Social compassion fatigue: Examining emotional exhaustion in social relationships

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Malone, Stormy
Lewis, Rhonda K.
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Compassion fatigue is a significant problem facing helping professionals, which occurs because of a chronic need to express compassion. However, work environments are just one element of human interactions. Social relationships are an important aspect of the human experience and have unique elements that could make them susceptible to compassion fatigue. Social compassion fatigue is a new term created for this study to explore compassion fatigue within the context of social relationships. Social compassion fatigue may come from the need to chronically express compassion within one’s social group. The goal in exploring a construct of social compassion fatigue is to understand if there are negative psychological impacts of engaging in empathetic and compassionate relationships with others within a social context. In this study, social compassion fatigue was explored through a thematic analysis using daily diary entries, a Likert scale of feelings of empathy and support, and the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS) collected online through an experience sampling platform. There were 71 participants who completed at least one journal entry. However, the thematic analysis only included 32 participants who completed a total of 225 journal entries. The thematic analysis resulted in three main themes of Effects of Social Interactions, Elements of Interactions, and Helping Behavior. The study found that it is possible that a construct of social compassion fatigue may exist, however it was not prominent enough to be included as a main theme of the study. From the reports of social interactions, the elements of social compassion fatigue included experiences consistent with the concept of work compassion fatigue and social exhaustion. There was a significant relationship between the time spent interacting and positive affect. Additionally, there was a significant relationship between the feeling of empathy and the amount of support received.

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Thesis (Ph.D.)-- Wichita State University, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Dept. of Psychology
Wichita State University
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