More and more people are finding it painful to watch images of war and the news of tragic incidents. This is what we call “compassion fatigue,” which happens when we watch gory movies, read sad novels, or even hear painful stories from other people. In order to better utilize empathy while protecting your mental health, here are two strategies you should know.
What is “compassion fatigue”?
Are you familiar with the term “compassion fatigue”? It means that you feel too much sympathy for the painful feelings of someone in a difficult situation, and you become mentally exhausted.
For example, when I see tragic news reports about wars and earthquakes, I feel like I’m experiencing the same pain, and it’s painful and irresistible. When I hear stories of people who have experienced bullying or misfortune, I feel their pain as if it were my own, and it becomes very painful…
In this way, it is called “compassion fatigue” when you become painful and unable to remain calm because you are too aware of other people’s pain.
War news, sad movies, and novels, and familiar conversations also cause empathy fatigue
In recent years, people’s empathy fatigue has been exacerbated by viewing brutal war scenes of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Many people also suffer from empathy fatigue without even realizing it because of too much exposure to cruel movies and novels. Some people suffer from compassion fatigue from hearing stories of violence, bullying, and sexual assault.
It’s great to be able to empathize with the pain of others, but on the other hand, being “vulnerable” to information that often shocks us can throw us off balance.
By the way, our motto is to “empathetically understand” what the counselor has to say, but at the same time, we follow the following two rules on a daily basis so that we don’t feel bad for ourselves. I think that it will be helpful for those who suffer from “compassion fatigue”, so I will introduce it.
Compassion Fatigue Countermeasure 1: Draw “Boundaries Between Time and Place”
The first rule is to draw a “boundary of time and place” to avoid unrestricted access to painful information.
Counseling has a fixed “framework” of consultation time and place. When this framework becomes ambiguous, counselors develop compassion fatigue and become incapacitated.
People who suffer from “compassion fatigue” are often exhausted from watching painful news and listening to other people’s stories endlessly. To prevent this, don’t watch a lot of tragic news (especially painful images) for a long time. Don’t get too excited and watch too many gory movies or novels. When listening to someone else’s serious story, set a certain end time and wait a few days until the next time you hear the story. I think that these things are useful for drawing “boundary lines between time and place.”
Compassion Fatigue Countermeasure #2: Take Care of Yourself and Avoid “Collateral Damage”
The second rule is to take care of yourself and take care of your stress so that you don’t suffer from “collateral damage”.
Coming into contact with painful news and horrifying experiences, even if they are not about you or are fictional, can give a big shock to your heart. If the trauma caused by the shock is left unattended, the grisly memories created by the trauma will remain in the depths of one’s mind and will torment oneself over and over again.
Counselors, who receive many painful stories every day, cherish the time to take care of themselves so that they do not suffer from such “secondary damage”. After work, I change my mind, listen to soothing music, burn aromatherapy, eat delicious food, and move my body to the fullest to take care of my stressed mind. Also, sometimes I have a supervisor, who is my mentor, listens to me, which relieves my emotional burden.
Thus, valuing your time and talking to people you trust can help protect you from “compassion fatigue” (the collateral damage).
“How to deal with painful information” is important for valuing “empathy”
“Empathy” is a uniquely human ability. The prefrontal cortex of the cerebral neocortex is responsible for empathy, and this prefrontal cortex is responsible for high-level human abilities such as empathy, reason, judgment, and planning. However, if you empathize too much with the pain of others and become exhausted, the function of the prefrontal cortex, which is essential, will weaken, and the human sensibility called “empathy” will not be utilized.
Therefore, in order not to cause “compassion fatigue”, when touching on events or topics that may cause a strong shock, it is important to observe the “boundaries of time and place” and take care of yourself and take care of stress. It is very important to keep your points.