Working with survivors is rewarding, but it can also be exhausting. Most advocates experience compassion fatigue at some point or another. Psychotherapist Dennis Portnoy believes that compassion fatigue is caused by empathy. “It is the natural consequence of stress resulting from caring for and helping traumatized or suffering people.” All this means that when you’re serving and coming alongside survivors, it just might wear you out. Staying healthy and whole as an advocate is vital, both to those your support and the loved ones who need you before and after work.
Two vital keys help support advocates: personal boundaries and remaining present.
Setting and Maintaining Personal Boundaries
Personal boundaries are the mental, emotional, and physical limits you establish to protect yourself. They separate who you are, what you feel, and what you believe from the thoughts and feelings of others. In other words, they’re what define your “you-ness.” Any time someone crosses these boundaries you’ve established, it’s an infringement.
Unhealthy boundaries show up in a lot of ways.
You might need to establish healthier boundaries if any of the following ring true for you:
- You’re a people-pleaser.
- You give for the sake of giving.
- You take for the sake of taking.
- You let others define you.
- You expect others to fulfill your needs.
- You feel guilty saying “no.”
- You don’t speak up when you’re treated badly.
- You play the victim.
- You accept advances without first granting permission.
- You don’t keep yourself safe.
- You hug people you’re unfamiliar with.
Healthy boundaries allow you to be confident in who you are, what you feel, and what you believe.
What a better way to live! Unhealthy boundaries push you into lying. Wait, what? Unhealthy boundaries cause you agree to things you don’t want to do or don’t believe in to please people, gain approval, or avoid guilt. You quickly say, “Yes, I’d love to,” when you don’t have time, energy, or passion for it. You can wind up stressed out, exhausted, and failing to keep up. No one wants to see you there!
It’s important to remember that healthy boundaries are often a work in progress. Establishing healthy boundaries starts when you know your values. And from there, you can begin to say “no” by saying “yes” differently.
Remaining Present Physically and Emotionally
Have you ever been in a conversation with someone but suddenly realize that your thoughts are a million miles away? How about playing with your child but mentally trying to solve a difficult situation at work? It can be difficult to remain physically and emotionally present at home, especially when you’re working with traumatized and suffering people at work.
Take a few minutes to center and grounding yourself takes only minutes but makes a big difference.
When you find your mind wandering, a few deep breaths through your nose can help pull yourself back to the present. When you’re transitioning from work to home, take a few moments as you leave to intentionally leave work at work. Listen to a meditation with Indrani on your way home.
Unpack your emotions related to the problem you’re trying to solve.
When you have healthy boundaries, you are able to live confidently. If something keeps tripping you up mentally or emotionally, it’s often the result of a boundary issue. Take a few moments to ask yourself what boundary is being crossed and whyyou have that particular boundary. Once you’re able to unpack the root cause of the problem, you’ll be able to pursue a healthy solution.
Establish a gratitude practice.
Start a gratitude journal! Bookend your days with a short list of things you’re thankful for. Surround yourself with positive people who make you shine. The more we shine, the more we’re available for love. And if you aren’t sure where to start, consider uncovering your strengths. When we pursuse our strengths, we’ll be able to handle stress and life challenges, become happier, and develop more satisfying relationships.
Boundaries setting and remaining present takes discipline and practice. Training can provide the tools to make the process easier. It also helps you establish a support network of like-minded people. If you don’t know where to start, jump into our free Live a Brighter Life course. These six classes with teach you to live a more empowered life. If you’d like training for your shelter, organization, or group of Advocates, contact us. We’ll show you how to respect yourself, establish healthy boundaries, and build resilience. A brighter life is possible!