When you are on the frontline of ministry, there is the potential of facing all kinds of trauma, such as violence, illness, or spiritual attack. In addition to this, you may also have the additional stress of dealing with the traumatic stories and problems of others, including domestic violence, child abuse, or grieving loss.
Over time, the suffering of others can seep, undetected, deep into your being. This is called compassion fatigue.
“Profound emotional and physical exhaustion that helping professionals, missionaries, and caregivers can develop over the course of their career as helpers. It is a gradual erosion of all the things that keep us connected to others in our role: our empathy, our hope, and of course our compassion, not only for others, but for ourselves.” (The Compassion Fatigue Workbook)
The Word “Compassion” may bring to mind the heart of Jesus’ ministry. The phrase “He felt compassion” (Mark 6:34) seems to be the heartbeat of His time on earth. But as you know, even Jesus had to pace Himself in the midst of ministry by including times of retreat.
Here are a few signs of compassion fatigue:
1. Physical and emotional exhaustion
2. Anger and irritability - difficulty controlling mood swings
3. Exaggerated sense of responsibility - “I can’t stop, people need me.”
4. Insomnia/difficulty falling asleep
5. Shifting blame; taking your stress out on others in personal relationship
6. Tension headaches, low back pain, or other unexplained symptoms
7. Self-medicating to relieve stress
8. Feeling a need to avoid work or specific clients
9. Reduced ability to feel sympathy or empathy
10. Resentment - “Why are all the demands on me?”
11. Hypervigilance - feeling that you are always “on” even when on break
12. Difficulty separating personal and professional life
13. Failure to nurture non-work-related aspects of life
14. Loss of hope
It is important to regularly evaluate yourself. You can take your own compassion fatigue self-test by clicking here.
The best direction for anyone who is suffering these symptoms, is to reach out for help. It takes time to overcome compassion fatigue, but healing can be found through healthy relationships and through a personalized plan.
Addressing this issue early can keep your ministry healthy, your family healthy, and you healthy. Don’t let compassion fatigue shorten a long and meaningful ministry.
Signs Of Ministry Burnout
Ministry burnout can be a very personal experience, and it is more serious than most people realize. Not all those in ministry will experience the same signs on the path to burn out, but missionary burnout is something that should not be ignored in one’s life. Here are 12 signs that may ring true for you.
If you recognize one or two of these signs, you are likely not in danger of being burned out. Consider them warning signs. If you show six to eight signs, you may be in low-grade burnout or heading for the cliff. If you resonate with most or all of them, you are likely in full-fledged burnout. It is our hope, that recognizing these signs can help you see the edge before you careen past it.
1. Your Passion Fades.
Everybody struggles with lack of passion from time to time, but burnout moves you into a place of sustained motivation loss. Passion is what drove you into ministry. Passion is what made you leave your homes to reach people for Christ. Passion is one of the factors that makes both life and leadership wonderful over a long period of time.
2. You No Longer Feel the Highs or Lows.
If you are healthy, you feel things. You experience highs and lows. The road to burnout robs you of your range of emotions. You seem to become numb to the experiences of life. in your mind, you know how you should respond and feel, but those emotions are just not there. Burnout numbs your heart. This can sneak up on you. Before you realize it, two or three years have gone by and numbness has become
your emotional home.
3. Little Things Make You Excessively Emotional.
When you do feel emotions, it is the little things that can set you off and take you to the extreme.
It is not that burned-out people feel zero emotion, but when you are on the path to burnout, you often experience inappropriate or distorted emotions. Treating small things like big things and big things like small things are both signs that something
deeper is wrong.
4. Everybody Drains You.
People certainly impact us in a variety of ways. Some energize us. Some do not. But when you are burned out, nobody energizes you anymore. Family and friends seem to disappoint you. When nobody energizes you, they are not necessarily the problem, your burnout is.
5. Your Outlook Has Become Negative.
If you find yourself becoming negative at a rapid rate, or stay there for a prolonged time, it may be a sign you are on the road to burnout. Being negative destroys
a healthy heart.
6. Nothing Satisfies You.
One aspect of burnout is that things that should satisfy you and used to satisfy you do not anymore. Things such as sleep, food, and recreation all cease to regenerate you. Things that you may have found to be fulfilling in the past, such as work, good relationships, and prayer seem empty or meaningless. This a sign of depression, and it is also a sign of burnout.
7. You Can’t Think Straight.
Remember this…people make stupid decisions when they are burned out. How is your thought process these days? Does your mind seem sluggish? Do you become uncharacteristically forgetful? Do simple decisions seem enormous? This could be
a sign of burnout.
8. Your Productivity Is Dropping.
Has your pace slowed right down? If you are putting in long hours but seeing insignificant results, pay attention.
9. You are Self-Medicating.
In the early stages of burnout, many people turn to self-medicating to numb the pain. This might involve overeating, overworking, sexual addictions, drinking, impulsive spending, or even drugs. When this occurs, it is a warning that you have chosen a path of self-medication instead of self-care to deal with the pain.
10. You Don’t Laugh Anymore.
If you’re burning out, you don’t laugh like you used to. Nothing seems fun or funny anymore. What might be worse is that you resent or don’t understand people who are enjoying life. It is important to keep a sense of humor and to even laugh at yourself.
11. Sleep and Time Off No Longer Refuel You.
One major warning sign that you are suffering from burnout is that time off and periods of rest no longer refuel you.
12. You Depersonalize Your Ministry.
To shield yourself, you begin to reduce your close involvement with others. You begin not to notice the nationals who need help. You tend to become tough, hard, and cynical; you may even begin putting nationals down or see them in a negative light. This attitude can even overflow into your family life. You view people as objects.
If you suspect that you are on a dangerous road to burnout, please do not put off seeking help. Reach out to someone who can speak into your life with Bible based love, compassion, truth, and hope.
In coming communications, we will look at:
What Missionaries Need to Know About Compassion Fatigue
What Causes Missionary Burnout?
What Are the Effects of Missionary Burnout?
How to Prevent Burnout
Mark and Sheryl Douras
Refreshing Mercies Ministry