Running on empty – trying to serve from an empty bucket – compassion fatigue. Helping professionals are often stressed out by doing too much with too little. It is the nature of a server to serve. The problem comes when you have given all you have to give and people still need more.
The Helping Professions
The helping professions include service areas such as pastor, missionary, counselor, therapist, mentor, advocate, hospice care, nurse, doctor, coaching, as well as those caring for family members. For registered nurses or adult children caring for aging parents, compassion fatigue is a reality. Most often, compassion fatigue is in the context of helping those recently dealing with a trauma. But it also affects anyone who helps others cope and heal, including veterinarians and those helping rescue animals.
Preacher – Teacher – Cop
My Dad taught me what he referred to as the “preacher-teacher-cop syndrome.” It is a condition often experienced by those serving in positions of authority who exercise some control over others. Because they are routinely the “man-in-charge,” they often take on that role in unrelated contexts. They can attempt to control others and take charge when it is unnecessary. Further, because they are the “authority” in their profession, as well as the “enforcer of rules,” they assume that posture outside their profession. This can create problems with others within the group.
Another aspect, specific to the topic of compassion fatigue, is they rarely think they can’t handle any situation. Meaning, they are less likely to seek help. In fact, they are often resistant to help. “I can do this,” they think to themselves. Even when they consider seeking help, the self-talk is frequently, “What will others think of me?” Their deepest fear is being seen as unable to deal with virtually any situation. This perspective simply increases the stress in an already stress-filled life.
Help is Available
Coaching is a great means for helping the helpers refill, refuel, and refresh. Those serving in the helping professions must also learn practical steps for helping themselves. This episode of DTLC Radio combines practical discussion and steps that will help service professionals serve themselves first. Anyone who has ever flown has heard the instructions for drops in cabin pressure. “In the unlikely event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks will drop down automatically, so be sure to secure your own mask before securing your child’s.”
You cannot serve from an empty bucket. You must take care of yourself first or you will be unable to help care for others. This is especially difficult for those who are naturally selfless givers. It must become reality nonetheless. Learning to assess and prioritize daily challenges alongside proper rest, nutrition, and exercise are just a few of the available options.
Probably the greatest tool a caregiver can take advantage of is another professional caregiver who is focuses specifically on caregivers. Ministry places great demands on men and women who have answered the call of God. But in His wisdom, God has also called others to serve the servers.