When Compassion Casts a Shadow – The Dark Side of Caring (blog 1 of 3)

When people hear about abuse or cruelty in a workplace that cares for others, they are absolutely horrified. How does this happen? How do these people even get hired to work in a profession where they are expected to care for others? What makes someone so deranged? Then if you read the replies and comments, there is the barrage of emotionally charged threats and death wishes directed towards the perpetrators.

When I read articles or hear stories about abusive nurses, caregivers, veterinarians, or police officers, I am not surprised. I KNOW how someone in their position COULD do what they did, and I am going to explain it in this series of blogs.

** YOU DO NOT need to read the link below, as some of the information can be considered disturbing. The article is only to show a single example of the cruelty that can be found within various care industries.

September 19 2017 – Staff Mistreat Babies at Hospital, post images to Snapchat

I would like to be completely clear: I am not EXCUSING this type of behaviour. People who feel no remorse when they mistreat, abuse, neglect, violate or even kill (as in veterinary medicine) those they are professionally delegated to look after should not continue in their profession without seeking professional help. People who enjoy this type of behaviour should NEVER work in ANY care industry. EVER. If someone has broken the law, they should be held completely responsible under the law.

I don’t expect everyone to agree with what I say. I expect some people to become offended or emotional. It is a very uncomfortable topic. It is a very scary topic. It is also a REAL topic that is glazed over, even by those who admit compassion related burnout occurs within their industry.

The more we truly understand something, the less judgement we have towards it. I spent two decades in animal welfare and veterinary medicine which affords me the knowledge to be able to understand.

Some people DO seek out particular care industries because it is easier to violate others to fulfill their own abnormal wants and desires. I will not be discussing these people as part of this blog.

I am going to focus on the people who commonly (from what I have experienced), BECOME capable of violating others as a RESULT of working in particular care industries.

What is Compassion Fatigue?

To simplify, people in care industries are capable of “running out” of compassion.

If you work in a care industry – any industry that looks after others as part of your job (adults, children or even animals) – you have probably heard of compassion fatigue.

Many people join care industries because they DO care, often A LOT. They are emotional, sensitive and giving. They are passionate and helpful, and they want to make a difference in the world. Care industries seem like a natural fit. In a care industry, your job is to look after others. Caregivers will often care for others at the expense of caring for themselves. They feel fulfilled by looking after others, but they feel selfish if they put their own needs first.

Care industries are often under-funded for the work they perform. David Graeber discusses the “value of work” in our society and he thinks we have it backwards (and I have to agree). The more you contribute to society in a positive way, the less you are probably going to be paid to do it.

Many people will gladly pay $1000 for a new Apple cell phone, but they expect everyone to eat real apples at the soup kitchen for free. We will pay $250 for a trip the spa, but want our trip in the ambulance when we are injured to be free. People will buy a puppy for $1500 but won’t pay $75 to take it to the vet when it is desperately ill. People will spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on hockey or dance lessons for their children but complain about the cost of daily childcare, and they definitely want apples and lunches included in the price!

The next factor is the public itself. Care industries cater to EVERYONE – 24, 7 / 365. Care industries do not shut down at 5pm. Weekends off and snow days aren’t an option when the public relies on you for their well-being. Your workload is never complete, as more people and animals become sick, injured, disabled, and require care every single day. Caregivers do not control their workload. Even sick days are riddled with guilt, because these caregivers understand taking time off puts more workload on their co-workers.

If that wasn’t enough, I am going to quickly mention the constant exposure to trauma, disease, illness, verbal assault, emotional distress, and death that caregivers face constantly as part of their job.

So let me summarize this:
– A group of emotional, passionate people who want to make the world a better place
– Who put the needs of others before their own needs
– Being constantly exposed to abuse, trauma, emotional distress and even death
– Working in industries that society gives less monetary value to
– Industries which are essential for the well-being of the general public
– That never take a break – running 24, 7 / 365
– Where the workload is never ending and non-controllable

People who work in any of the care industries will be able to relate.


In my second blog in the series, I will talk about how compassion actually progresses to abuse and cruelty (and define the difference between the two).  You can read that blog here: https://auraecoaching.ca/2017/11/18/when-compassion-casts-a-shadow-the-dark-side-of-caring-blog-2-of-3/

My third (and last) blog in the series will be about my personal and professional experience, about how my own compassion eroded to the point where I myself was capable of abuse and cruelty. You can read that blog here: https://auraecoaching.ca/2017/11/22/when-compassion-casts-a-shadow-the-dark-side-of-caring-blog-3-of-3/

If you are concerned about compassion fatigue or have questions about how to prolong a caring career in a healthy manner, Aurae Wellness Coaching can guide you. We also help with bullying issues. If you are aware of behaviour that is dangerous to yourself or others, please contact a mental health professional immediately. If you have or know someone who may have broken the law, the first step to recovery is to contact law enforcement and accept there are legal consequences to those actions.


  1. Good post – I am not sure that I agree with people being categorized with Compassion Fatigue that are in the article link, that’s just plain stupidity and lack of respect for human life. The exposure that I have had with Compassion Fatigue has way more impact of the caregivers’ mental health, leading to depression, anxiety, and a variety of other symptoms. I just don’t buy it that this diagnosis drives people to cause harm – maybe I am wrong, but I think people harming others is something different. I have Compassion Fatigue and it’s more depression, exhaustion, anxiety, and indifference.

    Liked by 1 person

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