September 15, 2017

Compassion Resilience: A Path to Wellness

In August’s post, we “pounced” on the subject of compassion fatigue and its harmful path by illustrating Eric Gentry’s research with the help of some cats. Need a reminder? Review it here. Compassion fatigue can result in feelings of depression, anxiety, sadness, exhaustion, and irritation. Knowing what compassion fatigue looks like is key in understanding yourself and others and maintaining positive morale and productivity in the workplace. But,compassion fatigue is a normal response to the abnormal situations we might find in the workplace and hear about from those we serve. Rather than think of compassion fatigue as something to be avoided or fixed, it may be more helpful to figure out how to feed and grow our compassion resilience, or CR. CR is the ability to maintain our physical, emotional, and mental well-being while responding compassionately to people who are suffering. If you commit to growing your CR, there are various strategies you can use.  
  • Expose yourself to recovery and resilience. It is difficult to maintain a positive perspective on the hopefulness of our work if we are exposed to the complex challenges of the people we serve without also being exposed to the stories of eventual recovery and resilience of people who were in the same places at some point in their lives. To listen to brief stories of recovery and resilience, click here.
  • Establish compassionate boundaries. It’s hard to achieve a healthy balance if over-involved or under-involved in your personal and professional capacities.  A first step in setting compassionate boundaries is to identify the “Zone of Helpfulness”- the behaviors that you and your team agree are helpful to producing the environment in which to do your best work. From there, the boundaries that need to be set to support those helpful behaviors are more easily identified  An example is the helpful behavior of welcoming all visitors to your building. A boundary might be to avoid “shop talk” in the reception area when others are present so you can focus on being welcoming.
  • Connect with colleagues and others in the community. The most we can expect of ourselves is 100%. Times when we feel a need to go beyond our capacities are often due to not being connected to the people and resources to which we can then connect those we serve. WISE encourages organizational leaders to set aside time for staff to get to know key people and organizations that are “partners in compassionate care.”
  • Practice frequent self-care. Self-care will be discussed in detail in October’s post. Check in next month for more.
Our overall goal then is to establish an inclusive, supportive environment for yourself and your clients, patients, students, etc. We can do this by following  the 7 C’s of resilience, that we apply in our work with others to ourselves. These support the move from anger, apathy, and avoidance to resilience. Each description of what you offer others is followed by questions to help you apply the concept to yourself and your compassion resilience. As we learn in mindfulness practice, remember to notice but let go of negative emotions like anger or shame that come with this personal exploration.
  • Get to know people with non-judgmental curiosity. How does being curious about yourself in interactions with others impact your CR? What practices might enhance your self-awareness?
  • Form positive connections with the people you serve. What are two relationships that increase or support your CR? What is it about them that supports your CR?
  • Build trust through consistency. What do you already do to support your compassionate approach to others? What is most likely to get in the way of consistency in what is working ? How can you anticipate that? How do you get back on track?
  • Build competence to meet diverse expectations. As you become consistent with your current strengths, what are potential steps for you to take to further grow your compassion resilience/avoid compassion fatigue?
  • Support sense of control in others. What do you have control of that would further support your CR? Where do you want to expand your influence, and what stressors can’t you control that you would be best helped if you could  let go?
  • Engage in co-planning to arrive at self-directed decisions. Who can be your CR buddy this year to debrief and touch base with?
  • Show them the worth of their contribution, that “the world” is a better place with them in it. What are the strengths you bring to increasing CR in yourself, your workplace, and your family?
After this, slowly begin to integrate what you’ve learned or realized into your work. Be conscious of your efforts, and adjust as needed, remembering that this is a process. And don’t worry if you’re still feeling overwhelmed or uneasyWISE has more tips on setting compassionate boundaries, connecting with colleagues, and practicing self-care in the months ahead. In the meantime, sign up for the WISE newsletter, attend a WISE meeting to get more involved, or visit our website at And be sure to check back next month to learn more about how to grow your compassion resilience. Thanks, Lucy, and the WISE team