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Think New Thoughts

Where does fear come from?…
…Past experiences, regret, hurting others, loneliness, trauma, not adhering to cultural and social norms…
The list is never ending. Fear can be the reason for staying in a stagnant relationship, not speaking up against something that isn’t right, or staying at a crumby job. The fear of going against what we know, going against people’s expectations of us, and being different is what keeps us stuck in fear-based thinking. Everything we do is decided with either love or fear.

Believe it or not, fear can dissipate when you think new thoughts you’ve never thought about before. And change comes from thinking those new thoughts and acting on them. I know this concept terrifies people because we want to hold onto what we know, what is easy, and what doesn’t rock the boat. But the downside to that mentality is our own desires, goals, dreams, and independence suffer because we are scared. What we forget to realize is that letting go of this fear is easier than holding on. It’s when we let go and think new thoughts that the new stuff will find us.

When we are so used to acting a certain way, having a certain job, being around certain people, etc. we get used to it. We get so used to having these things in our lives that we do not think about it much. We are fearful of letting go because we hoard fears of not being able to replace those things, or fear that its replacement is not any better than what we gave up. And it completely makes sense that this is a terrifying, debilitating thought. We put more value on avoiding a possibility of regret than we do on living life. But if we are not getting what we want out of life, if we are not happy…Why not make some changes? What is there to really even be fearful of? We cannot make room for new things, new perspectives, and new experiences until we clear out what is not serving us. This is where we gain clarity; when we get rid of thoughts that do not have a place anymore. This does not mean the things we get rid of are not special, important, or at one point exactly what we wanted or needed…It just means we are moving on, moving forward, and honoring our feelings and our truth.
(To read more about avoiding feelings, click here.)

We all know on a deep level what it is we want and what’s missing, but we feel safe when we hoard fearful thoughts. We don’t even know what we want because we are too scared to even think about it. Those fearful thoughts (or avoidance of those thoughts) give us excuses to stay in our comfort zone and be bored. Often times that feels better than uprooting pieces of our lives or hurting people. But harboring fear and accepting boredom prevents us from all of the new things that await for us to arrive. There is so much we can learn and experience in this life when we remove fear. And do you want to know the best part? All of those things are all possible. Everything we want is on the other side of fear. Fear is just a state of mind. Our fears create barriers because most of the time facing our fears is actually bigger than the fears themselves. We just get in our own heads. We are our own biggest roadblock to the love and happiness we want to experience.

We create our own prison. We fear so much that we build walls for protection, but ultimately those walls are a huge detriment to our sole purpose here on earth; to experience it. It’s when we remove those walls, start being honest with ourselves, and get through the fearful stuff that we end up on the other side. It’s on the other side that we find ourselves, we speak our truth, we are complete, and we are happy. On the other side of fear is where we find everything we ever wanted. Do not let fear create your future.

We cannot become what we want by remaining what we are ~

-keep shining
Other related blogs : A Letter To Yourself, Guilt, Honoring Your Uniqueness

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Compassion: A Life Story Interview of Melissa Williams

