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How to Really Know Compassion Fatigue vs Burnout?

A man undergoing burnout

Most people suffer from burnout and mental exhaustion. But what if you are going through compassion fatigue? How to really know compassion fatigue vs burnout? Let’s find out.

“I feel stretched and fatigued most of the time. Lately, I experience a lack of interest in doing anything productive. It has started to affect my career as well as relationships. My family is unhappy with my current state too.”

-People experiencing burnout

Burnouts are fairly common these days. Even with many therapeutic exercises and healing sessions we still lack a proper treatment for dealing with burnout. What I wrote above is simply an example of what many people experience in a workplace.

Now, not everyone is really a workplace person. Some people have their own small and productive businesses and marketing or even PR agencies. However, the concern remains the same, we all suffer from burnout.

I was concerned about burnout too until I came across this term compassion fatigue. Now, being an ignorant person (not always :)), I couldn’t understand the logic behind people feeling tired when compassionate. They are voluntarily compassionate, right? Turns out, it’s the reason why it exists.

It’s surprising that this thing is similar to burnouts but works differently. Also, it isn’t just limited to a workplace experience either. But it does affect people more who are sensitive towards others.

“Compassion fatigue is a condition that comes with emotional and physical exhaustion. It leads to troubles empathizing or feeling compassion for others. It is also called as the negative cost of caring.”


Now, let’s discuss compassion fatigue and ways to know compassion fatigue vs burnout in the next section.

What do we need to know about compassion fatigue?

Of course, the important thing is to understand compassion fatigue. Many facts make it a hindrance to daily activities. A lack of a supportive and nurturing environment can be one of the causes of compassion fatigue.

Compassion fatigue is not a common term and thus is barely known among people. However, the irony is compassion fatigue is a lot more common nowadays. Besides, it also serves as a concerning factor for employees in a workplace.

First, it complicates, and in some cases, sabotages the relationships between people in a social setting. Second, it makes us more apathetic and indifferent towards others in a pathetic condition.

“I barely feel anything towards others. Even though I understand what’s wrong in a specific setting, I can’t help but feel indifferent. There is little to no remorse from my side when seeing someone in a pitiful situation.”

-A person undergoing compassion fatigue

Here are some facts we need to know about compassion fatigue.

1. It often affects those who are too compassionate:

Compassion fatigue doesn’t come out of anywhere. It has a foundation, a reason behind its existence in our lives. Compassion is the source of this condition. Due to their concern and sensitivity, they are prone to intense feelings and emotions.

Caring too much about others and witnessing stressful life situations affect them negatively. They are clueless as to how they can deal with emotional stress and end up with an indifferent attitude.

All in all, it’s a serious business to be too compassionate towards everyone when you know it might affect you negatively.

2. It is one of the reasons for life dissatisfaction:

Life dissatisfaction is a vague term that comes with a lot of positive and negative attributes. The positive is growth and maturity, the negative being depression and anxiety. However, compassion fatigue accompanies a different kind of dissatisfaction that is hard to deal with.

Let’s just say that the person undergoes rapid changes in his emotional state. He doesn’t feel good about the way people interact. In other words, he faces trouble maintaining healthy relationships.

Compassion fatigue comes with a host of problems, but life dissatisfaction is one of the defining symptoms of this condition.

Also read: How To Overcome Dissatisfaction In The Workplace?

3. It is often confused with burnout (unfortunately):

Yeah, it is confused with burnout due to the shared and similar traits. Emotions are pretty much hidden and vulnerable. With burnout, it’s just too much mental or psychological stress, while compassion fatigue centers out emotional turmoils.

In a work environment where burnout is common to experience for everyone, compassion fatigue can be easily misunderstood. Hence, there must be some knowledge to differentiate between these two.

A little awareness can have a positive impact on the lives of many people working in stress-inducing environments that demand lengthy time shifts.

So, here were some facts about compassion fatigue and its effects on our lives. Now, let’s jump into the next section and find out the ways to really know compassion fatigue vs burnout.

How to really know compassion fatigue vs burnout?

