Compassion fatigue? Is that a word?

Last week I was having a conversation with someone that I’ve known for over ten years, and I was telling him about an incident that happened at work.  I explained that a colleague had come to me about a student issue, and I found myself not feeling very sympathetic about the situation.  In another time and place, I might have had a different response, but I felt no sympathy at all.

Given the particular set of circumstances around the student issue, I felt far less liberal than I have in the past, and I lamented to my friend that I felt like I was getting more conservative in my old age.  My friend listened as he always does, and then said that rather than becoming conservative, it sounded more like a case of compassion fatigue.

“What?” I said.

“Compassion fatigue,” he said.

“Is that a word?”

“Yes,” he said, “it’s a word,” as he smiled to himself.

We proceeded to talk about compassion fatigue as the feeling of being so exhausted from taking care of others’ needs that the ability to feel compassion diminishes.


I went home and looked it up online, and found this site:

Now, I don’t think that I “suffer” from compassion fatigue, but I do think that teaching has become so much about care giving, that it’s very easy for me to feel exhausted by the amount of compassion that I’m expected to show on a daily basis.

Does being a strong, effective educator require an endless supply of compassion? Where do the boundaries exist around compassion?  What are our own limits?