Emma Pranger
INQ 100
Dr. Knutson

I met Melissa Williams on a freezing November morning, as she led me through a maze of hallways to her office in the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center. As I walked in, I noticed the neatly arranged pictures on the corkboard behind the computer, the arrays of neatly stacked binders, and the well-maintained pencil cup, and felt a pang of guilt for the mess that was my workspace back home. Just as I was about to comment on the nature of her office she apologized for the mess, as she had only taken the job a few months prior and had yet to get organized. Capable and driven as this remark might suggest, it is Ms. Williams’ compassion that truly makes her remarkable. The story she told me is a testament to her resilience, her commitment to her profession, and the kindness she brings into her interactions with others. These characteristics are both caused by underlying factors in her life, and by her natural character.
Melissa Williams is the prevention education supervisor at the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center in Fargo, North Dakota. Williams is deeply passionate about her vocation. When speaking about her current role at the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center, she stated: “I get to be the person that gets people to talk about things that need to be talked about. I love that challenge every single day and I love creating new challenges like that for the purpose of educating people to become better humans” (Williams).
Ms. Williams grew up in a stable, two parent home with her two older sisters. She spent her early youth in Fargo, North Dakota, until she moved to Linton, North Dakota at age nine. During her youth, she was “very active”, participating in “a lot of sports”, and “focused a lot on school” (Williams). Overall, Ms. Williams believes she is “very fortunate in the upbringing that [she] had as a child” (Williams). However, it was not without challenges. After moving to Linton, Ms. Williams became the target of peer bullying. She attributed her experience partly to the dynamics of being the “new kid” in a small community (Williams). Additionally, because of the school’s small size, she couldn’t avoid her bullies. She stated: “If I was struggling with someone I played a sport with I had to be their teammate every single day” (Williams). Ms. Williams’ experiences are consistent with observed patterns of bullying in small, midwestern schools. These are characterized by victimizing “new kids” and by victims having difficulties avoiding bullies (Oliver et al. 418).
Ms. Williams’ experiences with bullying caused her to develop coping mechanisms. She developed a “protective mode”, where she would defensively lash out at others. She explained: “I kind of had this wall of like, I have to protect myself, and so part of that was being mean back to them… or kind of having an attitude because that was how I protected myself” (Williams). For Ms. Williams, it became difficult to confine this defensive attitude to her interactions with her bullies. Her tone with her family at home became uncharacteristically aggressive and irritable, as she struggled to shut off her “protection mode” when she was safe at home (Williams).
However, despite these tendencies, Ms. Williams’ remained a warm and caring person. Her kind personality caused her to gain the acceptance of many of her peers, as evidenced by her selection as prom queen her senior year, an experience she describes as “very special”, because it served as evidence of this acceptance (Williams). Mrs. Williams’ generally friendly and non-judgmental attitude can be partly explained as a method for coping with bullying. Tennant et al. showed that victimized children who in turn participate in bullying behavior have higher levels of depression and anxiety, and are prone to low self-esteem. On the other hand, victims who engage in mostly defender-type behavior (this encompasses direct intervention in observed bullying, but extends to reaching out to others, and being present for those in need) have lower levels of depression and anxiety, and have higher self-esteem (5). Ms. Williams’ commitment to helping others, in addition to being a manifestation of her caring nature, may have served as a coping mechanism for her own trauma.
Ms. Williams moved to Moorhead when she graduated high school to continue her education at MSUM. The bullying behavior that she had experienced in high school ended with the transition, as she was able to take advantage of the larger pool of peers to avoid negative individuals. She explained: “in college if I didn’t like someone, I didn’t have to be around them if I didn’t want to, so I think there was more flexibility in where I spent my time and who I spent my time with” (Williams). However, some of the psychological effects of bullying persisted. Ms. Williams became “self-conscious about [her] personality” (Williams). In her head, Ms. Williams noted, she was still “very sure of who [she] was”; an “independent… blunt, assertive person” (Williams). However, she was “very filtered” and about how she spoke, and carefully managed how she would be perceived by others (Williams). Existing literature on bullying indicates that the psychological effects of bullying are long-lasting, commonly continuing until late adolescence/early adulthood (Arseneault et al. 722). This filtering behavior might be attributed to tempering behavior that could lead to social backlash from peers, in an effort to avoid further victimization.
