Sep 07

Burnout Versus Compassion Fatigue: Latter Sounds Better

Have you ever felt like you’ve become completely fed up with your responsibilities—your job, your relationships, parenting, etc.? And then felt like you just can’t do it anymore? And now you don’t want to get up in the morning and can’t stand the thought of facing a new day? And you’re afraid that what used to be doable is now downright overwhelming? Even reading this is a major chore? You might have burnout.

Burnout is what I describe in the form of a fictional character’s circumstances in my novel Minding Therapy. As the review from FriedSocialWorker.com (site may no longer exist) stated: “What I appreciated most about this novel was the way in which the author weaves the problem of burnout into the overall context of the therapist’s life. Burnout rarely occurs in isolation, does it? It occurs in the midst of all the other burdens we carry through life.”

But the term has its problems. Burnout, in the minds of many, describes people whose flames have died out. Burnout is ugly, depressing, unhealthy. Boring. Uninteresting. Old—as in, Hey man, whoa, like, you’re a real burnt out dude, ya know?

Wouldn’t you rather have a nicer sounding problem than this? “Burnout is a state of complete mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion. If you are experiencing burnout, you may notice it is difficult to engage in activities you normally find meaningful. You may no longer care about the things that are important to you or experience an increasing sense of hopelessness” (DarlingDowns).

Well, compassion fatigue is here to save the day. If you’ve got compassion fatigue, you’re tired because you’ve over-cared, over-helped, over-loved. Isn’t that a whole lot better?

So, next time someone remarks on how haggard you look, how your temper has flared once too often, how you don’t seem to want to do fun things anymore, don’t say it’s because of your burnout—say it’s because of your compassion fatigue. You’ll still feel like crap—but people will respect you so much more.