Sunday, March 6, 2011

Survival Tips for CF Partners...

When a traumatic event occurs, the trauma survivor feels the first impact then a ripple of secondary trauma spreads out to affect his or her family and friends. That ripple then travels on to touch the helpers who have responded to the survivor's pain and on to their families and friends. And thus, trauma becomes the gift that keeps on giving.

This week, I have been asked by three different CF spouses, - two clergy spouses and one partner of a paediatrician - about ways of dealing with the impact their partners' compassion fatigue. To my knowledge, there's not been any research done in this area yet - so I spent some time thinking about my experience of my own husband's CF and that of former clients who had had compassion fatigued partners. I also looked at the literature on spouses of persons with depression, chemical dependency and primary posttraumatic stress. From these sources I've drawn together a list of possible "survival tips", some of which could be helpful to you or your partner:

* Educate yourself regarding your spouse's CF. Remember that your partner's CF is not your fault - you didn't cause it, you can't control it and you can't cure it. Make age-appropriate explanations of your partner's behaviour to your children.
* Consider your own trauma history. It is natural to experience a full range of emotions regarding your partner's CF symptoms. However, if you think you are over-reacting emotionally, if you find yourself medicating your emotions, or if you are tolerating verbal or physical assaults or persistent emotional neglect, these may be signs that the current situation is stimulating old trauma in your own life. If you have not yet dealt with your personal trauma history, consider seeing a qualified mental health professional in order to understand your responses and gain support.
* Recognize symptoms of CF (diminished capacity for empathy, less compassionate behaviour, dreading/ feeling trapped at work, pushing oneself to keep working despite signs that it is proving harmful, nightmares about work, flashbacks, irritability, nervousness, sleep disturbance, exaggerated worry over threats to self or loved ones, avoidance of trauma triggers, physical or emotional withdrawal, emotional and physical exhaustion, self-medicating). Ask your spouse how you can best support him or her when the symptoms are activated.
* Plan undemanding, low stress activities to help the family relax and have fun together.
* Make time for self care. You will probably have to carve out time by giving up something else but you will find it's worth the effort and the loss of whatever you have to put aside.
* Build a support network of family, friends, co-workers, faith community etc for emotional support and occasional help with routine tasks or child care. Teach them about CF.
* Encourage your partner to see a CF or trauma specialist early in the CF trajectory - before CF interferes with daily activities. (Know that it might take several attempts to find the right treatment mode and therapist).
* Find a family therapist if your family finds it hard to talk to each other.
* Be clear when communicating changes you want your spouse to make. He or she cannot read your mind.
eg - Cutting down drinking or other drug use to x amount
  - Caring for the children x hours per week so you have time for yourself
- Acting less irritable with the children and showing more interest in them
- Once recovered physically, bringing in a reliable income, no matter how small
- Scheduling and showing up for date nights
- No physical acting out
* Take a pre-arranged time-out if you or your partner's reactivity begins to escalate.  
* Have a safety plan in place if your partner has a history of aggressive behaviour or if substance use makes his or her behaviour unpredictable. 
* Recognize that you have options. Almost everyone has options. If we don't recognize them, we may begin to feel trapped, which can lead to emotional numbing, depression, self medicating, paralysis, despair or even suicidal thoughts. If you can't see any options,      see mental health professional who can help you to expand your constricted world view.
 * Consider asking a CF specialist to facilitate a support or psychoeducational group for CF partners.

These are just a few ideas. Please add to the list if you know of anything else that might be helpful.

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