There are ways to continue caring for others without risking your own mental health
Showing care and sympathy for others is a positive and admirable trait. But, if you’re always trying to make other people happy or endeavouring to sort out their problems (while simultaneously neglecting your own), you could be putting yourself at risk of compassion fatigue.
Here’s how to protect yourself
If you’re investing all your time and energy in someone else’s problems, you’re less likely to be able to care for yourself as well as you could.
If you feel you’re becoming overwhelmed by struggles that aren’t your own, look at what you can do for yourself. It might be as simple as a yoga class, an evening with friends who boost your energy, or perhaps a weekend getaway to recharge your batteries.
Play to your strengths
If someone in your life needs help, do what you’re best at. If you love furry friends, offer to walk their dog for them. If baking is your jam, perhaps you could whip up a batch of biscuits to lift their spirits. The internal conflict comes when you do things you don’t enjoy. If the person you’re concerned for asks you to do something that lies outside of your strengths, kindly suggest that you may not be the best person for that role, and propose something you could do instead.
Conserve your energy
Only hang out with people who make you feel good. After you’ve spent time with someone, notice how your body feels – if you feel exhausted, they may be draining your energy. Try broaching the subject with them in a calm but matter-of-fact way. Inform them that you’ve both explored their problems at length, now it’s time for them to take the reins and do something about them. Then shift the conversation to something more positive.
Suggest professional help
Rather than feel you have to take all their worries on yourself, perhaps you could do some research and see what support groups are available – there will definitely be people and organisations out there in a much better position to help them. If you suspect that your friend is struggling with their mental health, you could lovingly suggest that they reach out to an organisation like Beyond Blue. If they happen to be caring for a relative, maybe they could get in touch with a carer’s group where they can talk to others who are experiencing the same struggles.
Instead of sitting for hours, listening to the same complaints, suggest you do something different. Go to a museum and see an interesting exhibition, or head to the movies for an uplifting flick. Or simply suggest they come over to watch some reality TV and order takeaway. If you do something engaging and fun together, you may be able to break the habit of only sitting and listening to their problems.
The ‘I’ in kind
Take a step back from the situation. You don’t need to constantly see yourself as a rescuer. You can be supportive without immersing yourself in someone else’s worries. If you’re always there to swoop in and solve their problems or provide advice, they’re unlikely to learn how to sort things out for themselves. As many mindfulness gurus suggest, use a handy counselling tip and ask them: ‘What do you think you can do about that?’
Words: Christine Fieldhouse
This article was originally published under the title ‘Crime of (com)passion’ in Issue 18 – Great expectations