Natalie Harvey, MS, MFT
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|Posted on June 15, 2016 at 11:18 AM|
Self-Care for Caretakers
The importance of filling our cups
In my years as a therapist within the Bay Area community, it has increasingly come to my attention just how many caretakers we have among us. When you really think about it, all of us are people who take care of others…whether it be for children, animals, elders, friends, clients, students, patients, sisters, brothers, parents or anyone else who we give our energy, time, love, money, and compassion to. Much of the time, it is such a rewarding, energizing, and meaningful position to be in. Our compassion and hearts guide us to honor, teach, and help others, often for not much in return other than the joy of being of service to someone we care about. To see a smile come to their face is often enough. However, it can also lead to us becoming burnt out, drained, reactive, exhausted, sick, and suffer from what has been called a secondary traumatic stress disorder accurately named “compassion fatigue”. This leads us to a place where we are not seeing the good in much of anything and wanting to complain about mostly everything. We feel exhausted, on edge, and depleted, desperately wanting relief. I imagine you may be able to relate to these difficult feelings.
When we work as caregivers, it is common to get irritable and depleted. Our work seems endless. Caring so much can hurt. We often feel physically, emotionally, mentally, and relationally spent. When caregivers focus on others without practicing consistent self-care, destructive behaviors can, and most likely will, surface.
Obviously giving to others is not bad, and is our human nature, a beautiful part of our interconnectedness. It can feel quite wonderful to give to others, but giving at the expense of our own well-being is damaging to our own body and peace of mind. Irritability, negativity, isolation, bottled up emotions, physical illness, and substance abuse head a long list of symptoms associated with compassion fatigue.
I am convinced that, when we are suffering, it is only natural that we don’t have much to give. When we are thriving, we are coming from a place of having enough for ourselves and having enough for others.
Just from my own experience, I know that when I am suffering I am not nearly as available, present, and compassionate as I am when I am taken care of. This means that my basic needs are met and I am being kind and loving to myself. The first and necessary step to avoiding burn out and being kind to our self is to practice being mindful. We are constantly "do-ing" and what I am asking of you is to focus on the practice of being a little more. Experiencing “be-ing” mode can help us feel more whole and relaxed; we move from reacting automatically to having more choices about how we respond, based on a fuller understanding and acceptance of our own sensory, physical, and emotional experience. When we attune to our own experience we can tap into an essential guiding light that will intuitively help us respond in the most helpful way. The more gentle we can be with ourselves, the more patience and energy we will have.
While we always have the opportunity to implement more self care strategies on our own, receiving support to help guide us toward accessing our own inner and outer resources can be incredibly important. Often times we have wounds and strategies that are barriers to nourishment. Getting gentle attention and care to chip away at those barriers is something that a skilled therapist can help provide. It is a huge step just recognizing that you may be suffering from compassion fatigue. I can help support you on your way to healing and feeling more available for yourself and those who are fortunate to receive your care and attention.