SECRETS OF A SOCIAL WORKER

Find peace. Find happiness. Find yourself.

Tag: compassion fatigue

Finding Peace Through Pain

The entire concept and culture around emotional pain completely fascinates me. We hurt a lot as humans; it’s a part of our growth and resiliency while we venture through life. And most of the pain we deal with day to day is our thoughts. What is fascinating to me is that we choose to let pain burden us, and because of that we experience things like confusion, irritability, difficulty concentrating, fear, anxiety, anger, rejection, humiliation, perceived failure, mood swings, guilt, shame, and self-blame (to name a few)…And to add to this long list, pain causes us to mentally rewind time, replay situations, ruminate,  and wish for different outcomes. AKA-we are constantly and subjectively experiencing mental suffering. And do you know the worst part is? It’s addicting…

It’s easy for our minds to focus on and discuss the negative; what isn’t going well, what hurts, what upsets us, what we don’t like. Our minds are hardwired to have a stronger focus on and easier pull towards pain rather than happiness and optimism. It’s engrained into our cultures and entangled  in our every day life to focus on negativity…It’s contagious to experience pain because it helps us relate to others and gives us something to talk about.  We are motivated by pain and negativity, and we gravitate towards focusing on others’ pain and negativity more so than what is going well in their lives.

I am constantly being asked how I manage pain from my personal life experiences as well as the secondary trauma I acquire from helping those that have endured horrific pain. I did not realize how much pain could gradually seep into my life until working in a career filled with it. That being said, I have come to live by a few very important rules regarding pain and how I ensure it doesn’t control me…

  • First and foremost – every painful, broken piece of us doesn’t need to be analyzed, collected, or remembered… Some pieces need to stay lost because they don’t belong to us, they happened to us. Let the pieces go. Move forward, and do not hold onto these things. Do not claim the pain, just understand that it was an experience. And as hard as it is, do not tie emotion to it. It just is, and let it be just that.
  • Change your beliefs about the pain. We cannot experience love, humility, positivity without an understanding of gratitude. And without any pain, we would fail to see how great life can truly be. How can you look at the painful experience as a learning curve, or a helpful step in the right direction? What positives can come out of this pain? How can you change the belief about the purpose of the pain to help it motivate you?
  • Do not run away from pain, allow yourself to feel everything. Be present with your feelings, allow whatever it is that wants to come up to do so. Do not be embarrassed; purge the emotion. This is how we move forward, otherwise we stuff things deep inside to be dealt with later, on top of all the other pain we try to avoid. Embrace what you need to feel; it helps to understand and accept the pain… A very good tool for this is meditation.
  • Slow down. We cannot allow ourselves to feel if we are constantly going at a pace of 100 miles an hour. Give yourself time to breathe, and figure out how to move forward with these painful experiences. I am guilty of purposefully going 100 miles an hour so I do not have time to ruminate on pain… It’s how I distract myself, and it is not healthy. Take time to be with yourself, and work through the pain before it gets stuffed deep down to come up later. And trust me, it will come up later.
  • When you are right in the muck of your pain, ask yourself if there’s any piece of this that you can control. If the answer is no, you cannot control or change anything about this, then learn to let it go after you process through it. *Meditation is super helpful here also*. We cannot hold onto pain that serves us no purpose. If we can’t make any positive changes, and if the situation is not in our control, we must move on and move forward.  What other option do we really have?
  • And lastly – how can you make your pain a part of you? Always remind yourself to use pain to your advantage. Remind yourself that pain makes you who you are, and it has helped to develop you into your current self…Your soulful, resilient self. And isn’t that a beautiful thing?


You are never more than one thought away from peace~

-keep shining

Insta, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter

Secrets of a Social Worker

0E510872-A26A-41B7-B130-F95F854E9E65

Having to constantly remind yourself that you have done your best
Even though that suicidal client made you second guess
Blaming you for their problems and the reason they will die
But then the next day they stop by your office just to say hi
Trying to convince that client that she has many strengths
But she tells you the tan line from her watch is the best she can name
Then opening up Facebook and seeing that she’s passed
Depression got the best of her and was the reason she’s laid to rest

It’s the letters and calls of the clients who you never thought cared
Telling you you’re the best thing that’s happened to them and the reason they’re still here

Having to stay strong when sitting across from the person talking about their rape
That they’ve been trafficked for years but people call her a whore and point the blame
She is crying to you saying she had no other way
Because her parents weren’t there and she had nowhere to stay
But that charming man offered her a bed and some love and affection
Then she wakes up to realize she was assaulted and he gave her an infection

