Parental Guilt and Compassion Fatigue: Part 2/2

Human empathy exposes us to a range of vulnerabilities that tend to physically and mentally break us down into parenting mush!  We lose our effectiveness, our parenting moxie, the belief that we should be better than we have become.  And the evidence…our son/daughter is in residential treatment.  The guilt discussed previously drives us to a breaking point.  Often we think we should just buck up and take it.  But if you really look at your effectiveness at home, in the work place, with other relationships that seem to deteriorate with not knowing why?  I suggest the human system can only stand so much and the fatigue we experience has a definition.

Compassion fatigue can be manifest in many ways. Essentially, it is extreme physical and emotional exhaustion, specific to trauma and loss.  The condition can come on suddenly and result in a lack of ability to feel and show compassion to and for your own children.  While becoming aware of these feelings is the first step in healing, parents often have difficulty admitting that they have compassion fatigue-related symptoms and reactions. This is largely due to the guilt they feel about their fatigue.

  • Parents who experience compassion fatigue often say, “Who am I to complain?”
  • Parents whose child is experiencing tremendous grief, trauma or devastation might feel guilty about their own symptomology and say, “I should rise above this.”
  • Parents sometimes feel that as helpers they should be able to “get over” their exhaustion and help those who need it “more” than they do, often thinking, “My feelings of distress are a sign of weakness.”
  • Parents who experience tragedy all of the time can feel like they should be strong enough to handle it, especially when those affected “have it much worse.” They might think, “If I admit to having a hard time, I will open a door that I don’t know how to shut.”
  • Parents can be afraid to let their guards down for fear that once they let others see them as vulnerable they will never be able to tolerate or manage their overwhelming feelings.

Recognition of symptoms and reactions, such as exhaustion, substance use, over spending, fear and isolation related to compassion fatigue, is the first step adults need to take as they strive find the sustainable self-care necessary in order to continue working as supports for their child’s growth and treatment.  Please, during this season of “Joy and Peace” to take the time to self-assess.  Look at the symptoms above, acknowledge, resolve to get some help and take care of yourself.

Note: Credits for assistance with subject matter:  Director Caelan Kuban PhD at TLC institute ckuban@tlcinst.org.

John Nielsen
John Nielsen
I have been practicing Social Work with adolescents since 1991. My field of expertise includes residential work as a therapist and teacher. I have worked with a variety of diagnoses using CBT, Sand play, 12 step Substance Abuse, Equine assisted therapy and exploring standard measures as tools to assist the health of teens. My current interest is using research measurement and assessment to advance the science of psychotherapy. I am married and have four adult children. I spend free time in the outdoors and my passion is race horses and golf.

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