The Risk of Over Giving

Relationships are built on reciprocity.  Although no relationship is 50/50, there is an emotional give-and-take that is often an unspoken understanding between couples.  When that balance shifts and one person feels like they are doing all of the giving, that person is at risk of what is called compassion fatigue.

One of my patients, Joe, wrote a beautiful description of this very notion that he has allowed me to share.  “Sometimes it feels like Jane and I are like two puzzle pieces that fit together.  We fell in love because our two shapes fit together so well.  But now circumstances like the loss of skills are altering our shapes.  Ever so slowly in various ways we are changing the way we get along and we don’t even notice it until a trivial event creates a big reaction or an emotional withholding.  It is difficult, and if we are not careful we can become that old couple we have all seen in a local café that can easily sit in a booth and not utter a single word for several hours.”

Caregivers are at risk of developing compassion fatigue simply because of their empathy and position of “overgiving”.  The first step is recognition.  Like so many things in life, it is hard to make a change if you are not aware of what is happening.  

Here are some warning signs of compassion fatigue:

·      Feeling overwhelmed, exhausted and drained

·      Not wanting to be around your loved one

·      Poor self-care

·      Apathy

·      Angry outburst and decrease in patience and tolerance

·      Substance abuse

Joe and Jane recognize that compassion fatigue ultimately causes both of them to suffer.   Together they are willing to explore this idea and find new ways to help each other within the limits of Parkinson’s disease.   

Although self-awareness is where it starts the additional step is reciprocal awareness…helping your partner get what they need in life to be happy and healthy.  It can be many things; getting educated about compassion fatigue, finding professional help/guidance, honoring physical and emotional needs, or establishing an outlet in outside hobbies and friendships. 

If you feel like you or your partner is experiencing signs of compassion fatigue there are many resources on line.  Develop a plan and take a step forward.  We all deserve care.  


Julie Carter RN, MN, ANP was the recipient of the WPC Award for Distinguished Contributuon to the Parkinson Community at the 4th World Parkinson Congress and serves on the Program Committee for the 5th World Parkinson Congress. She is currently a professor of Neurology at the Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU). She is also the co-founder and past co-director of the Parkinson Center of Oregon and Movement Disorders Program.

Ideas and opinions expressed in this post reflect that of the authors solely. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of the World Parkinson Coalition®