Despite these psychological remnants of her prior experiences, college was a generally positive experience for Ms. Williams. It allowed her to become more self-assured, and to recognize that she is a “mature, independent person” and that she could “really depend” on herself (Williams). During this time, she also “ learned… how to be a good friend” (Williams). She attributes this largely to her prior experience with bullying. She explained: “Because of those experiences I had growing up I was like “I will never be these people.” I will never make someone feel the way I felt, and so I was really purposeful about my friendships coming first in my life” (Williams). This reaction to victimization categorizes Ms. Williams as a victim-defender, an attitude which might be best explained by her natural tendencies toward compassionate and understanding action.
College also allowed Ms. Williams to further develop her interest in social work. Academically, the collegiate setting offered more opportunities for hands-on work. There were “recommended hours for social work that you needed to do at different places” (Williams). Ms. Williams completed these hours at Planned Parenthood, the Juvenile Detention Center, and interned at Centre, Inc. These hours were so valuable to Ms. Williams because “nothing can compare to interning and being out in the field” (Williams). She explained: “it’s like I learned more interning for six months than I did in, like, the four years of schooling. Because it’s so different to talk about it and study it and learn it than you’re one-on-one with a client now, what are you going to do?” (Williams). In addition to new academic challenges, the new social environment in college allowed Ms. Williams to explore her passion for social work. The larger peer group in college allowed her to “find more like-minded people… because you can kind of pick and choose who you want to spend your time with” (Williams). The importance she chose to place on maintaining friendships also allowed her to affirm her passion for social work. She explained: “even people that I just met or just knew came to me… for help and so that helped me understand again more specifically what I wanted to do with my life in terms of social work” (Williams).
Although Ms. Williams knew when she left college that she wanted to go into social work, it was not entirely clear to her what area of social work she would pursue. Her first job when she left college was at Prairie St. Johns, where she ran the intense outpatient program for chemically dependent patients. A new college graduate, the responsibility of her new role was “really intimidating” (Williams). But rather than discouraging her, the pressure “helped [her] immensely to become more confident” in herself (Williams). After running the program for a few years, she received a recommendation from a friend to work at PATH, a treatment/foster care facility. She worked there for two and a half years, and “really enjoyed” the work (Williams). The switch was helpful for her because it allowed her to keep applying herself in new ways and learning new things. It was for this same reason that she ultimately left PATH, instead choosing to work with the North Dakota state government to coordinate statewide prevention plans and responses to human trafficking. She said working in a role of such authority helped her “learn an immense amount, not only about work and social work, but also just who [she] is” (Williams). Ultimately, she left that position for her current one because of her leadership position and the healthy workplace environment at the RACC.
Social work, however, is not without its risks. Working with victims of traumatic crime has mental health related ramifications, including susceptibility to compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue, also referred to as secondary traumatic stress disorder (STSD), is a “set of observable reactions to working with people who have been traumatized” similar in nature to those exhibited by patients with post traumatic stress disorder (Administration for Children and Families). Left untreated, compassion fatigue can result in “problems with mental and physical health…and poor work performance” (Administration for Children and Families). Additionally, as individuals with STSD relate their secondary trauma to members of their support networks, they can unintentionally transmit this trauma to those closest to them, thus severely straining social relationships (Salston and Figley, 169). In the interview, Ms. Williams indicated her ongoing efforts to combat compassion fatigue in her life, asserting that while she “can take on a lot” and thus “[doesn’t] experience that a whole lot”, she must still remain vigilant of signs of compassion fatigue and practice healthy self-care, given that “you could spiral real fast if you don’t take care of yourself”(Williams).
Despite these struggles, Ms. Williams (and others vulnerable to STSD) are still able to find gratification in their work. While discussing her involvement in the anti-human trafficking campaign, Ms. Williams described her field work as follows: “The clientele in trafficking is and was and will be the hardest population I have worked with. And that’s only because of the complex trauma the amount of trauma that they’ve experienced… they’re my favorite population to work with, but by far the most challenging” (Williams). Ms. William’s ability to derive gratification out of working with challenging clients is a prime example of compassion satisfaction. Compassion satisfaction is defined as the “positive outcome from working with challenging patients” (Cetrano et al. 2). A number of factors can cause individuals to experience compassion satisfaction. One study of female psychologists working with sexual assault survivors found that 45% of participants reported enjoyable aspects of working with this traumatized population. The most common positive aspects reported were witnessing “client resiliency and personal growth”, and “a sense of importance of the services provided” (Schauben and Frazier, 51). Despite the emotionally strenuous nature of working with extremely traumatized populations, a significant number of social workers are still able to sustain compassion satisfaction.
