Compassion Fatigue, also known as Secondary Traumatic Stress, is a serious and common side effect of living – or dealing – with a person with NPD or BPD. Wikipedia defines it as:
A gradual lessening of compassion over time. It is common among individuals that work directly with trauma victims such as, therapists (paid and unpaid), nurses, psychologists, police officers, first responders, animal welfare workers, health unit coordinators and anyone who helps out others, especially family members, relatives, and other informal caregivers of patients suffering from a chronic illness. It was first diagnosed in nurses in the 1950s. Sufferers can exhibit several symptoms including hopelessness, a decrease in experiences of pleasure, constant stress and anxiety, sleeplessness or nightmares, and a pervasive negative attitude. This can have detrimental effects on individuals, both professionally and personally, including a decrease in productivity, the inability to focus, and the development of new feelings of incompetency and self-doubt.
Compassion fatigue may actually be helpful if you are trying to leave an unhealthy relationship as it allows for just turning away from demonstrated ‘need’ without guilt or other emotional involvement. This can be a relief because it allows for the emotional space to start to clear the FOG and make decisions based on what is good for you rather than what would be best for the NPD/BPD.
This is a relatively new diagnosis, but it’s apparently common in the helping professions – and I suspect, among those who deal with mentally ill family members.
Here’s a *really* good article on it that also provides some guidelines for preventing and healing from it. It’s long, but worth the time.
Even though there are ‘benefits,’ compassion fatigue is a distressing state of mind – especially if your sense of self is entwined in your ability to empathize and feel compassion for others – something that is virtually guaranteed if you’ve gotten into a relationship with a PD.
Many former spouses have reported becoming belligerent, short tempered, and irrational. Often their responses mirror those of the person who actually has the personality disorder. This makes it even more challenging when the NPD/BPD accuses the Non of being the one with the problem.
The good news is that the state of compassion fatigue is not permanent. The “bad” news is that you will almost certainly have to get significant, long-term distance from the source of your fatigue in order to fully heal from it.
That means, you’ll have to go No Contact with your PD.
Not an easy or short-term fix, but once you do, you’ll really begin to heal. Unsurprisingly, being aware of compassion fatigue is the critical first step toward alleviating it.
Another thing that helps? Surrounding yourself with a compassionate community where it’s safe to make yourself vulnerable.
And yes, the good feelings do return. If you take the time to heal and give yourself the compassion you need, you will be able to feel everything, good and bad, fully and completely. Empathy can be a double edged sword, but it is the skill that will allow you to find passionate love, peace, good friends and to trust again – both yourself and others.
In my own experience, I can tell you that I seem to have a lower tolerance for certain types of negative emotional engagement, like those who present themselves one way and then turn around and act in the opposite way to fulfill their own agenda or twist others actions to fit their negative view of the world.
In addition, I have almost no tolerance for the type of manipulative situational misrepresentation, projection and rumor mongering that my xNPDh engaged in. Gossip and “office politics” hold no interest for me and while I am aware of those games and sensitive to their effects, I just don’t play.
So there are residual effects, at least in my personal experience, and it does make it hard sometimes, out in the world. But I think that ‘residue’ is generally a positive thing because it helps maintain boundaries and strengthens my resolve to live my life according to the values I hold dear without getting wrapped up in manufactured drama.
I’m not particularly special, and the science is mostly supportive, so I am confident that anyone reading this, suffering and wondering if they’ll ever get back to ‘normal’ will be able to heal and feel fully again as well.