Right after you lose someone, people constantly say, “let me know what I can do to help.” Sometimes they mean it and sometimes they don’t. What we often find though is that even those who do want to help, are only willing or able to help for so long. They get what’s called “compassion fatigue.”
Compassion fatigue is something that can be experienced severely by professionals who treat victims of trauma, but it can happen on a smaller scale for the people who are supporting you. Compassion fatigue sets in when someone becomes indifferent to your suffering because of the frequency of your need for support.
As an example, if your relationship with a friend or family member (let’s call her Jan) was previously based on fun activities and laughter, but now your interactions more commonly revolve around you needing support for your bereavement, Jan may begin to pull away from you. If she isn’t sad, and if being around you repeatedly makes her sad, and this goes on indefinitely, over time it can consciously or unconsciously move you further down the list of people she chooses to surround herself with. It’s crappy, but it’s true.
People are naturally averted to pain and sadness. We also really dislike feeling like we are incompetent. So it’s not just that your sadness evokes empathy and makes them sad too, it’s also that they don’t know how to help you, or feel like they’re failing to help you get through your grief. That can create frustration, embarrassment, and insecurity for them. You are the one who is grieving, you shouldn’t have to bear the responsibility for making it easy to support you, and you don’t have to. This is just here to help explain why some friends may be fading from your life just when you feel you need them most.
Sometimes people say that “when someone dies, your address book changes”. People with whom you shared close relationships can drift away. When you experience this it usually becomes a source of great hurt and anger for you, as the ending of this friendship becomes another loss you have to pile onto your existing grief.
I wish that this were one of the articles where I can give you some snappy advice to help prevent your friends from getting compassion fatigue, but all I can do it make you aware that this may happen or may be happening. The best things you can do are:
- Evaluate the importance of this relationship. Is this someone you want (or need) to make the effort to keep in your life? Would it be okay or even beneficial to let them go?
- Be honest with the people who are supporting you and communicate your position and needs. Encourage them to communicate theirs.
- Do your best to try and understand when they don’t know how to help you. Tell them it’s okay and that listening is enough (if it is for you).
- Don’t rely entirely on one or two people for support. If you’re able, expand the group you can talk to honestly about your feelings so the burden doesn’t fall to a pair or individual.
- Consider talking to a grief care professional who is extensively trained to handle the burden of other’s grief.
Thanks for visiting Grief Compass. We’re sorry you have to be here, but are glad we’ve found each other.