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The Reality of Compassion Fatigue and Burnout

When the people who always care, stop caring.

EMTs, police officers, firefighters, social/case workers, medical professionals… they’re the bleeding hearts, the empaths. They often see the very worst of us but the majority of them choose their career path with one main goal—to help people. But have you ever run into a cop that just didn’t want to hear your sob story of why you were speeding? That nurse who was a complete bitch when you went to the emergency room for your cold? Did you maybe think they had no place working with the public? Well, the reality is they’re probably experiencing Compassion Fatigue and Burnout, things any decent person has experienced whether they work directly with people or not.

My job as a caseworker in today’s society is trying. Mostly not because of my clients. Mostly because of the outside opinions of my clients. Right now our media is uber focused on demonizing people who utilize public assistance—they make them all out to be abusers and degenerates. Even caseworkers begin to forget that behind every case is a whole life. A few weeks ago, a client brought me to tears for the first time. 

It was just another medical case; I began to process it as normal. Coverage had been discontinued because she failed to complete her renewal packet. For a split second, I thought, “Now if you really needed it, you would be cooperating.” I was double checking our files to make sure she indeed didn’t turn anything in and I found a letter. She went on to say that she was so, so sorry she was late. She couldn’t believe she “screwed this up too.”

Her car broke down, she saved to buy another, and that car broke down as well. Her daughter is disabled and she recently found out she was being abused by her own father, so in the midst of filing charges on him and dealing with everything else, she forgot to do her renewal… My heart broke. I looked at my desk with the pile of cases I had already finished for that day and thought about just how many other cases, other lives, I had touched and didn’t think twice about what could possibly be going on in their lives.

It’s that easy. It’s that easy to let external forces pollute your soul and weigh it down. It comes from that cop having to respond to a teenager smeared across the road last week because a driver was carelessly speeding and lost control. It comes from that nurse losing a patient yesterday because of people misusing the ER and the hospital allowing an unsafe patient load. It comes from other people who don’t have the same heart as you pushing negative energy into your life, making you believe it’s easier to hate and judge rather than love.

'It happens to the best of us.'

Compassion fatigue and Burnout come from pouring your heart out every day to make a positive impact on people and just becoming emotionally exhausted—you lose sight of the bigger picture. You start to focus on the ugly and forget about the really beautiful pieces left of this world. It happens to the best of us. You’re not a bad person for that. In fact, it’s a reminder that you are a good person.

Focus on the people who help pull you back, who make you remember why you chose that job in the first place. Or why you choose to be a good, understanding person. Remain vigilant. Seek out help. Take deep breaths. Take care of yourself—really, make time. We rely on people like you, people who refuse to get tired of caring. 

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The Reality of Compassion Fatigue and Burnout
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