Compassion Fatigue v. Apathy v. Overwhelmed


Compassion Fatigue. It’s the new phrase du jour. No, it’s not a new condition, but we’re tossing it around like 45 with paper towels.

Every day we’re bombarded with needs. From our own day-to-day stress to the news telling us the world is burning to the ground.

In response, we’ve dug up the phrase of Compassion Fatigue and we’re slapping it on to every emotion, or lack of emotion, we feel toward those needs. But is it?

How can we know if it’s Compassion Fatigue, or Apathy?

Maybe, we’re just Overwhelmed by the needs and we don’t know where to start.

Let’s define each, and then we can go from there.

Compassion Fatigue is defined as:

“…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.” (

Let me be clear. Compassion Fatigue is real, and it affects a lot of people. They care so much that they give and give and give until they drop.

Apathy, on the other hand, means that you don’t care. The needs don’t affect you. Emotionally, mentally, or in any other way. You just don’t care. Refugees? Not your problem. Wars in Iraq, Iran, Syria? Poor them, but they’ll figure it out eventually. Wildfires in California, hurricanes in Puerto Rico/Texas/Florida? That sucks, but what’s on Netflix?

Overwhelmed. I’ve found myself here a few times. You see the needs, you want to do something, but there are so many that you don’t know where to start. So, you’re frozen. You don’t start at all. You don’t know where to move.

What can we do, once we know which one affects us? has some great advice on how to overcome Compassion Fatigue. They give a list of 10 things you can do, but it boils down to this:

You have to take care of yourself.

I’ve said this many times before: You can’t give water from an empty well.

Apathy? There’s not a lot I can write here to change an apathetic attitude, because it is a heart issue. Bottom line: We’re all in this together. There is no “us” disassociated from “them”.  It may take something dramatic to change this thought pattern, and I don’t wish trauma on anyone.

Overwhelmed may be the easiest to overcome, even if it might be the hardest to see.

  1. Admit to yourself that you cannot do everything.
  2. Assess your resources.
  3. Choose something.
  4. Do something.

You will have pangs of regret and doubt. Thoughts like “am I neglecting this need” or “did I just turn my back on that need” will fill your head. Remind yourself that you are doing what you can. If you have the time and resources to take on more than one need, go for it, but remember to guard yourself against Compassion Fatigue.

For me, I chose to support Compassion International. They are trained and have resources that I don’t, and they address so many of the world’s needs that I would not know how to help. This does not mean that I do not give aide to anything else, nor that I do not do some things on my own. It means that my primary focus is on supporting them. I know where to start. I’m not frozen.

I’m doing instead of wishing there was something I could do.


There are many needs in this world. A lot of hurting people that need us to walk beside them and offer our support. It can be hard to know where to begin, and there are many worthy organizations that can use our help. I’ve written about them multiple times. (Just take a look through my Compassion Wednesday posts alone).

Do you feel overwhelmed, or are you suffering from Compassion Fatigue? What can you do today to change that?

I would love to read your thoughts on all of this. Drop me a line in the comments below.


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4 thoughts on “Compassion Fatigue v. Apathy v. Overwhelmed”

  1. Your four steps for ‘overwhelmed’ are excellent. It’s amazing how empowering it is to make a conscious decision to help someone. (I think those opportunities bless me at least as much as they do anyone I’m able to help 🙂 )

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Glad I came across this post. I am a long time Paramedic with over 20 years in the industry. Over the past year or so I began to have incredible anxiety, panic attacks, and other physical symptoms. It is being discussed with my healthcare providers that I am suffering from secondary trauma from heavy stress and Compassion Fatigue. I had never heard of it of course and was skeptical of the suggestion- no official diagnosis as yet. Since hearing about it I have been studying it and you are offering a slightly different look at it. I can’t say I don’t care, but I am getting there because how I am feeling now has made me quite resentful of having spent so much of my life serving others, and this is my reward. Thanks for sharing

    Liked by 1 person

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