Privilege Guilt and Compassion Fatigue

“Privilege Guilt”

  • Defining it — just as the name suggests, it’s guilt related to acknowledgment of our privilege, benefiting from systematic injustices rooted in reifying history. It especially comes up when thinking of or interacting with marginalized or comparatively lower-income beneficiaries.
Complicated feelings from doing social work on an ethically-questionable-sourced hunk of metal.

What can we do about it?

It’s important to clarify that it is good to acknowledge our own privilege and backgrounds and how, though we all work hard, our different access to opportunities leads us to very different realities. This is especially important in sectors such as social work, humanitarian aid or international development because rather than framing it as simply aiding those who are helplessly sitting around, we understand that communities are already actively and creatively working with the resources they have. What we are doing is simply opening more pathways to opportunities for holistic health and living.

Compassion fatigue

  • Defining it — it’s the cost and exhaustion from caring for others’ physical and emotional needs in your line of work. Compassion means “to suffer with”. An important part of empathy is feeling what other people feel. But when you work with a large number of people who all have misfortunes and needs and unfair cards, this can become overwhelming.
  • The symptoms vary — it can range from feeling irritated, helpless, overwhelmed, to feeling numb and apathetic, like a computer shutting down. It can also lead to reduced awareness of your own needs.

What can we do about it?

First, we try to understand what the issue is. Compassion fatigue can come from overly estimating our responsibility to fix a broken situation. In the line of humanitarian employment, work doesn’t seem like just work. Whether you’re constructing a bridge, testing car airbags or delivering basic necessities to a rural village, the difference signing off early makes can be literally life or death. We think of the mission at hand and the souls on the balancing scales, and it seems impossible to justify taking time for ourselves. How can we work in a sustainable way with such a weight on our shoulders when we are, at the end of the day, only human vessels delivering goods?

  • The Gospel narrative is crucial. God is the Author and Perfector of His Kingdom come — we are simply coming alongside the work He is already doing. This levels the field of “donor” and “beneficiary” to mutual believers and brothers and sisters. It also relieves excessive burden and responsibility on us to “fix” everything and ultimately gives glory to the One who can intervene in powerful ways.
  • Share these burdens within community — with your Christian colleagues especially. Pray together. Lift them up to the One who can answer.
“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matt 18:20)
  • We are made to be finite, and that is a good thing. God is infinite. Our limitations are a key part of keeping us humble and reminding us that we are not the final answer to the solution. This also keeps saviour complexes at bay!
  • Remember we are in a marathon, not a sprint. Work in a way that can sustain you holistically. Learn to listen to your body’s signals for help when it sends you increased levels of irritability, numbness or feelings of being paralyzed and overwhelmed.



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Compassion Canada

Compassion Canada


A leading child development organization, Compassion helps children and their communities overcome extreme poverty.