It’s the little boys you just met who call you mom
So you break down afterwards debating if you can adopt

The four-year-old girl who says she hates cops
and you try to convince her they are safe and that’s part of their job
But to her they were evil as they constantly came to her home
Because her mother used drugs and sold dope
So now she shutters under the blankets each time someone comes to the door
She screams bloody murder and immediately hits the floor
No amount of therapy or comfort makes it stop
She will never feel safe and will forever hate cops

It’s the cutter you found on the floor covered in her own blood
Then calling her dad who says he won’t pick her up
he’s burnt out and he’s done
Trying to convince her life is worth it
But she’s been beaten down too many times and told she’s worthless
Then leaving that day with a trauma-filled brain
But it’s your birthday that night so you fake a smile and choke down your cake

The hyper-vigilance constantly haunting you
Looking around wondering who plans to buy a 14 year old girl to bring back to their hotel room

Being scared to walk alone in the parking lot at night
Knowing that you upset a client who may have a knife

Having to kick that guy out of treatment for his failed urine test
Even though you know he needs you more than the rest
But you have to follow rules as that is what’s ‘best’
but that night you are restless
He won’t ever know how much you cared
and that you really wanted to be there

The dreadful news that another one has died
Lost their precious life to suicide
And asking yourself what you could have done to change their mind

It’s watching foster children suffer through night terrors and missing their mom
You advocate and fight but can’t send them home
So you hug them tight and hope they make it
To not be the majority who drop out of school and never feel like they fit

The boy who tells his mom to fuck off in group therapy
that he hates her and she doesn’t amount to anything
She breaks down because she can’t take the pain
And you’re supposed to know the right thing to say

People reminding you to practice self care
But what does that even mean
When you break down in tears and wake up from those awful dreams
No amount of bubble baths, gym sessions, or journaling will make that better than it seems

But through the turmoil and struggle
You can’t help but be thankful
For the lives you have ‘saved’ and the people who know you care
For the ones that make you smile and realize life isn’t fair

That’s why we help one another
And pick each other up
Because fairness doesn’t exist but through love we know we have done enough

Knowing that you have given some lives just a little glimmer of hope
Becoming so resilient and being able to cope

Sometimes it’s hard but it’s worth it when you meet that little girl
Who reminds you that you’ve been helpful and made a huge difference in her world

That is why we do it each and every day
We smile through the tears and tell ourselves that we will be okay
To be strong and empathetic because they have it worse than you
With patience and acceptance, you make a difference
through and through

 

-keep shining

*Like and share Secrets of a Social Worker on Facebook for blog updates!

The Gift Of Giving…To Yourself.

A97CBE5B-1B1F-43C2-BC54-5829E98FA3D3

I’ll be honest, the this time of year is really difficult for me. Along with all the parts I look forward to around the holidays such as gift-giving, parties, paid time off, traditions with family, and Christmas treats also comes a caseload of clients that doubles in size overnight. Every year I tell myself I will be stronger, I tell myself that it will get better, and remind myself that I can’t save the world; I can’t bring the world home with me for Christmas. But, every year I still break down and cry…A lot.
The holidays are usually a time that I reflect on the clients I have had the privilege to work with over the years. I recall their stories, and I remember that many of them do not have the opportunity to receive or give gifts, to go to parties, to take off work, to spend time with family, or to have a warm meal to eat….
I have mourned with kids in psychiatric facilities whose family did not visit them over Christmas. I have been a shoulder to cry on for a man who had no one to spend the holidays with, and was too embarrassed to tell anyone about it. I have tried to find the silver lining for the girl who told me that she has never opened a Christmas gift in her life. And I continuously work with individuals whose behaviors escalate around the holidays due to the trauma they’ve endured, and then watching as those around them lose empathy because they do not understand it.
I can’t keep up with the demands of the job because I cannot make people’s pain disappear, and the holidays alway remind me of that. It’s hard for me to look forward to time with my own family when I spend the days leading up to the holidays in constant crisis mode with my clients who have been sexually assaulted, physically and emotionally abused, and have nowhere to go. I struggle to leave work at work and take a break because I know someone might need me, and I can’t be there for them…This is called secondary trauma, or compassion fatigue, if you will, and it can affect any one of us at any given time. We take on our clients’ problems and stress, we let their stories affect our personal lives,  we develop our own triggers, we become hyper-vigilant, and ultimately we burn out. That’s why people who work in the helping profession often have a high turnover rate…we give too much of ourselves.
I always ask myself whyWhy do I get to look forward to the holidays when it brings so much pain to some people? I get mad that the world isn’t fair and get discouraged because there is nothing I can do to change that. At the end of the day,  I always remind myself that I have done my best, but sometimes telling myself that isn’t enough to make the pain and frustrations dissipate. It isn’t enough to ‘leave it at the door’ when I get home because I am still empathizing with those less fortunate than myself. If I only had a nickel for every time someone asked me how I take care of myself with such an intense job, I think I’d have enough money to buy every client plenty of gifts to go around! That being said, the way I get by each holiday and stay sane is to take care of myself and keep my compassion fatigue in check. Regardless of your field of world and how stressful or enjoyable your job may be, we all need to take care of ourselves and be sure we put ourselves first sometimes.
Here are some quick and easy ways I do that:

