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Compassion Fatigue

By: Rev Sue Conrad-Howes, Director of Pastoral Services

In my work, I am fortunate to connect with many clergy. While each person is different, one thing that I have noticed consistently in the past few months are the high levels of stress…with no guide. We are attempting to lead our faith communities through a pandemic, racial injustice, and a political scene that has everyone on edge. No wonder there is stress among us! Any one of these issues would be challenging for a faith leader, but together, we are bound to feel lost, helpless, worthless, or all the above.

Lately, I have heard the phrase “compassion fatigue” used in reference to healthcare workers and social workers. I’m adding clergy to the growing list of people who are experiencing compassion fatigue at new levels.

Compassion fatigue can be experienced by professionals who have prolonged exposure to other people’s trauma. “Compassion fatigue can include exhaustion, disrupted sleep, anxiety, headaches, stomach upset, irritability, numbness, a decreased sense of purpose, emotional disconnection, self-contempt, and difficulties with personal relationships” (Psychology Today).

While I hope you have not experienced compassion fatigue, it is quite possible that you have. By opening ourselves up to other people’s stress and trauma, without caring for ourselves, we can begin to experience total exhaustion, affecting our physical, mental, and professional capabilities.

However, if you have experienced it, you are not alone, even though you may feel that way. There is no roadmap to being a faith leader during times like these. We are all doing things that we have never done before due to the pandemic. We feel like we are making this all up as we go. We are. But you do not need to feel alone.

I hope you have a peer support group with whom you can share your struggles. If not, consider reaching out to another faith leader to talk about the challenges of clergy life these days. I would welcome hearing from you, if you need to process the many things you are carrying. (My contact information is below.)

You are important and needed. We want you to endure through this time with as few scars as possible. Even though we are living in times of social distancing, don’t allow yourself to be isolated during this time. Find ways to process all that is happening, so that you can continue to lead into a hopeful future.