When helping loved ones, we can’t forget to help ourselves

It’s easy to become invested in the problems of the people we care about. It’s also just as easy to continually carry others’ emotional baggage to an extent that becomes harmful to one’s own wellbeing. 

Whether it’s a friend going through a breakup or a loved one suffering with a mental illness, we’ve seen a significant societal shift towards promoting compassion and empathy. As students and workers alike are rightfully demanding better mental health resources, people are now taught more than ever that we should never diminish the problems of those around us.

Yes, this progress is inarguably in the right direction. But what’s fallen through the cracks are the ramifications of continually providing support to others without checking in with oneself. 

The concept of compassion fatigue is a psychological consequence of over-committing yourself to helping others. It was described by psychologist Charles Figley as the “cost of caring” 

about the trauma of others. Compassion fatigue happens when a person faces repeated or intense exposure to emotional pain, but doesn’t take the time to intrinsically refuel. 

It can result in feelings of irritation or disconnect towards the emotions of another. Alternatively, disinterest and apathy can become the default when engaging with others’ problems. 

Compassion fatigue occurs when we disregard our own emotional state post-engagement. Emotional trauma has an impact on those exposed to it as well. By the very nature of empathy and compassion, hearing about the struggles of the people we care about affects us. 

None of this is to say we should stop supporting the people in our lives. But it’s important to recognize our own emotional threshold for compassion and acknowledge that it’s necessary to care for ourselves as much as we’re caring for others. 

This means you could check in with yourself after an emotionally heavy conversation, as well as spend more time engaging in self-care and setting boundaries on what you can handle. Sometimes, we just need to understand it’s not always possible to drop everything for someone else’s problems.

It’s okay to feel affected by others’ emotions. It’s also okay to admit you can’t always handle others’ pain. Sometimes the best way you can help someone is by admitting you can’t do it alone. 

Everyone has different emotional tolerance levels and we need to recognize our own capacity for compassion. We commit to being there for our loved ones, but we mustn’t leave ourselves behind in the process. 


Sarina is one of The Journal’s Assistant News Editors. She’s a fourth-year English major. 

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca.

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.