Helping Till it Hurts Us


Those involved in emergency and disaster work operate in environments that impose high stress, often referred to as compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue is defined as a state where the person who is helping traumatized and hurting people becomes so preoccupied with those people by re-experiencing the victim’s traumatic events that they begin to suffer as if they experienced them personally. Think of it as someone who is helping a neighbor carry firewood. As you come along side someone and help them carry their firewood, you are fine, but the more firewood you carry, the less effective you are, until you are overcome by the weight of the logs and you collapse.

In an attempt to address the issues associated with Compassion Fatigue, individuals must develop personal disciplines (emotional, physical, spiritual) that assist in maintaining a prolonged presence in settings of high stress. Without leaning forward on these sorts of things, the emergency manager or helper of any sort will burn out and ultimately leave the work. These disciplines are different for everyone, but might include, prayer & worship, going for a walk, talking to a trained professional, etc. The list goes on and on, but the idea is that the helper is actively separating himself or herself from the trauma to focus their mind, spirit, and body on something else for a time. This allows us to depressurize and to reboot.

Emergencies have plagued humanity since the beginning of history. There is very little that can be done to end disasters altogether, but there are a multitude of things that can be done to lessen their impact. Informed and trained individuals with knowledge and skills for managing their emotional, physical, and spiritual selves can continue their acts of service, mitigating the impact on the lives of our community, and in some cases saving actual lives.

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