Compassion Fatigue In Parents


Posted by: zainsaeed Comments: 3 8 Post Date: January 19, 2017

One of the ways in which psychologists and parents are alike is that we tend to disregard our own self-care needs and focus on the needs of the other instead, be it client or child. Figley (2002) details a phenomenon called ‘compassion fatigue’ – a form of caregiver burnout, which he uses to apply to psychotherapists but for the purposes of this article, I’ll draw similarities between them and parents.

He hypothesises that compassion fatigue is caused by

a) empathic ability – the aptitude of the person for noticing the pain of others;

b) empathic concern – the motivation to respond to people in need;

c) exposure to the client

d) empathic response – the extent to which the person makes an effort to reduce the suffering of others

Burn out symptoms are characterised as physical symptoms (e.g., physical exhaustion, sleeping difficulties, and
somatic problems); emotional symptoms (e.g., irritability, anxiety, depression, guilt, and a sense of helplessness);
behavioral symptoms (e.g., aggression, substance abuse, defensiveness) and; interpersonal symptoms (e.g., social withdrawal, inability to concentrate)

Thanks to the innate attachment that happens between parent and child, empathic ability and concern is hard-wired into our system. For most of us, we’re exposed to our children and we’re generally motivated to help them through their difficulties. You could be one fry short of a Happy Meal and still know that equates to parents being at risk of serious burn out.

Do any of the following statements sound familiar?

“I don’t want a wine, I NEED a wine”

“Ugh, my care factor right now is 0”

“All I want for Mother’s Day is to get away from my children”

“I know we haven’t caught up as much as I’d like to”

“GODDAMNIT if it’s so easy then YOU DO IT!”

Stress management of course is at the crux of preventing burn out. However, in doing my own Instagram research, self-care on Instagram looks like taking bubble baths, eating a salad, doing some yoga on a remote beach, and getting a manicure with a wine in hand, amongst a few of my favourites. Self-care, like many other facets of life on Instagram, DOESN’T ALWAYS LOOK LIKE THAT.

I like to think of self-care as having levels. On the first tier, you have your daily acts of self care. The second tier may be larger levels of self-care, and may involve other facets of yourself such as your partner. The third tier represents the Instagram-worthy moments of self care.They don’t happen very often, but when they do, they recharge your batteries like no other. Most of self-care however, is accomplished daily.

Daily acts of self care….

can be going to bed at 8pm on a Saturday night.

can be taking two extra seconds to cuddle and smell your husband.

can be getting takeaway instead of dealing with what to cook.

can be buying the moisturiser that’s $2 more expensive than your other moisturiser.

can be breastfeeding to sleep and bedsharing, even though you’re trying to get him to sleep in his crib.

can be remembering to laugh, and trying to soak up his smile.

can be taking an extra long hot shower.

can be letting him play independently whilst you whine about your day on a WhatsApp group.

can be having a wine when he’s sleeping.

can be in the extra large coffee you get on your walk, or in getting a mocha instead of a cappuccino.

can be remembering to be kind to yourself

can be asking for help.

Self care can be anything you need to feel sane again, to feel a morsel of who you are, and sometimes, the best self-care just simply isn’t Instagram worthy.


Figley, C.R (2002) Compassion Fatigue: Psychotherapists’ Chronic Lack of Self Care. Psychotherapy in Practice, 58(11), pp 1433-1441

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Comments (3)

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