Empathy Fatigue is not Compassion Fatigue:
Matthieu Ricard reminds us in his book, Altruism, that the antidote to Empathy Fatigue is Compassion. We can confuse empathy fatigue with compassion fatigue, but from a science and meditation perspective, the brain is doing different things when we are in empathy overload and when we counter it with compassion.
It is like the Empathy connects us, and if there are more and more, again and again situations connecting us to the pain and struggles of others, we become fatigued, like an overused muscle. The response is most often to unplug from others. But we can also shift to Compassion.
Compassion becomes the cool cup of water for the fatigued hart. The body/brain in compassion is refilled as we focus not on the pain and struggle but on the Love. He writes,
"To return to my own experiment, while I observed that meditation on empathy came up against a limit, that of burnout, on the contrary it seemed to me that one could not tire of love and compassion. In fact, these states of mind both fed my courage instead of undermining it, and reinforced my determination to help others without increasing my distress. I continued to be confronted with suffering, but love and compassion conferred a constructive quality to my way of approaching other's suffering, and amplified my inclination and determination to come to their aid. So it was clear, from my perspective, that if there was an "empathy fatigue" leading to the syndrome of emotional exhaustion, there was no fatigue of love and compassion." Altruism, pages 60, 61.
To sum up: Care deeply to the point of empathetic connection, listen to the music that fills and heals you, take a break, get back in there. And maybe bring food for those in despair.
Breathe in, breathe out,
focus on the life force within you.
Bring to mind the person or community that is in peril, trauma, hurt.
Just for now, just for this moment, focus not on their pain, but on the love that motivates you.
Orient your attention from your breath to your heart.
As you breathe in, imagine your heart space expanding.
As you breathe out, allow your love to find its way to those in need.
Expand and Send. Expand and Send. Focus on the breath.
Then, go listen to the music that renews you.
Do this again and again, Until you are ready to go back into the streets, back into the homes, back into the care/protection/witnessing that must take place. Bring your own music and snacks so the ones in need do not need to offer you care.
Love and Compassion have no end.