Compassion fatigue is a very real experience

It’s time for a break!

Cultivating land for a harvest takes a long time. You might be asking, What does cultivating a field for a harvest have to do with human trafficking or any other type of advocacy work? During the past year I’ve talked with many advocates (and non-advocates) about the ever changing face of human trafficking. Many feel that there is a stalemate or a clog in the wheel that is halting progress. Some feel ineffective while others feel hopeless in light of the magnitude of the problems. All are viable feelings and emotions when it comes to working in the anti-human trafficking arena (or any other social issue). But with every feeling of despair and discouragement there really is a light of hope. The passion is still there but it is covered over by what we see and not what we do.

Look at the picture above. At one time the field that those vast lush crops live in was most likely barren with no nutrients in the soil and probably were home for rocks, roots, weeds, and trees for as far as the eye could see. What did the person possess who initially saw the condition of the field and still envision what we see in the photo? It most likely took years to prepare the ground so it was able to receive seed for the crops. But as a result of perseverance and holding on to the vision, eventually the harvest was bountiful.

Does having a vision mean the farmers didn’t get tired? Did it mean that they didn’t feel hopeless? There is no telling what kind of set backs occurred from the time the initial work began until the harvesting of the luscious crops came in. Many workers probably dropped their tools and walked away under the pressure of working with the hot sun baring down and the strain of long hours and labor in the early days while others had days when they wanted to. Cultivating and harvesting is hard work.

There is an old saying, “Anything worth having is worth working for.” So it is with anti-human trafficking work. When you get tired you stop and rest, but you never lose sight of the harvest. Take time away, but always come back to the fire in your heart. 

In reality there may be some advocates that suffer from compassion fatigue and because we don’t know what we are experiencing we continue to push ourselves to the limit. It took me years to understand the need to step away for a time of restoration and refreshing. As advocates dealing in trauma related service it is vital that we understand what we are experiencing.

Let’s sort it out. Compassion Fatigue:Also called “vicarious traumatization” or secondary traumatization (Figley, 1995). The emotional residue or strain of exposure to working with those suffering from the consequences of traumatic events. It differs from burn-out, but can co-exist. Compassion Fatigue can occur due to exposure on one case or can be due to a “cumulative” level of trauma. It is not the same as burnout: Cumulative process marked by emotional exhaustion and withdrawal associated with increased workload and institutional stress, NOT trauma-related.Then there is Primary Traumatic Stress: Primary stressors are those inherent in the extreme event, such as what was immediately experienced or witnessed, especially those things most contributing to a traumatic response.

We owe it to ourselves to take responsible measures to restore our own sense of being so we can continue to forge ahead. I hope this helps someone today.