compassion burnout
Updated: October 26, 2021

Are You Experiencing Compassion Burnout?

Family members often support their loved ones’ recovery journey, but sometimes there are complicated emotions that arise from it. Sometimes, it’s sometimes difficult to get them on board (or to stay on board) when their loved one gets sober and begins their journey. Usually, this is due to “compassion burnout” – a feeling of exhaustion after years of caring for others more than themselves.

Sometimes this comes from hidden resentments or other complicated emotions. But when a person first gets sober – and beyond – they need and deserve compassion. Loved ones are the ones with the power to surround them and help them feel loved when they need it most. People new to recovery also sometimes experience dramatic “up and down” phases when they first get sober. This may be hard for loved ones to deal with or understand.

Supporting Addicted Persons With Compassion

It can be difficult caring for people who have the disease of addiction. After all, one of the primary characteristics of this disorder is self-sabotage. An addicted person with months in recovery may seem to be doing fine, great, even! And then end up using their drug of choice, seemingly without provocation. The disease of addiction is often called “cunning and powerful.”

Yes, we are all powerless over the actions of others. However, what we do and say can and does influence others. People are inspired by the words and actions of others every day. They also can similarly let the negative comments and actions of others affect the decisions they make and how they feel about themselves. Supporting your loved one can just be a kind word or gesture. You don’t have to lend them money or bake them a cake.

Compassion Burnout and Getting Sober

It’s easy to experience compassion burnout when you’re trying to help somebody get sober. From the outside, it’s easy to judge others. However, substance use disorders are complicated and encompass more than just psychology or self-help books. There are scientific reasons a person changes when they’re becoming addicted to a substance.

Addiction is a disorder of the brain and can change how a person reacts, thinks, and feels. First, it’s important to remember that addiction is a disorder. It has clear symptoms, including a compulsion to use drugs or alcohol.

If you have watched a loved one try to get sober again and again, you may be frustrated. But they keep trying. Hopefully, you can keep trying, too. Give yourself time to nurture yourself.

Finding Compassion for Yourself, Too

Compassion burnout can happen when you’ve enabled an addicted person and put their needs first for a while. Are you an enabler? If you work with or care for somebody with a substance use disorder, you may find yourself doing things to help them continue to function.

You may have bailed them out of jail, paid their phone bill, or otherwise helped them in a way that put their needs first. Doing things like this may have been “ok” or stressful to you, but you did them either way.  Now, you’re wondering why they can’t simply get sober, if not for themselves, for you! It hurt every time they failed. You may feel confused and sad if they get sober on their own, for themselves, and succeed.

Sadly, a person might want to get sober but fail each time they try. But it’s heartening to know they keep trying. Having compassion for them is crucial because they often become broken and bruised from their own low self-esteem.

Taking Care of Yourself

You’re not responsible for another person’s addiction. You’ve done the best you can. People who work in the addiction field also sometimes harbor feelings of guilt or responsibility when somebody they’ve worked with relapses. But no one is responsible for the actions of another. You’re only responsible for how you react to another person’s suffering or addiction. If you're feeling burned out on compassion, it's time to step away and begin to take care of yourself.

Learning self-care can help you reclaim time for yourself. Take time for a daily walk or meditation. Block out time for the things you love and enjoy. Don’t give more than you have. Make your needs the priority, every day.

If you find you resent a loved one or need help coping with your compassion burnout, help is available. You’re not alone. Try a family therapist or a support group like Al-Anon. Loving a person through their addiction and into recovery is a big feat. Being in an addicted person’s support network can be a gift, but sometimes you need help for yourself, too.

Getting Help for Addiction

Whether you have a substance use disorder or somebody you love needs help, you don't have to go it alone. We offer discreet, compassionate support for people who want to reclaim their lives. Please call us at 619-452-1200 to learn more about how we can help.




chevron-down linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram