I first heard the term compassion resilience a little over a year ago. To be honest, I was a little confused—I understood what compassion meant, and I knew what resilience was, but… how did the two go hand in hand? Despite my confusion, I knew that compassion resilience felt inherently important, and I was personally drawn to it. Whether it was my own compassion fatigue, residual from years of experience in the healthcare field, or its catchy, intriguing name, something told me that compassion resilience would play a significant role in my life.
Now, one year later, I've had the privilege of co-presenting three compassion resilience workshops and assisting with one shorter pilot version, too. Each time I present to trainees, I can feel the moment when the information clicks, and a lightbulb goes off. This groundbreaking concept is gaining traction—and coupled with solid resources, compassion resilience has the potential to support real change within systems.
So, what is compassion resilience?
Compassion resilience is the ability to maintain our physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental well-being while responding compassionately to people who are suffering. Possessing compassion resilience means that you have an internal reservoir from which you can draw when you're feeling depleted. A strong supply of compassion resilience gives you the power to return to a position of empathy, strength, and hope after the difficult daily exposures of life.
The term compassion resilience is likely a new one for many of you. If you have the same reaction I did, you may wonder, “okay, but what exactly does it mean?" I first learned this term when I was introduced to the Compassion Resilience Toolkit, put together by the Rogers Foundation. This toolkit is a free online resource, designed to support and increase the capacity of helping professionals and caregivers, while also improving the systems in which they work.
Online, there are actually three different toolkits, each catered to a specific audience—schools, health and human services, and parents and caregivers—and intended to serve as a guide to personal compassion resilience. The toolkits provide sample activities, agendas, wellness practices, links to additional resources, and helpful action steps for individuals at all levels of an organization. The approaches are cross-cultural and come from a variety of sources, appealing to our common humanity to connect us toward change. I find that this gives power to the concepts in the toolkit.
Those who work within helping professions (or serve as helpers in their personal lives) are at an increased risk of compassion fatigue. Also known as empathetic distress, compassion fatigue can manifest as feelings of depression, exhaustion, anxiety, irritation, and unhealthy hypervigilance. Staying in this state for too long can even lead to secondary and vicarious trauma and burnout.
Research and experience show us that compassion fatigue is a very real thing—which makes compassion resilience that much more important! Workers and their organizations can become overwhelmed with not only the intense workload, but the accompanying emotional fatigue, too. Having a strong sense of compassion resilience can help an individual remain empathetic and allow them to continue being an effective helper, all without letting the distress of their career or situation negatively affect their personal wellbeing. Workplaces within helping sectors, particularly, can benefit in a big way from systemic and organizational change that uses compassion resilience to supports its staff.
At this point, you might be wondering … what does this all have to do with mindfulness?
As we know, mindfulness is the practice of being aware and nonjudgmentally accepting what comes. It's a useful tool for sifting through our feelings and thoughts, and helping us realize what we need as people. When we're in a state of distress, but still operating on auto-pilot, mindfulness allows us to consciously interrupt and analyze an unbalanced lifestyle, which is a vital first step to enacting real change. To this end, the Compassion Resilience Toolkit offers wellness strategies and tests to help people identify what nurtures their own wellbeing and make it part of their regular life. This balance, which begins with a mindful outlook, adds to our compassion resilience reservoirs.
At Shanthi Project, we envision resilient communities comprised of people who are self-aware and compassionate—and we feel that the concept of compassion resilience aligns perfectly with that vision. With the help of our friends at the United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley, we organized key concepts from the toolkit to create a full workshop that we now offer to local organizations. We have taken the vastness of the toolkit (which can be a bit daunting to take in all at once!) and shaped it into an 8-hour workshop all about compassion resilience. The training runs through various activities from the toolkit, all while staying grounded in its key topics. The components of our workshop include:
Understanding compassion fatigue and compassion resilience (what it is, how we get to a state of fatigue, identifying what drains and drives us)
Navigating workplace expectations
Improving staff culture and climate
Compassionate boundary setting
Wellness and resiliency strategies from the perspectives of mind, heart, body, and spirit
We realize that an 8-hour training isn’t always something that a workplace has the time and space to undertake. We're always happy to cater to shorter timeframes and really hone in on specific areas of compassion resilience!
Participating in a compassion resilience workshop is a truly unique opportunity to learn more about yourself and the needs of your organization. It teaches important, relevant information and strategies and allows you to make meaningful connections with those around you.
A year ago—when I was still unsure and confused about this concept—I couldn't have imagined that I would one day lead trainings promoting the value of compassion resilience. But since then, I have seen over and over the need for compassion resilience within my own life and the lives of my workshop participants. Now, I am convinced that everyone could benefit from a working knowledge of compassion resilience, regardless of their professional field. Compassion resilience has changed the way that I do my work and live my life, and I bet that it can do the same for you, too.