July 23, 2019

What’s on My Bookshelf: Didn’t See It Coming

Anxiety & Depression
Mental Health & Wellbeing

I have been known to be a “voracious” reader and thought it might be helpful if I spent the next few blogs sharing book recommendations with my thoughts.

First up: Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the Seven Greatest Challenges That No One Expects and Everyone Experiences by Carey Nieuwhof

First and foremost being a leader and helper of others is a challenging position even though it is a great calling. Many of the clients I engage with are managers, business leaders or those within the helping profession. Individuals in these types of jobs at some point along the way find a similar theme that begins to emerge. “Pam, I stepped into this position and I had no idea how tired I would be!” If this statement resonates with you then you’ll definitely want to check out this book title. The author Nieuwhof breaks down some of the challenges that we face when we are dangerously tired. While his focus is primarily on, “burnout,” I find it helpful that he also talks about how our weariness can manifest in multiple ways. I’ll spend the next few moments sharing my summarized definitions for each one, and additionally you can find ways to cope in a link to another post I’ve written toward the end.


“Burnout is associated with stress and hassles involved in your work; it is very cumulative, is relatively predictable and frequently a vacation or change of job helps a great deal,” says Nieuwhof. Simply put, burnout is our weariness from the functions of our job. We are still doing them, but with a lack of joy and motivation that decreases our level of efficiency, attention, and concentration. This has the potential to manifest to significant emotional distress if not attended to.

Compassion Fatigue

Compassion Fatigue in Nieuwhof’s words is “the emotional residue of exposure to working with the suffering, particularly those suffering from the consequences of traumatic events.” I love that he uses the word “Compassion” for this description, because compassion means to “suffer with.” If this is you, you are likely having a parallel process to those you are working with or supporting. Signs of this level of fatigue could be avoidance, resentment towards those you are caring for, irritability, and detachment.

Vicarious Trauma

While burnout and compassion fatigue cause a great deal of distress, vicarious trauma is the most severe in intensity and duration. For those who struggle with vicarious trauma, they have embodied the trauma and will likely be susceptible to receiving a PTSD diagnosis. How can you tell if you are struggling with vicarious trauma? Does hearing certain accounts/stories create a sense of overwhelm for you? Are you having intrusive thoughts and experiences like flashbacks, nightmares, or physical responses in your body that you “can’t help?” Other uncomfortable thoughts may be of self-blaming, decreased interest, inability to remember traumatic events clearly, feeling isolated, or not being able to feel positive. This looks like struggling with avoidance of external reminders, thoughts and emotions, or are self-medicating through substances, shopping, gambling, eating or other addictions. Lastly, if you find yourself hypervigilant, aggressive or irritable, easily startled as a response, or have difficulty sleeping.


If you’re curious about determining if you are at a point of burnout, compassion fatigue or vicarious trauma I highly recommend taking this quick assessment: Compassion Fatigue, Burnout, and Vicarious/Secondary Trauma are tested PROFESSIONAL QUALITY OF LIFE SCALE (PROQOL).

Coping Strategies

For a complete list of coping strategies, I would recommend reading through my previous blog post on being Dangerously Tired.

Carey also recommends:
Don’t do this in isolation- Go to therapy. Carey “Knowing you have issues is different from the gentle and deep work of healing those issues (157).” Join a support group with others who may be struggling. Reconnect with your community, family. Tell someone!

If you are spiritual, keep Leaning into God even when you don’t feel Him.

Grieve Your Losses- Grief has a compounding effect on us. Have you ever noticed, once you have experienced a loss and then you either experience loss again/you witness someone else experiencing it you are instantly crying and connected to that despair? Loss, whether grieved in the moment or that you pushed down has a way of finding itself back to you. Nieuwhof says, “If you don’t grieve your losses during your recovery, you’re missing tremendous opportunities to put the past behind you. Otherwise, your past continues to sabotage your present and your future (163).”

Final Review

Overall, I highly recommend this book! It was a helpful resource that clearly laid out the premise and was fairly easy to read. I felt it was easy to summarize for you all here and could be a beneficial read for others in small specific chapters as well as a whole. I know from my professional and personal experience that anyone struggling with burnout may be surprised at the way life feels in that season or too exhausted to get a clear perspective and even too isolated to seek-out help. Keep this book in mind either for yourself or a friend and know that I’d be willing to come alongside anyone needing some support balancing compassion fatigue, burnout, and even vicarious trauma.

Thanks so much for reading and stay tuned for my next book recommendation

Written by therapist Pamela Larkin


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