For most of us who make our living working with pregnant, birthing and postpartum women, it is a true labor of love. For sure, few of us are becoming wealthy doing it! And whether we are midwives, doulas, childhood educators, nurses or psychotherapists, and whether we are veterans or raw beginners, self-care is an ongoing challenge and learning experience.
Most advice about self-care focuses on boundaries and the kind of self-care that relates to prioritizing one’s own needs: eating well, getting enough sleep, exercise, pampering, etc. Those are valid and important. Other advice suggests that it’s better to care less about our clients and their experiences, as a kind of self-protection; that a kind of “professional distance” is necessary to avoid burnout. Though there is a certain grain of truth in this, this approach can lead to a hardening or numbing that is itself likely to make our work unsatisfying. It is our caring that makes the work meaningful, satisfying and effective. But caring doesn’t mean merging or being “codependent”. And caring doesn’t mean that there aren’t situations where it’s necessary to respond or act without being overwhelmed by emotion.
In this blog and upcoming course, I’m advocating working with clients with an open heart while nurturing an ongoing self-awareness about when our caring turns into carrying. When we are able to care without carrying, the experiences, thoughts, emotions, and reactions that are invoked in our work life can flow through us, leaving us unburdened. There’s a Zen saying about living life like a clean burning flame that leaves behind neither smoke nor ash.
When this is working well, we can “bless and release” each client and move forward without accumulating a weight of unresolved stress. When this isn’t working well, the accumulation of work-related stress brings to my mind an image of a woman carrying a sack of stones on her back. These stones of unresolved, unprocessed, undigested residue can be created in a variety of situations – for example; the frustrations of working within institutions, self-criticism or guilt about things we did or didn’t do, client situations that trigger our own past traumas, etc.
Every so often, we may need to pause, check to see what’s in that sack and sense into how to let go of carrying unnecessary weight. In addition, we can develop the proactive ability to keep from adding stones to the sack in the first place.
In the upcoming course on October 14, in a safe, supportive environment, we will explore how to access guidance from our inner worlds to process, release, and prevent this kind of accumulated weight that can easily lead to burnout, compassion fatigue, or secondary traumatization. Together we will create a simple healing ceremony. I hope you’ll be interested in learning more and invite you to give yourself the gift of this course. I welcome your questions or comments.