Actual Compassion Fatigue was a term first referred to in a U.S. document on immigration policy in the early 1980s. It refers to the progressive fading away of compassion among individuals who need to express high levels of compassion as a result of the work they do or because of the life situations they are in.
In my view, the legitimate version of compassion fatigue that results from a continuous exposure to painful situations is clearly understandable. For example, taking care of a bed ridden family member for a prolonged period of time, going through a complicated and traumatic divorce that is spread over years or working a job that involves exposure to people in some sort of pain or trauma. But today, people seem to be victims of compassion fatigue even when there’s nothing in particular to be fatigued about. I’m more interested in talking about the 21st century variant of compassion fatigue, where it’s not just trauma or pain but various other emotions that people are fatigued towards. There is an overload of exposure today towards certain dimensions of life and this in turn leads to people becoming numb to what an acceptable dose of the related emotions might be.
Though leading bodies in the world, like the World Health Organization and the American Psychiatric Association are yet to accept compassion fatigue as an actual diagnosis, there’s simply no debate about a gradual numbing effect that occurs to people’s reactions and perceptions to certain things due to over exposure. Versions of compassion fatigue, in my view are present in several walks of life, even if you’re not in a job that requires taking care of others or showing compassion. The phenomena of eating and drinking out regularly, divorces, depression, traffic jams or long commutes, and several other negative hallmarks of big cities have gone up so much that you might well be partaking in the madness and not realizing it.
For example, in the corporate world, the incessant cribbing that I often hear from people who I meet almost makes job dissatisfaction a given. Monday morning blues and TGIF are accepted norms in most parts of the world. To the extent that if you don’t complain about your job, you might actually stick out like a sore thumb in some organizations.
Another roaring example is social media. With the ever increasing popularity of Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp and Snapchat, a segment of people are simply too used to sharing every single detail about themselves with the rest of the world. As a result, the sharing quotient of most social media users in the world has gone through the roof. More importantly, there’s this constant pressure of having to portray a good life as if your existing life and what you have is seriously flawed.
The great danger of a continuous exposure to excesses is that it warps your sense of what’s acceptable and what you actually feel like. Don’t get so used to broadcasting your life that privacy means nothing to you anymore. Don’t chase your financial dreams so hard that you’re unable to enjoy the money you already have. Don’t be so obsessed with trying to look better that you stop appreciating your personality and charm. As the Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich put it, “Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they’ve faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine.”
Most importantly, Don’t be so caught up in trying to live a successful life that you forget to live a happy one.