Food for thought,  Mental Health,  Social Issues

The hidden life skill

Cultivating emotional intelligence is essential for success in professional and personal life. Beth Rush explains

Have you ever felt guilty about not feeling enough sympathy for someone in need? Do you sometimes experience that nagging sense of guilt at not being sufficiently moved by the latest atrocity on TV or a bereavement experienced by a colleague? 

If so you may well be suffering from compassion fatigue. And to overcome compassion fatigue, you need to grow in emotional intelligence which will precisely enable you to empathize better with others and yourself. But to get there you have to take a step back and take action to protect yourself from compassion fatigue. How? Let me explain.

What Is compassion fatigue?

Compassion fatigue is a term to describe the physical, emotional and psychological impact of helping others. It occurs through experiences of stress or trauma and can be mistaken for burnout. Experiencing burnout is a part of this form of fatigue, but compassion fatigue is more specifically brought on by stressful environments or lack of resources.

Who does it impact?

Although anyone can experience compassion fatigue, it tends to present itself more frequently  in specific professions. It is common in many caregivers who work in healing jobs or whose daily labour involves the hands-on experience of helping people.

If you spend all your time helping others, you may often forget to care for yourself. 

You may be more at risk of compassion fatigue if you are in a career such as healthcare, the justice system or the emergency services. In such areas  there may be instances which trigger compassion fatigue more often. You could be working with patients with depression, providing care in dangerous environments or working under a heavy workload. 

Compassion fatigue starts when the triggers affect your thoughts, moods and well-being outside work. It can be normal to experience these feelings in your profession, but it’s a more significant issue when they become overwhelming.

Signs of compassion fatigue

It’s essential to know the signs of compassion fatigue since it can start to affect your daily life and work. Being aware of the signals can indicate if you or others are feeling overwhelmed or out of touch. This can come in the form of numbness or irritability, a lessened sense of purpose, feelings of anxiety or depression, insomnia or physical symptoms such as headaches and changes in appetite.

Compassion fatigue may compel some people to turn to addictions for relief.

Addiction can come as alcohol abuse, gambling, drug addiction or even overworking yourself. It is essential to know the warnings so you can catch compassion fatigue before these occur.

But once you have put in place certain essential boundaries which help you deal with the difficult situations you might encounter in life – for example, try not to take work problems home with you – you are then in a place to start to develop emotional intelligence. This is the apparent paradox: through a certain detachment from the problems of others, we are then able to share them more and in a more appropriate manner.

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence can be defined as the ability to understand, use and manage your emotions positively. When used effectively, it can help relieve stress, help you communicate better, empathise with others and defuse conflict. It can also help overcome compassion fatigue.

If you want to build stronger relationships or succeed in your career, mastering emotional intelligence is the way to go.

It can help you connect with your feelings and make decisions about things that matter most. Typically emotional intelligence can be broken down into four categories:

  • Self-management: The ability to control impulsive feelings and behaviours healthily;
  • Self-awareness: Recognizing your emotions and how they affect your thoughts and behaviours;
  • Social awareness: Your ability to have empathy for others. It means understanding the emotions and needs of others;
  • Relationship management: Knowing how to develop and maintain good relationships.

Practising emotional intelligence skills

The goal of mastering emotional intelligence is to feel fulfilled in life. Put bluntly, you must understand how to regulate your emotions in order to succeed in life and work. There are methods and qualities you can include in your life. Among the things you can try are:

  • practise active listening;
  • communicate your thoughts and words clearly;
  • monitor your tone and body language; 
  • and learn to be present with others.

To experience the benefits of emotional intelligence, you need empathy. Empathy is the key to feeling deeply and sharing experiences with others. Learning how to deal with your emotions properly allows you to heal compassion fatigue. 

Contrary to popular belief, emotions can be controlled and channelled. They do not have to overwhelm us. With a bit of struggle, we can work on our emotional responses to make them less ‘me-centred’ and more focused on the needs of others. We learn to feel less about ourselves and more for others. But even here, not too much. We return to that necessary detachment we need in order to share people’s problems helpfully and appropriately.

Developing emotional awareness

Making sure you have emotional awareness is the key to emotional intelligence. This begins with managing your stress so it won’t feel as scary to connect to your unpleasant emotions. Trying to change how you respond and experience your feelings can be learned through mindfulness.

Mindfulness is purposely focusing on everything at the moment. You are tuned in to the here and now without judgement. It can help you be more self-aware and bring a broader perspective to life. 

Understanding the power of mindfulness is essential to be in touch with the physical and emotional aspects of what you’re feeling or not feeling.

Once you know the importance of emotional intelligence, you can start working on the processes needed to improve it. This, as said, begins with overcoming compassion fatigue. And this will take time, but your knowledge of controlling your emotions can help you navigate this process as best you can. 

Finally … remember you are not alone, and working with others to see the benefits of emotional intelligence will benefit you – and them – greatly.

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