Ms. Williams is partly able to avoid compassion fatigue by framing her efforts to avoid burnout through the lens of her clients. She stated: “What I always remind people is that you are doing a disservice to the people you work with if you don’t put yourself first. Because if your mental health is struggling or you’re experiencing compassion fatigue or secondary trauma, your clients are going to feel that” (Williams). This is a mechanism used to overcome her tendencies to avoid taking time for self-care because she sees herself as less deserving of her own attention than her clients. She stated: “That’s another piece for me to learn, that’s hard for me to learn… is how do you put yourself first? …when you’re in a profession that is constantly giving, how do you give to yourself first” (Williams). This frame directly subverts this line of thinking by emphasizing the client’s wellbeing.
A number of environment factors also help Ms. Williams to experience compassion satisfaction in her current work. Research suggests that a key factor in reducing compassion fatigue and increasing compassion satisfaction is the quality of work and of the workplace environment (Cetrano et al. 8). Work intrusion on other areas of life is correlated with higher risk of compassion fatigue. When asked about her ability to separate her work and home lives, Ms. Williams responded that she is “pretty good at keeping it in check” (Williams). On the other hand, positive and supportive workplace culture and employee engagement has been found to correlate with higher levels of compassion satisfaction. Ms. Williams spoke highly of the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center. She said that what originally drew her to work in the center was that “the culture [t]here is so healthy” (Williams). According to Ms. Williams, the workplace at the RACC is characterized by “communication and consistency”, a staff which is “helpful and supporting of each other”, and an unwavering focus on the needs of the client. The healthy environment at the RACC is likely a contributing factor for Ms. William’s ability to derive compassion satisfaction from her work.
Ms. Williams’ spiritual beliefs may also help her to experience compassion satisfaction. Though her beliefs are not based in any major religious sect, she stated that she “certainly believe[s] in a higher power.” She believes in the concept that a person’s energy “cannot be dissipated”, and that the soul regenerates into a new life when the current one ends, taking with some of the lessons from this life. She also has faith in the idea that “things are put in [her] path because they’re supposed to be there” and that her soul has an overarching purpose in this life. According to Schauben and Frazier, spiritual beliefs can function as a form of coping mechanism for those at risk for compassion fatigue (52). This does not mean that Ms. Williams’ spiritual beliefs were constructed as part of a coping mechanism, merely that they may have some utility in this manner. Specifically, the idea that her soul was placed onto earth with a specific purpose helps to understand her deeply rooted conviction in her work.
Although much of this paper has been devoted to explaining how theoretical and external factors have influenced Ms. Williams’ experiences and attitudes, the role of character is also of importance, both in Ms. William’s choice to be a social worker, and also in her ability to derive compassion satisfaction from this work. Ms. Williams knew from a young age that she wanted to go into social work. Growing up, she was “always very open-minded…open to new perspectives and ideas and helping people no matter where they come from” (Williams). When she was in high school, she “always loved helping people and listening” and “always gravitated towards the hard topics… where other people were like ‘I can’t that’s too much for me’” (Williams). This compassion and drive to help others is a natural aspect of Ms. Williams’ character. And although there are aspects of Ms. Williams’ work environment that make coping with the stresses of her work more manageable, the joy and meaning that she derives from her work cannot be explained by theories. Her attitudes towards her work can be seen in the following quotation:
“You see the best and the worst in the world. Everyday. And it’s humbling, it makes you grateful for life, your life, and it makes you take a step back and look at the world. It has helped make me a better person. I am the most open-minded, non-judgmental person in the world and I love that about myself. It has helped me accept others for who they are no matter who they are or what things they have done, and I feel like people feel that from me… I want everyone to feel wanted” (Williams).
A supportive work environment, capacity to separate work from life, spirituality, and responses to childhood bullying have all played a role in making Ms. Williams capable of deriving meaning and gratification from work that can be challenging and distressing. The role of Ms. William’s character, however, cannot be overlooked. From a young age, Ms. Williams decided to dedicate her life to her profession and carry out that profession with great care. Her dedication to helping others is admirable and something everyone should aspire to.

