You’re “Should-ing” Yourself Again! Caregiving and Compassion Fatigue
i really should

Compassion fatigue.

Is this what it sounds like?

Almost. Compassion fatigue is a physical, emotional and spiritual exhaustion that leaves the caregiver depressed, apathetic, and resentful of his/her care patient.

But you’re not just tired. You are running on empty.

At its core, compassion fatigue makes you feel like giving up.

You might be experiencing compassion fatigue if:

  • You no longer feel the same tolerance you once did
  • You are irritable, short tempered, pessimistic and impatient
  • It becomes increasingly difficult to sympathize with your loved one
  • You’re feeling insecure and/or questioning your competence, effectiveness and productivity
  • You are socially withdrawn from others
  • Disturbing images are invading your thoughts and dreams

Isn’t that just how caregiving feels?

Caregiving is draining, time consuming, difficult and emotional. But it isn’t normal to feel like the support available is significantly outweighed by the demands of your role. And you can’t go on another day.

Why does it happen? (Really though, why does it matter?)

“Compassion fatigue […] happens when you’re trying to be everything to everyone.” – Alexandra Fortier

As caregivers, we deal with notoriously difficult people. Even if the person we’re caring for is an angel, their behavior can still get on our nerves when we share such an intimate relationship.

Many of us have had loved ones who complain about the same thing over and over again. Their attitudes are infuriatingly negative—and we’re working so hard to stay positive! We begin to get short with them because we can’t seem to find the magical, bottomless source of compassion we feel we’re supposed to have.

It’s frustrating that no one is asking you how YOU’RE doing. And worse yet—even if they did, how could you tell them what you’re really feeling? How would they understand the contradictory, complex, and confusing emotions of caregiving?

The thing is—we’re human. We get angry. Sometimes, we resent our sick and suffering loved ones. So it goes.

But the trouble starts when we feel ashamed of these feelings. When we tell ourselves we “shouldn’t” feel that way. So we grin and bear it, pushing down our feelings, until we’ve run ourselves into the ground. Until it all feels hopeless.

How am I supposed to avoid it?

Caregiving is complicated. It kicks up a lot of messy emotions. Know that you are not alone. Talk to others who understand— what you’re feeling won’t come as a shock to most caregivers.

Stay aware of your feelings. Every time you hear yourself saying “I should” or “I shouldn’t,” let it be a red alert. When we say “should” or “shouldn’t” we’re setting up an expectation for ourselves. We’re bringing right and wrong into the picture and, naturally, feelings of shame follow close behind. So to avoid compassion fatigue and caregiver burnout,  take all of the complicated, messy emotions and share them. Journal them. Draw them. Care for them.

Just don’t “should” them away.

Featured image credit: 416style

Written by Alexandra Axel
Alexandra Axel was the first founding staff member at The Caregiver Space. As a New York native, Allie grew up people-watching and story-collecting, eventually pursuing her undergraduate degree from The College of New Jersey in sociology and creative writing. At The Caregiver Space, she worked with social media, graphic design, blogging, and program development to brand and grow an online community composed of, and focused on, caregivers. From the seedlings of an idea to the thriving community that it is today, Allie was there from the beginning to support the evolution of The Caregiver Space. Allie enjoys writing poetry and short fiction, devouring books, biking, crafting, urban agriculture and imperfectly cooking. She currently resides in Brooklyn with her pup, Hen.

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Share your thoughts


  1. Although I do not deal with direct patient care. I feel like I am constantly trying to be “on” and help others with their problems. Typically it doesn’t bother me, but last week when I was feeling like I needed a shoulder, hardly anyone could reciprocate.

  2. I have worked at a nursing home for 9 years, and have felt extreme compassion burnout recently. So severe that I quit my job, and am taking a “sabbatical” to gather my wits. I am very passionate about working with older adults, I just need to catch my breath. The coworkers didn’t help either. I am just burnt out, and don’t know what to do to get out of this funk. Any advice would be appreciated!!


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