Caring for people for the wrong reasons can cause burnout or worse. A new study found that nurses who gravitate to the profession out of a desire to help people tend to burn out and experience other mental health problems at a higher rate than those who become nurses because they enjoy the work or the lifestyle afforded by the profession. The study doesn’t just apply to nurses, but anyone in a relationship.
Caring for the Right Reasons
We’re all called to be caring toward others, but the reasons we care matter. Looking more closely at the study, the reasons some people are more susceptible to relationship burnout and compassion fatigue boil down to what psychologists call an “internal versus external locus of control.”
Internal Locus of Control
People with an internal locus of control do things because of the personal satisfaction they get either from a job well done or from the benefits that come from doing a particular activity. People who are helpful because they enjoy sharing their gifts with others can be said to have an “internal locus of control” because they are motivated by personal or internal reasons f0r doing what they do.
External Locus of Control
People with an external locus of control do things because they are seeking approval and affirmation from others. This is a more problematic motivation for helping others because other people don’t necessarily respond well to being helped. Sometimes they’re not grateful. Sometimes they’re even mean and disapproving. Sometimes they take you for granted. People with an external locus of control–despite themselves–tend to constantly be asking the people they’re serving (implicitly if not outright) “Am I doing it right? How about now? How about now?” For them, helping is a test they are constantly failing because unless the person they are caring for gives them exactly the right kind of feedback, they can never be sure of themselves. This just makes them work harder and harder all the while feeling like they are getting less and less for their efforts. Ultimately, having this attitude toward a career or a relationship can be the kiss of death.
As Christians, we know that doing the right thing isn’t enough, we have to do it from the right place in our hearts (c.f., Matt 5:17-47). If you are feeling burned out in your work or relationships, take a moment to consider not just how you are, but why.
The Next Step…
If you’d like to discover how to stop feeling so frustrated, burned-out, or fed up in your relationships, check out, God Help Me, These People are Driving Me Nuts! or call 740-266-6461 to make an appointment to speak with a Catholic therapist from the Pastoral Solutions Institute’s Catholic Tele-Counseling Services. You might be surprised to find out how even the most obnoxious people can be tamed!