Works Cited
Administration for Children and Families. Secondary Traumatic Stress, trauma-toolkit/secondary-traumatic-stress
Arseneault, Louise, et al. “Bullying victimization in youths and mental health problems: ‘Much ado about nothing’?” Psychological Medicine, vol. 40, no. 5, 2010, pp. 717–729. Cambridge University Press, doi:10.1017/S0033291709991383

Cetrano, Gaia, et al. “How are Compassion Fatigue, Burnout, and Compassion Satisfaction Affected by Quality of Working Life? Findings from a Survey of Mental Health Staff in Italy.” BMC Health Services Research, vol. 17, no. 755, Nov. 2017, pp. 1-11. SpringerLink, doi:10.1186/s12913-017-2726-x

Salston, MaryDale, and Charles R. Figley. “Secondary Traumatic Stress Effects of Working with Survivors of Criminal Victimization.” Journal of Traumatic Stress, vol. 16, no. 2, Apr. 2003, pp. 167-74. EBSCO, doi:10.1023/A:1022899207206

Tennant, Jaclyn E. et al. “Internalizing Problems of Youth Involved in Bullying via Different Participant Role Combinations and Gender.” School Psychology Review, vol. 48, no. 3, Sep. 2019, pp. 222-36. EBSCO, doi:10.17105/SPR-2017-0078.V48-3

Oliver, Ronald et al. “The Perceived Roles of Bullying in Small-Town Midwestern Schools.” Journal of Counseling and Development, vol. 72, no. 4, Mar. 1994, pp. 416-420. EBSCO, doi:10.1002/j.1556-6676.1994.tb00960.x

Schauben, Laura J., and Patricia A. Frazier. “Vicarious Trauma: The Effects on Female Counselors of Working with Sexual Violence Survivors.” Psychology of Women Quarterly, vol. 19, no. 1, Mar. 1995, pp. 49-64. SAGE,

Color Outside The Lines

A common theme I have noticed lately is the amount of guilt we suffer with as humans. Many friends and clients I interact with have shared stories with me about their guilt and how they’ve allowed it to control decisions they make or skew their perspective. These conversations have lead me to realize how much we allow guilt to paralyze us. We constantly suffer from guilt, let it eat us alive, and alter our decision-making. We feel guilty for things we don’t do, things we do, things we do or don’t say, not doing enough or doing too much. And if we let it, guilt is a never ending cycle of torture. And it causes us to fear life rather than enjoy every twist and turn it has to offer.

The way out of guilt is to look inward. We cannot allow guilt to run our lives. When we do, we are not living our own truths, and we are veering off path from the things we want to experience. Life isn’t about fearing and second-guessing every decision we make. Life is about navigating fear, not letting it win us over. Life would be so much easier if we feared less, and only you can remove the fear.

Unfortunately, it is so normal for us to abide by the rules set by other people and institutions. We try to avoid feeling guilty or avoid being out of compliance with what ‘rules’ have been set for us. But we have to push aside what people and institutions have said to us; all the rules, the do’s and don’ts. I am not saying having morals and values are not important, but we do not need to feel guilt for making mistakes or just doing something different. Morals and values can change with our growth as an individual, but we fear going against the norm. There is so much fear instilled in us through people and institutions that we forget to ask ourselves the most important questions; What do we want for ourselves? What is it that we want to experience?
We live in such fear of doing ‘wrong’…We forget that we are in the driver’s seat. Ask yourself who ultimately gets to decide what is ‘wrong’ for your life…Why aren’t we deciding for ourselves what is right or wrong?

We put way too much emphasis on other people’s and institution’s feelings and expectations of us. But the contradicting part is that it is our life to live. You are a good person, you are loved, and you are human. People put so much emphasis on guilt or fear around a ‘judging God’ (and by God I mean any higher power, institution, spirit, etc. you believe in). God LOVES you, period. You will not be judged for going this way or that way in your life. There is no judgement from God…just love. This is the hang up many people have; displeasing a ‘judging God’.

We cannot allow fate to happen when we live in fear, yet we try to allow fate and fear both to be the most impactful and dominate factors in our lives….This idea is impossible. Fate cannot express itself if the motivating or controlling force behind our actions/decisions is fear. We are distracted from experiencing our fate because of the guilt we hoard. We need to be easy on ourselves and let go a little bit. There is nothing to fear.

When we remove the guilt and focus more on our wants and our own decisions or rights/wrongs, we feel better. We become more certain about what we want. If we can remove the guilt, our minds and bodies will tell us over time what direction is right. Of course it’s human of us to want to consider how our decisions affect others, but don’t forget to keep yourself in that equation as well. The love for yourself should be of the upmost importance to you.

