Maybe you've always been the "good listener." The one people turn to.
Or, maybe your care-taking role is newly acquired: You became a parent to a child or a pet, took on aging parents, or got married.
Perhaps you've obtained a job where you are present with others while they are going through life's up and downs. You're a health practitioner. First responder. Lawyer. Social Worker. Teacher. Supervisor. Server. Accountant. The list is endless.
Whatever you do, you are helping. Being there for others. Walking alongside others who are experiencing life and listening to their stress, their ups and downs.
It used to be easy. You were so good at listening.
You're still good.
But it's gotten harder. You've started noticing a new feeling that's been growing in you: Resentment.
Your needs aren't getting met. No one's helping you.
You are finding less joy in your life. You are getting irritable. Feeling less taken care of.
Getting sick. Wanting vacations more.
These are signs that you may be on the path to burnout/vicarious trauma/compassion fatigue.
You want to keep being there for others. That's a part of who you are. But you are at the point where you know you need to listen to someone new. Yourself.
And the counselling room is a great space to do it.
What specifically can I learn in counselling or supervision to help me continue to be there for others in the capacity I want to?
(1) Skills to use in the moment whilst working or care-taking.
Learning to use your body as well as other tools at your fingertips to help you regulate while you are exposed to traumatic material can help prevent compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma. Learn to help you stay healthy whilst in the presence of suffering. Many skills exist- the trick is finding the one that works for you.
(2) Skills to help me set up a life in a way where I can still caretake but can also get my needs met.
Empathic people like us hate the word boundaries because it gets in the way of our helping and advocating, right? What if we were able to introduce the idea of setting boundaries AND still doing the helping and advocating we so desire.
Setting boundaries in this way allows you to create a life you like. To create a life that you don't need to take a vacation from. A life that works.
Help others AND prioritize your health, relationships, finances and those things you value most.
(3) To process traumas that are creating barriers in doing (1) or (2).
Often we know some of these skills already and do think of using them but in the moment something gets in the way of using them. The care-taking part of us comes to the front and stops us.
For example, we know deep down that we need to charge more for our services. But when someone asks for a discount the caretaker part of us wants to be able to help.
Or, we know we shouldn't allow last minute cancellations but the care-taker part of me thinks I'm selfish and gets in the way of me setting this boundary.
Or, we know we should get our kids to bed earlier to help ourselves get more sleep but the care-taker part of me is scared to upset my kids.
The care-taker part of you believes it's protecting you, according to Internal Family Systems Therapist, Jay Earley (author of Self-Therapy). Doing some deeper work into this part of you may help you get friendly with this part of you and in turn, it may be more flexible with you in future. And you will suddenly see a new option before you that hadn't been there before. And it feels so good to find a new choice. Something that feels good for you and also lets you do your work.
I invite you in to put yourself first now. A part of you really wants to find a new way. It knows that you can't continue in this way. You aren't on a good path and if you break you won't be able to help anyone.
Let's hear from all your parts and see if we can find a way to get all their needs met. I look forward to working on this journey with you towards a healthier future for you and for those you are care-taking.
Natalie Hansen, M.A., RCC, has a private practice in New Westminster where she provides counselling and supervision (in person or by Skype) and specializes in anxiety and stress, trauma, vicarious trauma/compassion fatigue/burn out, and relationships for adults and teens. You are welcome to contact her at info@NatalieHansenCounselling.com, visit NatalieHansenCounselling.com or follow her on Facebook @NatalieHansenCounselling or Twitter @NHansenTherapy.