Compassion fatigue vs burnout is a widely discussed subject now. Unlike other disorders or conditions, both the former and the latter share some similarities with their effects on human psychology.

In fact, both are often confused with each other and aren’t really easy to differentiate. However, there are some critical variations or differences that help us identify what we are going through.

Unlike burnout, compassion fatigue depends a lot on our behavior and approach towards others. That is why it isn’t easily noticeable. Moreover, our lack of awareness also makes it a more elusive and hidden condition.

“Don’t be oversensitive towards others’ troubles. You might feel responsible but you aren’t. Keep a fraction of your love and compassion close to your heart and mind. It really makes a difference.”

-A wise and compassionate soul
A woman suffering from compassion fatigue
Photo by Anh Nguyen on Unsplash

Now, let’s in detail the differences between compassion fatigue and burnout to understand them better.

1. Compassion fatigue is a result of trauma, burnout is a result of work-related troubles:

Emotional trauma is one of the reasons why people experience compassion fatigue. With overwhelming traumatic experiences, it becomes difficult to deal with all the ongoing negativity.

On the other hand, burnout is the result of stress and frustration caused by hectic work-related stuff. Overworking, multitasking, and managing huge projects are some of the causes of burnout.

Although, both the descriptions might appear and sound the same, yet they are different. Where burnout is affected by work-related troubles, compassion fatigue is affected by critically empathizing with others to a fault.

Also read: What are C-PTSD and Its Effects on Relationships?

2. Compassion fatigue occurs rapidly, burnout is rather slow and develops over time:

Even though it depends on our emotional experiences, compassion fatigue affects us rapidly. It builds easily over time within our psyche as we go through emotional exhaustion.

Burnout doesn’t affect us until we are under a high workload and limited spare time. It grows as we get too hung up on working ourselves to a fault. As a result, we don’t see it coming until we try to go beyond our mental limits.

Humans are emotional by nature, which makes us an easy target to overwhelming emotional experiences and triggers compassion fatigue. Burnout has little to do with emotions and more to do with dealing with external factors such as work.

3. Compassion fatigue affects helpers and supporters, burnout affects workaholics and perfectionists:

People who are helping and caring by nature are prone to episodes of emotional disturbances and instabilities. Often, many nurses and teachers suffer from compassion fatigue due to their work requirements.

On the other hand, perfectionists and workaholics are prone to mental exhaustion. Their tendency to work overtime makes them an easy target to stress leading to burnout.

The factors might differ, but the individuals undergo changes in their behavior that can be identified through work environments.

4. Compassion fatigue can sabotage healthy relationships, burnout can cause misunderstandings:

Compassion fatigue affects relationships. Whether personal or professional, individuals undergoing compassion fatigue have a hard time feeling, emoting, and empathizing with people around them. They sort of turn numb.

Burnout has a different effect on relationships. In fact, people under burnout stay away from people as much as possible. Their desire for solitude can be misunderstood as avoidant and ignorant behavior.

To sum up, both compassion fatigue and burnouts affect relationships. However, as long as people are mature enough to deal with it there should be no concern for either party.

5. Compassion fatigue requires proper therapy, burnouts are treated with quality time:

You need proper therapy or treatment for dealing with compassion fatigue. Things can be really overwhelming for people with this condition. Consulting a therapist, or psychologist can come in handy. If treated properly, the individual can regain his emotional stability.

Burnouts do not require therapy or medical treatment as such. Actually, they are easier to deal with compared to compassion fatigue. However, it takes time due to longer recovery periods of mental exhaustion.

With compassion fatigue, proper treatment is necessary, while for burnout, quality time is significant.

Final Words:

To sum up, mental and emotional exhaustion are critical barriers to self-development. Whether we are working in high or slow-paced jobs, the concerns remain even after knowing about them.

Dealing with both compassion fatigue and burnout is vital for healthy mental and emotional well-being. Moreover, we should be aware of the differences between both to aptly know what we are going through.

1 thought on “How to Really Know Compassion Fatigue vs Burnout?”

  1. Pingback: 10 Startling Reasons Why Inspiration Is A Trap | Rana Heals

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