Compassion Fatigue: When an Addicted Loved One Leaves Your Tank on Empty

Compassion fatigue is a real issue for caregivers.

Every day was a struggle. Jill felt mentally and physically exhausted. She was irritated and anxious all the time.

She wasn’t sleeping well, and she was getting headaches almost daily. And worst of all, she realized she had stopped caring about her sister.

Well, not exactly.

She still loved Sarah. But Jill felt numb. Sarah’s years of alcoholism had taken their toll.

Jill had ridden the roller coaster of emotions while she’d tried to care for Sarah all these years. All the ups and downs left Jill feeling over-reactive and hyper-vigilant.

She never knew what kind of drama would come next. But she knew it would come.

It was too traumatic and too tiring.

And now Jill was tapped out. She had given and given. Her life had revolved around Sarah’s needs and crises. Now she felt like she had nothing left to give.

Jill began to question herself. Was she a bad person? Was there something wrong with her that she could no longer care?

She wasn’t the one hooked on booze. So why did she feel like this? Was there any way she could feel hope again?

Compassion fatigue can sneak up on even the most loving and dedicated of caregivers. It doesn’t make you a bad caregiver.

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Recognizing the Signs of Compassion Fatigue

Jill is not a bad person. And yes, she can feel hope again. Things seem overwhelming right now because she is suffering from compassion fatigue.

Compassion fatigue is a feeling of hopelessness or helplessness that can overwhelm a person providing care for someone else. All of their efforts are focused on caring for that other person. They neglect to properly care for themselves.

The result is spiritual, physical, and mental bankruptcy. Some describe this process as “being sucked into a vortex that pulls them slowly downward. They have no idea how to stop the downward spiral.”

Jill is in this spiral, and her symptoms are common. She is experiencing many of the typical signs of compassion fatigue:

  • Feeling burnt out or numb
  • Feeling angry, irritable, sad, or anxious
  • Feeling a lack of empathy
  • Feeling hypersensitive or insensitive
  • Being unproductive/having difficulty concentrating
  • Experiencing frequent headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Wanting to withdraw or isolate

These symptoms affect every aspect of a person’s life. This includes their physical health, mental stability, and social interactions. The person suffering from compassion fatigue has been so wrapped up in caring for their loved one, they lose themselves.

The good news is that there are ways to avoid experiencing compassion fatigue. There are also ways to escape the downward spiral if you’re already in it.

The person suffering from compassion fatigue has been so wrapped up in caring for their loved one, they lose themselves.

Refilling Your Compassion Tank

If your loved one is struggling with addiction, you need to take steps to keep your tank full (or refill it).

Here’s how:

Create a Self-Care Plan

You need to take care of yourself. Not just your loved one. And this will actually help you take better care of them, too.

This involves four key areas:

  • Sleep
  • Diet
  • Physical activity
  • Relaxation

Make sure you’re getting enough sleep (seven to nine hours each night). Eat healthy foods and healthy amounts of food. Get regular exercise.

Taking care of yourself to deal with compassion fatigue includes four key areas: sleep, diet, physical activity, and relaxation.

And make time for activities that help you unwind. This includes taking a break when you need one. Even a couple of minutes alone, where you take deep, relaxing breaths, can make a difference.

Set Boundaries

Say no. Compassion fatigue comes from trying to do too much. Create a list of what you will and won’t do for your loved one.

Communicate these boundaries to your loved one. And stick to them.

You’ll probably get some pushback. They may even get angry. But it will get easier over time.

Communicate (and stick to!) boundaries with your loved one. They may get angry, but it will get easier over time.

And the challenges they face because of these boundaries may help them realize they need treatment.

Make Time for Fun

What kinds of things did you enjoy doing before your loved one’s addiction took over your life? Get back to some of those activities.

Pick up an old hobby. Or start a new one. This could be part of your self-care plan.

Do some things that help you relax and enjoy life.

Pick Up a Pen

Writing out your frustrations, emotions, experiences, and thoughts is a great way to cope with compassion fatigue. Research has shown that journaling is a great stress reliever. It lets you release everything onto the page and process difficult emotions.

You can express things you might never want to say out loud.

Research has shown that journaling is a great stress reliever. It lets you release everything onto the page and process difficult emotions.

Try it anyway even if you don’t think of yourself as the journaling type. Pick up a journal or devotional with writing prompts to help get you started.

Get Support

Don’t try to navigate this road alone. To cope with compassion fatigue, you need support.

Stay in touch with family and friends. Reach out to a support group and connect with others who are dealing with compassion fatigue. Schedule time with a counselor.

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Help for Compassion Fatigue is Available

There is no shame in asking for help. It’s one of the best things you can do for yourself and your loved one.

Compassion fatigue will pass with time, but only if you take care of yourself first. Putting your needs first will help you help your loved one better.

For information about treatment options for you or a loved one, call 800-839-1686Who Answers? today.

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