Compassion Fatigue

An amazing aspect of our brain’s pain system is not just that it senses existential pain as well as physical pain, but also that this same system feels pain when we are confronted with another’s distress. We feel this in our body too.

Health care workers – doctors and nurses- are subject to high rates of burn out, depression and multiple attendant complications. Sometimes this is termed “compassion fatigue” but I think this term misses an essential point. Compassion is the psychic salve to the pain that dealing with sickness and death with an open heart engenders. Look at this article from The Greater Good to see what I mean. When empathy hurts-compassion heals

My experience is that there is a progression.


First we become aware. Then we shake the tyranny of self talk and self absorption. Only then can we step into the shoes of others. And we find our greatest emotional fulfillment in alleviating the suffering of others.

So let’s not talk of compassion fatigue, but recognize that an open heart is vulnerable.

Compassion heals.

Thanks for reading



This entry was posted in compassion, gratitude, health care, integrative medicine, meditation, mindfulness, neuroscience, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Compassion Fatigue

  1. Hey John, great article, I’ve experience a similar progression as you describe. When I’m doing compassion practice in meditation I like to repeat the phrase, “I care. I care about your pain. Through this caring may your pain be eased.” It echos compassion without giving me the feeling I need to be personally responsible for everyone else’s pain. I love your writing!

    • I recite mentally the loving kindness meditation I have learned from a Jack Kornfield recording:
      May I be filled with loving kindness,
      May I be well, in body and mind,
      May I be safe from inner and outer danger,
      May I be happy, truly happy, and free.

      Of course I try to extend the circle to include benefactors, loved ones, acquaintances, all sentiment beings both seen and unseen and finally people who I find difficult.

      Namaste to you my wise friend.


  2. I agree completely. ~ Dennis

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