When I was in my late teens I had a good friend who was going through a really hard time. I cared deeply for this person and felt like I needed to be there for them no matter what. I would miss out on exciting opportunities just to spend time with my friend in need. This person’s needs consumed my thoughts and affected the actions and decisions I made daily. What I didn’t realize at the time was that this person was an emotional vampire, draining me of my empathy and compassion.
After talking with a counselor and supportive loved ones, I realized that I didn’t have the energy to be the sole form of emotional support for this individual. I also realized that the relationship was toxic – this person refused to get help from anyone else and made me feel guilty any time I wasn’t able to be there for them.
According to Dr. Charles Figley, a professor at Tulane University, “Compassion Fatigue is a state experienced by those helping people or animals in distress; it is an extreme state of tension and preoccupation with the suffering of those being helped to the degree that it can create a secondary traumatic stress for the helper.”
Caring too much can cause a lot of pain. As INFJs, we tend to care immensely about our loved ones, people in need, or causes we care about. Our empathy is one of our greatest strengths. However, if we don’t practice self-care and set boundaries, that same trait can lead to anxiety, depression, and anger.
Compassion fatigue as a condition is common among those who work directly with trauma victims such as, therapists, nurses, physicians, and first responders. However, for the purpose of this article I’m going to discuss how compassion fatigue affects INFJs in interpersonal relationships.
Do you feel like you may be suffering from compassion fatigue? Here are some steps you can take to manage your empathy in a healthy way and be the best possible support for those around you.
Set Personal Boundaries
Think about your situation in terms of priority. For example, if your parent, spouse, or child is sick and you are their main caretaker, that is a higher priority than if your best friend is still not over his or her break-up of 3 months ago and needs your constant emotional support. Try to look at the situation objectively to determine where this issue ranks in comparison to other important things in your life – other relationships, work, self-care, etc. If it’s not the number one priority, but is still causing you compassion fatigue, you are probably devoting too much energy and empathy towards the person and their situation.
Take a step back and assess how you can support this person while also devoting as much or more time and energy toward other things in your life. You may discover, as I did, that you are in a toxic relationship that is doing you more harm than good.
If you feel like the amount of compassion you are devoting to this person is causing you to be less compassionate towards anyone or anything else, that is a sign that you need to set boundaries. Recognize that it’s not your job to fix every problem. You can only offer as much support as you are mentally and emotionally capable of offering to a healthy extent. Going past that point will only cause resentment and anger toward the other person, which will come out eventually, either at them or in an indirect but unhealthy way.
Practice Self Care
Caring for or about someone else doesn’t mean that you have to stop caring for yourself. In the case of an airplane emergency, they instruct you to secure your oxygen mask first, and then assist the other person. This is true in all areas of life. If you aren’t at 100% you can’t be there 100% for anyone else.
It’s a lot of pressure to be the main caretaker or emotional support for a loved one in need. It can cause high levels of stress and anxiety. Find time to recharge through meditation, prayer, exercise, reading, art, music, nature, or whatever else fuels you mentally or spiritually. Keep a journal to reflect on what you feel and why you feel that way. Talk with a therapist or supportive loved one. Don’t feel guilty or ashamed for doing things that make you feel better.
Ask for Help
This is an area that INFJs can struggle in. Sometimes you may truly be the only person willing and able to take care of someone else. Most of the time, you aren’t. You may not reach out to others for help because of shame, guilt, or pride. Maybe you feel like no one can take care of your sick mother as well as you, or you just feel bad asking for extra help.
Be willing to express your needs honestly. Recognize that most people don’t see exactly what you’re going through, only what you show on the surface. If you’re experiencing compassion fatigue, you’re probably suppressing a lot of your own feelings in order to focus on someone else’s problems. Reach out to those who care about you for advice or assistance. You’ll probably be surprised who is willing to help find solutions once they understand what you’re going through.
Educate Yourself and Others
Compassion fatigue is not rare. In fact, there is an entire website devoted to this topic. The Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project’s mission is to “promote an awareness and understanding of Compassion Fatigue and its effect on caregivers.” The site offers suggested readings and resources for caregivers and anyone experiencing compassion fatigue.
Compassion fatigue is something that INFJs are prone to experiencing, due to our deep levels of empathy. Reach out to other INFJs on Facebook, Twitter, or other social media networks if you feel like you need to discuss this issue with like-minded individuals. As always, feel free to send me an e-mail or comment below if you have further questions or comments on this topic. I would love to hear about your experiences or any tips you have for those who may be experiencing compassion fatigue.
For most people, compassion fatigue doesn’t disappear overnight. It took me years to set boundaries and accept that it is OK if I can’t be there for everyone, all the time. If you’re going through this now, know that you’re not alone and that it doesn’t have to last forever. With the right boundaries, self-care, and support, you can get to a healthier place and come out of this feeling so much stronger than you feel now.