective

2. Social Support & Enhancing Your Social Network (at work)

3. Create a Work Community (even 15 minutes a day of interaction)


One of the most serious risk factors to our minds and bodies is anger...and the repression of healthy anger! The Buddha stated, "Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned." We are angry because we take on too much. We are angry because we can't seem to change and say no, or we can't find the words. But, in the end, we are not doing ourselves, or any one any favours. In actuality, we are putting our whole immune system at risk by suppressing our natural killer cells that fight malignant cells. We keep recycling the anger inside of us. The emotions inside of us are turning against us, meaning our immune system is turning against us too. Our autoimmune system begins to attack itself. Anger suppression means that our bodies won't recognize or fight malignancy because our immune system is suppressed. Now, if that isn't a wake up call... 


When did "NO" become a bad word? Since when does saying "NO" make someone a "Bad" person? The answer is...IT DOESN'T. The problem is: A core belief whose roots trace back to early childhood. Guilt protected you in childhood. As a child, guilt 'saved your life'. It protected your very first attachment relationship- the one you have with your parents. The greatest needs of a child are met by its parents. The child starts to learn guilt to protect him or herself from annoying his or her parents and from being seen as 'needy'. The child chooses guilt to protect the relationship. Dr. Mate suggests we welcome guilt. Choose guilt over resentment. Feel guilt. Feeling guilty becomes a positive response because it means you are looking after yourself.

Know Your Zones:

Francoise Mathieu discussed knowing your "big three", your zones. You have to be aware of your warning signs: physical, behavioural and psychological symptoms. 1. Green Zone: Safe zone! 2. Yellow Zone: Proceed with caution...treat with care! While in this zone, you must take heed and protect yourself from burnout so that you do not reach your Red Zone. 3. Red Zone: Danger! Meltdown!


Stress can manifest itself both internally and externally.

Stress is a response to any threat, or any perception of threat-most commonly, to the perception that something to the organism holds to be necessary for its well-being is going to be taken away or withheld

There are three components of Stress:

1. Stressor (can happen while sleeping)

2. The processing apparatus: temperament, life history, current situation

3. Stress response

During the discussion on stress it was mentioned that we are not actually responding to what happened, we are responding to an interpretation of what happened. This relates to our understanding of implicit memory. Implicit memory governs our lives. We think we are living in the present, but we actually relate to the present as if it were the past, that is how important the past and those implicit memories are to us.

The interpretation chooses us, we don't choose it. In other words, you're never stressed out about what you're stressed about and you're never upset about what you're upset about.

We ARE wired to be compassionate. Rabbi Hillel once said " If I am not for myself, who will be for me?" What are you not saying No to at home, at work? What is the impact of saying No? What are you afraid of? Can you start with one "No" a day? Avoid being "slimed" with other people's emotional "baggage". Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Stop running on Adrenaline and ask for help. Find the time for yourself. Take on Mindfulness Meditation and bring exercise back into your life.

Face the reality that nobody is perfect and therefore perfection cannot be achieved. The struggle for perfection is no more than a struggle against yourself for control over your own mind.

"The mind is everything. What you think you become"- Buddha


Subscribe to our Newsletter

Sign me up