Monday, February 15, 2010

Giving and Receiving ...

This week I discovered the Kairos Network Blog, a nicely written new blog and networking site for Death & Dying and Eldercare professionals. Here, Jeanne Denney writes a description of the route to burnout, often a precursor to compassion fatigue:

"Many of us become caregivers because we did not ourselves receive adequate care in early development. We become especially sensitized to the problem of needs in others and take a deep vow very young to meet them at all costs, to be a really "good giver". At the same time, we are equipped with a relatively weak experience of receiving deeply ourselves and often have a damaged self-care "alarm system" that never registers
"empty" until our resentment makes us ready to kill.

It is likely that we learned to defend against the voice of our own needs as if it was an inner enemy. Later we present as needless, appropriate and efficient. "What me need? I don't need anything. I am a good giver." (Not a bad, vulnerable, needy receiver.) In most cases, this split ... was also shared by our primary caregiver. The imbalance of our young responses to needing sets us up for caregiver burnout.

Here we see how helpers develop a sense of shame about our needs and, therefore, cast them out of our conscious awareness. We soldier on, unaware that the depth of our empathy for clients and loved ones sometimes reflects the depth of our own unmet needs.

How do we begin to meet our basic needs, to prevent burnout? Well, the first step is to take stock. Jennifer Louden offers a good "needs assessment" in her classic book, The Woman's Comfort Book:

Do you usually get 6-8 hours sleep?

Do you eat something fresh and unprocessed every day?

Do you allow time in your week to touch nature, no matter how briefly?

Do you get enough sunlight, especially in winter time?

Do you see a dentist every 6 months?

Do you see your gynecologist (or equivalent) at least once a year?

Do you know enough about your body and health needs?

Do you get regular sexual thrills?

Do you feel you get enough fun exercise?

Are you hugged and touched amply?

Do you make time for friendship? Do you nurture your friendships?

Do you have friends you can call when you are down, friends who really listen?

Can you honestly ask for help when you need it?

Do you regularly release your emotions?

Do you forgive yourself when you make a mistake?

Do you do things that give you a sense of fulfillment, joy and purpose?

Is there abundant beauty in your life? Do you allow yourself to see beauty and to bring beauty into your home and office?

Do you make time for solitude?

Are you getting daily or weekly spiritual nourishment?

Can you remember the last time you laughed until you cried?

Do you ever accept yourself for who you are?

Once we've clearly and compassionately identified our needs, we can choose one and begin to take baby steps toward meeting it. What small step could you take toward meeting your own needs this week?

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