What About Stupidity Fatigue? Why Health Professionals Need to Learn to Detach from Their Clients’ Outcomes

As a health practitioner, I have learned a fair amount about the risks of compassion fatigue. When one spends too much time caring for others without taking time for self-care…it can lead to a gradual lessoning of a person’s ability to exhibit compassion in an authentic way. It increases the risk for anxiety, sleep disturbances, substance abuse, and it feels….frankly….lousy.

But can we be honest, here, folks? Sometimes – it’s not that we lose our ability to have compassion. It’s just that our tolerance level for stupidity shrinks.

Let me give you an example.

Let’s say a single mother, trying desperately to make ends meet, was working three jobs and only had time for a quick bite to eat at a fast food joint once during the day. She is suddenly diagnosed with Type II diabetes. She comes to me feeling overwhelmed with the changes she has to make…”I need help.” She tells me. “I can’t do this on my own.”

I can easily put myself in her shoes and say “Wow. Yeah…that’s rough. How can I help?”

But when an upper-middle class caucasian male (or female…either way) with no children and no familial obligations to speak of with a well-paying job and a clear capacity to make intelligent decisions says “yeah…I want to lose 50 pounds because my doctor says I have to. If I don’t lose weight right away, I won’t stick to this. Oh…and I don’t have time to exercise. I will NEVER eat breakfast. I hate vegetables and I can’t change my schedule so I’m only going to get 4 hours of sleep each night.” Can’t we all agree that this is lame?

I’ve got a better one. A colleague of mine said she was working with a client to sneak vegetables into her diet. They were trying green smoothies (fruit and vegetables concoctions). One day, the woman called and said “You know…I wasn’t really keen on the green vegetables. So I took them out. Instead, I added ice cream. It tasted WAY better.” I’m not making this sh** up. I’m not that creative.

This kind of stuff used to frustrate me. I used to rack my brain to figure out ways to connect with individuals like this. And then…suddenly…I stopped. Why? Because these folks don’t want to heal. They want someone to blame. They want to come to a health care provider and say “fix me…but don’t you dare make me participate.” And then when nothing works, they can say “well, I WENT to a health coach/doctor/chiropractor , but she was useless.” It works the same way with a gym membership. “Well I spent hundreds of dollars on membership fees and didn’t lose a pound!” – Didn’t anyone ever tell them they need to show up to the gym in order for it to be effective?

So now what do I do instead?

I laugh. Because it’s FUNNY. Come on. Ice cream instead of greens in a “health” smoothie? Think about what Bill Engvall could do with a line like that. Here’s your sign? How about “here’s your fence post” because THAT is a whole new level of stupid.

If you happen to work in any helping profession – I’m sure you have a number (truckload?) of similar war stories. And the frustration that mounts can threaten to knock over your sanity and spill it all over an otherwise good day. But guys…just don’t let it. Instead, shrug your shoulders and let it go. Because it’s not your job to fix stupid. Life is way too short and, as Oscar Wilde said “too important to take seriously.”

Have some fun with it! Let it go. Politely  hand the responsibility back to the person you are working with and say “Thanks…but I don’t really want to hold this. You take it. I think it means more to you.”

That gal who didn’t want to eat breakfast, exercise, sleep better, or eat vegetables? I just shrugged and said “This is your journey. It’s clear that you’re knowledgeable about what kinds of things you need to do. So what is something you DO want to initiate? Let me know when you come to your decision. I’m happy to provide resources if they will be helpful.”

I haven’t heard from her. I’m smiling as I write that.

And the milkshake gal? My friend pinned the story to her coaching cubicle wall. Any time she needs a laugh, she looks at it.

Why fight it? Just enjoy.

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