1. Check In…. I check in with myself every day; physically, mentally, and emotionally. I tune into how tense I am, what is causing me stress and/or joy, how tired I am, what I am thinking about, etc… Just check in and take a pause. Know where you are at and be mindful of yourself, first and foremost. This can take no more than 5 minutes, but it ensures that each day you don’t forget about yourself and become mindful of how you feel. This helps me approach each day more thoughtfully and think about myself throughout the day, which is easy for me to forget to do.
Click here for another perspective on checking in.

2. Be Kind… Not only to others, but to yourself. Be easy on yourself. Know that you are working hard. We get ridiculed enough in this society as it is, the least you can do is be nice to yourself and give yourself a compliment now and again. You  can always find something positive to say about yourself, and make it a daily habit. It’s easier to be kind on the outside when we are first kind on the inside. And I find myself more kind to others when I am first kind to myself. By being more kind to myself, I have actually found that mean/rude people don’t bother me as much; I am nice to people even when they aren’t nice to me. And sometimes that is just what they need because clearly they’re having a worse day than I am.

3. Focus on what is in your control… As you could have guessed, I can’t bring all of my past and current clients home with me for the holidays. Clearly, that is out of my control. I need to remind myself of the actions I have taken to try and produce the best outcome, but the outcome itself isn’t something I can predict. The holidays may bring extra frustrations or unpredictability, but it does no good to be upset over something I cannot do anything about.
When things arise that cause anxiety and frustration, just check in and ask yourself what about that situation you’re able to change, do it, and leave the rest behind.

4. Take Breaks… Let me spell it out for you, PTO…P-A-I-D   T-I-M-E   O-F-F. I know it’s hard to imagine, but the world will still revolve in your absence. People will get by if you’re not there. You earned time off, take it. We all need breaks. If we don’t take breaks we are burning ourselves out and that only affects the people around us, and the clients we are trying to serve. We cannot be our best selves in the work place if we are not taking breaks. Life is more than just working all the time. Try to rid yourself of the guilt because if you aren’t your best self for you, you sure as heck can’t be for anyone else. Breaks help give us some clarity and relief. Enjoy that vacation in Hawaii!

5. Cry… I hate crying. I hate it. And I do not do if often, so when I do I know that it’s needed. And every time I break down I feel better. We have emotions, people! We always get mad and embarrassed with ourselves for feeling the way we feel rather than just accepting it and letting it flow. You can’t control your emotions, but you can control how you react to them.
We have to get our feelings out and be honest with ourselves. Not only does it feel better and help us come to terms with things, but it brings a sense of relief. And it ensures you that you won’t go and unexpectedly word vomit your emotions onto someone else.
Click here to read another one of my blogs on this topic.

6. Decide what self care means to you…. In my trainings, when I ask people what self care means to them, often they say things like taking a bath, going on vacation, getting their nails done, going hunting, etc.. But self care is SO much more than that. Really ask yourself what self care means to you, it’s more than just this surface-level stuff. Dig deeper, there’s always more we can be doing for ourselves to ensure our happiness and health is where it needs to be. My self care absolutely includes vacations, getting my nails done, playing basketball, etc.. But it also includes all of the helpful tips above plus many more.
One of my favorite self care exercises is what I simply refer to as happy thoughts. Sometimes it is easy to let negativity sink in without even recognizing it. It’s these times when we don’t give ourselves enough credit and say something hurtful about our character or our physical appearance. So, when that happens I practice what it referred to as ‘thought stopping’ in the social work world, and replace those icky thoughts with one of my handy dandy happy thoughts I keep stored away.

We all have tough days, and we need to be easier on ourselves in order to get through them. A little gratitude, kindness, and self love can go a long way.

If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete ~

-keep shining

For additional holiday blog posts, click here and keep scrolling.