There are many situations in my life where one would assume I’d need to feel guilt, but I don’t let that consume me. I am my own person who is making my own decisions based on what I want at that time. No one can tell me what is right or wrong for me, only I know what feels right and what needs to happen for me to move forward. I don’t owe anyone an explanation.

It’s okay to color outside the lines now and then. Your feelings, opinions, and actions are legitimate because you say they are. You meander through life as your own unique self. You are not purposefully trying to harm institutions you believe in or hurt other people you love. And the God you believe in knows that. You’re just doing your best and living life on your terms. We are all just trying to figure it out. And how beautiful is that?…Isn’t that what life is about?

Once you decide to live on your own terms, notice who rises to the surface to be beside you. Who accepts you for who you are, and who knows your value and your heart. Those are the people who truly understand you. Quit apologizing for actions you take or saying sorry for being who you are, just be aware of it as this helps you understand what you want in your life.

We are always changing, learning, growing. We do not need to tell people every single time we change or justify our behavior, because we are just changing continuously. We do not need to straighten it out, fix things, apologize…It is okay to just be changing, as we all do. Change helps us grow, and growth brings us happiness.

Guilt is a sure way to unhappiness and stress, and guilt is a constant state of paranoia around ‘doing what you’re supposed to’ (whatever that means). The rest of your life is a really long time to not be sure if you’re happy. It is important to ask yourself if suffering with guilt and living in fear is worth compromising your own truth, well-being, and experiences that you’d want for yourself. It’s important to know that whatever choices you make, they are a part of you. They are teaching you, and that does not make you a bad person. Don’t forget that YOU get to decide. You are a good person, and there is only LOVE.

No amount of guilt can change the past. No amount of anxiety can shape the future. 

-keep shining

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Honoring Your Uniqueness

If there is one thing we are all guilty of, it’s living our lives for other people. We forget to step into our power and own who we are. We forget to focus on our own aspirations and instead worry about pleasing those around us. And when we do this, we lose the ability to understand who we are. We lose track of our own feelings, and we set aside our wants and needs without even realizing it.
I immediately notice when I give up power over my own life. I know this because when I am asked a question, my response is to immediately think about others; their feelings, their reactions, their perspectives, and I completely forget to focus on what’s most important…Myself.
People don’t ask us questions or want our expertise, help, opinions, support, etc.. so we can provide them perspectives of others. They are asking for us. However, we get so easily pulled into this habit that we forget about honoring our own unique selves. 

This is one of the biggest mistakes we make in our short and well-intentioned lives. It is so easy for us to be pulled into someone else’s reality; it takes focus and assertiveness to keep our own dreams in the forefront of our minds. But if we don’t focus on and work towards our own dreams, someone else will get us to work for theirs. And this happens to us

Decide what you want. Once you become precise in your wants and conscious of your own dreams, goals, aspirations, you become better at deciphering decisions and what path will lead you to where it is you want to be most. Once you decide what you want, it will be easier for you to determine the decisions that will pull you into your own power versus the decisions that lead you into living your life for other people.

A question I ask myself to help stay on top of my own power is, “what is my ideal situation?” or, “what is my ideal outcome?”. I take everything else out of the equation; risks, fear, opinions, other people’s reactions or feelings, potential set backs, etc…And I force myself to answer the question.
What is your ideal situation? What is your ideal outcome? Once you can firm up your answer and find your power, the more you can understand the path you need to take to reach your goals. When we believe in our own power and believe in our uniqueness, our confidence skyrockets. And trust me when I say you will waste so much less time. The greatest gift is a feeling of knowing, and a feeling of complete confidence over where we are at in our lives. 

You are powerful. Step into your own power and step out of the shadows you place yourself in. You have something to offer this world that is unique; no one else can provide to this world what you can. And how awesome is that?

In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different~

-keep shining

Happy Things Thursday

  1. When the weather cooperates for holiday travel plans
  2. Company leaving after a long weekend
  3. Putting your clothes on straight from the dryer
  4. Having the ‘skip’ option on Youtube commercials
  5. The last day of work before vacation or a holiday
  6. When the neighbor shovels your driveway
  7. Putting a pinch of salt in your beer
  8. When your phone keeps its charge for the entire day
  9. Road trips with friends
  10. White elephant gift exchanges
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