We hear the term compassion quite frequently. In today’s world we know that we have far too little of it. We also hear that caregivers of those who have many life adversities can find themselves in a syndrome called “compassion fatigue.” It means they have given of themselves to the extent that they are exhausted emotionally.
Compassion literally means “to suffer together.” Among emotion researchers, it is defined as the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering. What separates it from other terms like empathy or sympathy is the added dimension of relieving the suffering that you encounter in the lives of others. Some have referred to it as empathy in action.
For professionals who are compassionate and who deal with trauma-impacted individuals each day there can be a significant level of frustration. In fact, there can be several aspects of frustration within the same situation.
First of all, the specific type of trauma may be unknown. So, what is seen is someone who is attempting to cope through destructive behaviors. There is blame, shame and other judgements attached to their behavior by outsiders. When the traumatized person finally comes into the care of a professional the specific reason for their behavior or symptoms can be hidden and hard to diagnose.
Secondly there can be a significant amount of denial and/or diversion by the trauma-impacted individual because they are either unaware or embarrassed to admit what is specifically going on for them. Sometimes they have such a loyalty to their past that they won’t admit what happened to them that could have launched the domino effect of traumatic responses to their life-altering problem.
Also, once the professional has some information about the traumatic event or events in the person’s life many professionals do not know what to do about it. For example, how many professionals know how to help someone regulate their dysregulated brain or how somatosensory interventions are used? Additionally, there is the skill and ability required to process pain and help clients with unresolved memories and issues that need certain clinical skills.
I appreciate that most professionals in people-healing roles are compassionate. They deeply care and want to help resolve the suffering they are encountering. However, trauma is very complex and takes time to uncover. Being trauma-informed and having the perspective, the knowledge and skill to be trauma-competent provides that ability to truly fulfill the desire to have compassion that is not only empathetic but also can relieve the suffering when reaching out to trauma-impacted individuals. It also provides inspiration and relief to the responsibility of effectively caring for those who are traumatized.